Summary and Analysis
Andrew Marvell’s poem titled “On a Drop of Dew” is a work that helps explain why Marvell (1621-78) is often considered a “metaphysical” poet, even though he lived much later than such writers as John Donne (1572-1631) and George Herbert (1593-1633), who are normally considered the first “metaphysical” writers. As the term implies, “metaphysical” poets are frequently thought of as writers for whom philosophical ideas were at least as important as strong emotions. Indeed, T. S. Eliot, the great twentieth-century poet, praised the metaphysical authors as writers who could think as richly as they felt and whose thoughts were not divorced from their feelings. It is not surprising, therefore, that one especially typical trait of metaphysical poetry is the “conceit”—that is, the ability to take one image or metaphor and explore its numerous facets and implications over many lines. Developing a conceit involves clever wit and sustained thought, and both of these qualities are on display in Marvell’s lyric. This poem, which compares the soul to a drop of dew, is “metaphysical” in every sense of the word.
The speaker of Marvell’s poem begins with an attention-grabbing command: “See how the orient dew” (1; emphasis added). The speaker is directly addressing the reader here, calling the reader’s attention to a small aspect of nature that might easily be overlooked. The drop of dew is described as “orient” (1) in the sense that it appears (and is visible) as the sun rises in the east. The drop has been “Shed from the bosom of the morn” (2), language that describes nature in human terms, thus implying that physical nature and human beings have much in common. Nature is not presented here, as it often is in writings from the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, as cold, indifferent, or dead. Rather, humans and nature are in harmony, since (it will later be implied) God created both.
Nature, in fact, seems beautiful, as the reference to the “blowing” (that is, blooming) roses suggests. Yet the beauty of nature is as nothing (the poem later implies) to the beauty of heaven. One characteristic of this poem, in fact, is to make both the natural world and supernatural existence seem beautiful, although the latter is clearly exalted above the former. Rather than disparaging the physical world (as earlier, medieval poets might have done), Marvell’s poem celebrates the beauty...
(The entire section is 2225 words.)
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