Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Marvell’s ironic tone and paradoxical discourse have led to a variety of interpretations, ranging from seeing the poem as a courtly, exaggerated compliment to an aristocratic lady (as were some of Donne’s poems) to seeing it as an allegorical expression of the Platonic concept of divine love. The most obvious way to view the poem, however, is as a witty but nevertheless committed exploration of the ontology of love. The poem does this in two ways; first, by setting out the matrices of love and destiny in order to find the impossibility of arriving at an equation that will balance desire and fulfillment; and second, by examining the inner contradictions of the notion of pure love.
John Donne’s poetry speaks of lovers who are able to create their own destiny. Even when external forces create a separation, the ontology of union is not affected—as in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” By contrast, Marvell suggests that it is not only external forces (perhaps of degree or rank) that prevent union but also the nature of the human condition. Ultimately, destiny is “how things are.” In other poems, Marvell holds a Christian Platonistic view that sees man as fallen and separated from perfection. Fate is thus God’s punishment, the refusal to allow Edenic perfection for the lovers and the fact that nature is now structured for imperfection. To attain perfection would be “unnatural,” destructive; Earth might “some new convulsion tear”...
(The entire section is 359 words.)
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