Andrew Marvell an English metaphysical poet, Parliamentarian, and the son of a Church of England clergyman (also named Andrew Marvell). As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert. He was a colleague and friend of John Milton.
Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, East Riding of Yorkshire, near the city of Kingston upon Hull. The family moved to Hull when his father was appointed Lecturer at Holy Trinity Church there, and Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School. A secondary school in the city is now named after him.
His most famous poems include To His Coy Mistress, The Garden, An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland, The Mower's Song and the country house poem Upon Appleton House.
At the age of twelve, Marvell attended Trinity College, Cambridge and eventually received his BA degree. Afterwards, from the middle of 1642 onwards, Marvell probably travelled in continental Europe. He may well have served as a tutor for an aristocrat on the Grand Tour; but the facts are not clear on this point. While England was embroiled in the civil war, Marvell seems to have remained on the continent until 1647. It is not known exactly where his travels took him, except that he was in Rome in 1645 and Milton later reported that Marvell had mastered four languages, including French, Italian and Spanish.
First poems and Marvell's time at Nun Appleton
Marvell's first poems, which were written in Latin and Greek and published when he was still at Cambridge, lamented a visitation of the plague and celebrated the birth of a child to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. He only belatedly became sympathetic to the successive regimes during the Interregnum after Charles I's execution, which took place 30 January 1649. His Horatian Ode, a political poem dated to early 1650, responds with sorrow to the regicide even as it praises Oliver Cromwell's return from Ireland.
Circa 1650-52, Marvell served as tutor to the daughter of the Lord General Thomas Fairfax, who had recently relinquished command of the Parliamentary army to Cromwell. He lived during that time at Nun Appleton House, near York, where he continued to write poetry. One poem, Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax, uses a description of the estate as a way of exploring Fairfax's and Marvell's own situation in a time of war and political change. Probably the best-known poem he wrote at this time was To His Coy Mistress.
Marvell's poetic style
Marvell’s poetry is often witty and full of elaborate conceits in the elegant style of the metaphysical poets. Many poems were inspired by events of the time, public or personal. The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers was written about the daughter of one of Marvell's friends, Theophila Cornwell, who was named after an elder sister who had died as a baby. Marvell uses the picture of her surrounded by flowers in a garden to convey the transience of spring and the fragility of childhood. This poem's title is ironically echoed by John Ashbery's poem "The Picture of Little JA in a Prospect of Flowers."
Others were written in the pastoral style of the classical Roman authors. Even here, Marvell tends to place a particular picture before us. In The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn, the nymph weeps for the little animal as it dies, and tells us how it consoled her for her betrayal in love.
His pastoral poems, including Upon Appleton House achieve originality and a unique tone through his reworking and subversion of the pastoral genre.
To His Coy Mistress
Had we but World enough, and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges side.
Should'st Rubies find: I by the Tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood:
And you should if you please refuse
Till the Conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable Love should grow
Vaster then Empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead Gaze.
Two hundred to adore each Breast.
But thirty thousand to the rest.
An Age at least to every part,
And the last Age should show your Heart.
For Lady you deserve this State;
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I alwaies hear
Times winged Charriot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lye
Desarts of vast Eternity.
Thy Beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble Vault, shall sound
My ecchoing Song: then Worms shall try
That long preserv'd Virginity:
And your quaint Honour turn to durst;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Now therefore, while the youthful hew
Sits on thy skin like morning glew,
And while thy willing Soul transpires
At every pore with instant Fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our Time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow'r.
Let us roll all our Strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one Ball:
And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of Life.
Thus, though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.