In 1672, with the publication of The Rehearsal Transpros’d, Andrew Marvell (MAWR-vuhl) became a pamphleteer. In this animadversion on the works of Samuel Parker, Marvell vigorously supported King Charles II’s stand in favor of religious toleration. No other work by Marvell was so widely received in his lifetime as this urbane, witty, slashing satire. According to Marvell’s contemporary Gilbert Burnet, “From the King down to the tradesman, his books were read with great pleasure.” Parker’s counterattack quickly engendered Marvell’s second pamphlet, The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part (1673). Mr. Smirke: Or, The Divine in Mode (1676), was Marvell’s defense of Herbert Croft, the bishop of Hereford, against Francis Turner’s pamphlet attack. His next pamphlet, An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (1677), resulted in the government’s offering a reward for the identity of the author. Remarks upon a Late Disingenuous Discourse was published posthumously in 1678. Some three hundred letters are also extant and available in Margoliouth’s edition, as well as in those of Captain Edward Thompson and Alexander B. Grosart.
In his own century and for some time afterward, Andrew Marvell’s reputation rested much more on his prose pamphlets, a few political poems, and his political activities, than on his achievement as a lyric poet. Most of his poems, including all the lyrics, remained unpublished until the posthumous edition of 1681. By then the Metaphysical mode was no longer in fashion, and the book of Marvell’s poems seems to have been desired more for its excellent engraved portrait of the politician and pamphleteer than for anything else. Appreciation of Marvell’s poetry was increased by Charles Lamb’s essay of 1818, but it remained sporadic until after the publication of T. S. Eliot’s essay on the occasion of the tercentenary of Marvell’s birth in 1921. Except for a quantity of imitations of his verse satires, some of which were attributed to him, his influence on other poets was slight. By far his widest poetic audience is in the present day. He has had a modest influence on some twentieth century writers, such as Marianne Moore.
Today Marvell is recognized as a lyric poet of the first rank, although how uniformly excellent his poems are, individually or collectively, remains a subject of debate. Certainly the quality is somewhat irregular. Nevertheless, with a rather small corpus he has been awarded at least three apt distinctions. That three-quarters of his work is in eight-syllable form and much of it is brilliant has earned him the title master of the octosyllabic. A few fine poems on a difficult subject have caused him to be called Cromwell’s poet. Finally, while his work includes civic, pastoral, and georgic material, he is, more than any other poet in English, the garden poet.
How does Andrew Marvell’s favorite poetic scheme of rhymed tetrameter couplets enforce the complexity of his themes?
Are Marvell’s images as “dissimilar” as T. S. Eliot asserts in his essay “The Metaphysical Poets”?
What is the significance of mowing in Marvell’s poems?
Consider the denotations and connotations of the adjective in “To His Coy Mistress.”
Is “To His Coy Mistress” really addressed to a coy mistress?
Should Marvell’s poetry be associated less with the other Metaphysical poets and more with that of the seventeenth century Cavalier poets?
Chernaik, Warren L. The Poet’s Time: Politics and Religion in the Work of Andrew Marvell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. For Chernaik, Marvell is a poet-prophet whose political ideas are consistent, militant, and rooted in his religion. Also discusses Marvell’s later (post-1666) satiric poetry and his political polemics.
Hunt, John Dixon. Andrew Marvell: His Life and Writings. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1978. Hunt’s intent is to provide a context against which some of Marvell’s major poems (“Upon Appleton House,” “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland,” and “Last Instructions to a Painter”) can be read. Profusely illustrated.
Klause, John. The Unfortunate Fall: Theodicy and the Moral Imagination of Andrew Marvell. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1983. In his extensive analyses of the Cromwell poems, “The Garden,” and “Upon Appleton House,” Klause finds Marvell “adapting” to political realities. Complemented by an extensive bibliography of primary and secondary sources.
Murray, Nicholas. World Enough and Time: The Life of Andrew Marvell. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Even with the information uncovered in the three decades since the last biography of Marvell was written, little is known about long stretches of Marvell’s career. Murray’s narrative takes full advantage of what is available and provides a clear portrait of Marvell and his life in the Cromwell era and the Restoration.
Patterson, Annabel. Marvell: The Writer in Public Life. New York: Longman, 2000. Focuses on the intersection of Marvell’s political and literary views.
Ray, Robert H. An Andrew Marvell Companion. New York: Garland, 1998. A useful, comprehensive reference guide to the life and works of the poet and political satirist. Includes a chronology of the poet’s life and works, a bibliography, and suggestions for further research.
Rees, Christine. The Judgment of Marvell. London: Pinter, 1989. Rees argues that Marvell’s poetry concerns choice or the impossibility of choosing, and his choices involve the life of pleasure, as well as those of action and contemplation. Using this threefold division, she offers extensive commentary on approximately twenty-five well-known poems.
Stocker, Margarita. Apocalyptic Marvell: The Second Coming in Seventeenth Century Poetry. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1986. Stocker’s book offers a corrective view of Marvell, a poet committed to an apocalyptic ideology that informs all his poems. Supplemented by an extensive bibliography.