Andrew Marvell as a metaphysical poet

Question: Discuss Andrew Marvell as a metaphysical poet.


Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) was an English poet, satirist, and politician who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1659 and 1678. During the Commonwealth period, he was a colleague and friend of John Milton (1608-1674). His poetry shows many of the qualities that are associated with what has come to be known as metaphysical poetry.

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Metaphysical poetry deals with abstract ideas such as religion, faith, love, etc. His poems are highly philosophical and reflective. Much of his poetry deals with love, the nature of the human soul, and religion. “To His Coy Mistress” is a love poem in which the poet has applied the ‘carpe diem’ theory. In the poem “The Definition of Love”, the speaker is an anonymous lover who contemplates the nature and definition of love. Thus, Marvell’s poetry is nothing else but metaphysical from a thematic perspective.

Passionate thinking

There is plenty of passion in metaphysical poetry, but it is combined with intellectual thinking. “Passionate thinking” is the chief mark of metaphysical poetry. “To His Coy Mistress” is the most outstanding example. Here the poet becomes passionate in his expression of feeling towards the end, but the whole poem is based on logical reasoning. Passionate thinking abounds in the poem “The Definition of Love” too. The speaker of the poem emphasizes the pure passion for love which almost does not exist in the lovers because of just physical attraction. We can quote here:

“Where feeble Hope could ne’er have flown,

But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.”

The fusion of thought and emotion

The fusion of thought and emotion in poetry is called the unification of sensibility. The term ‘unified sensibility’ applied by Marvell is unique because he is just like John Donne (1572-1631) in this case. In the poem “To His Coy Mistress”, unified sensibility is paramount that is why T.S. Eliot in his critical essay “The Metaphysical Poets” has appreciated Marvell as the perfect successor of John Donne. The passion of this poem has been connected with “if, but and therefore”. The speaker persuades his shy beloved in such a way that we cannot but accept it as the vehement expression of passion mixed with convincing thought. Overall, the lover means to say that human beings have been given a limited and short duration of life span and they are all forced to utilize their time. So, this shyness may not have any objection if the time were unlimited.

“But at my back I always hear

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;

Therefore, the poet wants to get the result of his passion having spent a memorable time together which is in stark contrast to the platonic concept of love. No person in the world will not agree with Marvell regarding the passion and thought expressed in this poem.

Use of conceits

Conceits are the guiding force of metaphysical poetry. As the perfect successor of John Donne, Marvell’s poetry produces metaphysical conceits that are strange, logical, and difficult to grasp but having force for surveillance and acceptance. He opens “The Definition of Love” with conceit.

“My love is of a birth as rare

As ’tis for object strange and high;”

The poem “To His Coy Mistress” abounds in conceit like Donne’s illustrious poem “The Relic”.

“The grave’s a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.”

Dramatic quality

Andrew Marvell is next to Donne in respect of dramatic quality. It is thought that metaphysical poetry is the paradigm of a morality play. This genre of poetry is engulfed with dramatic qualities. Abrupt beginning confers the fuel to dramatic quality. Besides, the conversational manner of writing creates a dramatic sensation. Terseness is prolific for metaphysical poets.

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To sum up, it is mandatory to say that Marvell is the best successor of John Donne. Here it will also be interesting to mention that the future of metaphysical poetry has been bright especially because of its vivid and transparent characteristic features.

S Ridoy Kumar
S Ridoy Kumar
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