The Collected Poems

By Andrew Marvell


Between his death in 1678 and his critical resurrection after the First World War Andrew Marvell's reputation was exceptionally varied. There were so many contradictions within him that his admirer or his critic would find evidence to back up almost any assertion they might wish to make. This has happened, in fact, with disturbing regularity and continues to this day. He was a defender of freedom, a libelous republican writer, a paramour of John Milton, a staunch puritan, a Whig hero and a laureate of Cromwell. No matter how he was judged what is patently clear is that is was rarely on the merit of his lyrics alone and for centuries he was utterly forgotten as a poet.

After the end of the First World War, Marvell became increasingly popular and this was mainly due to the work of four critics who rediscovered Marvell with the benefit of hindsight: without political prejudice and with an awareness that Marvell was writing in a time when political and religious expression was often met with a bloody end. These critics were T.S. Eliot who wrote an essay on Marvell's poetical sensibility, Sir Herbert J.C. Grierson who published a work called Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler, H.M.Margoliouth who published a major edition of Marvell's poems, and Pierre Legouis, a friend of Margoliouth who published the scholarly account of Marvell's work, Andre Marvell, poete, puritain, patriote. Since the publication of these works understanding of Marvell has reached a much higher level - he is now viewed as a political satirist, a patriotic man, a stoic who faced with political turmoil turned in on himself and wrote some of the most enigmatic, beautiful and politically pointed poetry of his age. Marvell is perhaps the best example of a poet who lived throughout the entire revolution - the civil wars, the execution of Charles I, the installation of a Commonwealth government, its consequent collapse and the restoration of a new King (Charles II) - and whose work exemplifies the period accurately.

Marvell's poems are frequently described as pastoral and naturalistic, it seems he escapes into a landscape, however the politicized nature of his landscapes means that often they are not escapes but mere retreats. Poems such as "Upon Appleton House", "The Garden" and "Damon the Mower" are injected with political images and allusions to the extent that England's political upheaval becomes unavoidable - part of him and part of his poems. Perhaps Marvell's most famous poem is "To His Coy Mistress", it is certainly one of the most accessible and ironically, given his more typical subject matter, it is not nearly as politically driven as his other poems.