Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 575
“Bermudas” is a short poem of eight-syllable (octosyllabic) lines arranged in iambic tetrameter couplets. The poem begins with a four-line exordium, or introduction, by a narrator. The next thirty-two lines consist of a song of thanksgiving being sung by people in a boat as they row. The poem then ends with a peroration, or conclusion, of four lines by the narrator, who identifies the people as English.
In the first section, an omniscient narrator—a mysterious persona who is so objective that he seems to be absent from the scene—immediately situates the action of the poem in the Bermudas (a group of more than two hundred islands, also simply called Bermuda). His description of the islands as “remote” and “unespy’d” creates the image of a distant, hidden, and private place. Since there are no human observers to the scene, only “The listning Winds” hear the song of the people in the boat.
The song, which is a hymn of praise and gratitude to God, has four parts. In the first part (lines 5-12), the boatmen praise God for having brought them safely across the Atlantic Ocean (“the watry Maze”) to the Bermudas. Although these waters had begun to be charted since the discovery of the New World, ocean voyages were still risky undertakings in Marvell’s day. (The islands had been discovered by Europeans only in 1515 and settled in 1609 by Sir George Somers.) The reference to this “Isle” as “far kinder than our own” has at least two levels of meaning. First, the weather in this tropical area is much kinder than the harsh weather, especially winter, in England. Second, these islands, like much of the New World, represent a place of religious freedom, in contrast to their own land, where religious persecution (“Prelat’s rage”) was occurring. (In the 1630’s, William Laud, the archbishop of Canterbury during the reign of Charles I, was persecuting and imprisoning Puritans; many religious refugees fled to the New World at this time, and one of those groups landed on Bermuda.)
The next part of the poem (lines 13-28) describes the islands. The “eternal Spring” weather produces colors everywhere (it “enamells every thing”) all year long. Every day God sends fowl through the air as food for the people. There is an abundance of exotic fruit: oranges, pomegranates, figs, melons, and pineapples (“Apples”). The shore is full of ambergris, an expensive waxy substance from sperm whales, used in making perfume. Continuous verdancy, abundant food, and costly ambergris all point to the rich bounty of these islands and to an effortless existence for the inhabitants.
The third part of the song (lines 29-32) focuses on the spiritual significance of the islands as a temple for worship. When the sailors sing, “He cast . . ./ The Gospels Pearl upon our Coast,” they imply that the Bermudas are a manifestation of the Kingdom of God and also that the gospel message has been brought here by them.
The fourth part (lines 33-36) is a prayer that the gospel will reach beyond these islands. As their praise reaches heaven, they hope that it will rebound off “Heavens Vault” and produce an echo of praise past the Gulf of Mexico (“Mexique Bay”), reaching other parts of the New World. After the song, the narrator provides a descriptive commentary on the cheerful boatmen whose song is dictating the rhythm of the oars, implying that prayer and praise set the pace for their life and work.
Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439
The sailors’ narrative points to God, or Divine Providence, as the main protagonist in the poem. The narrator is unidentified and impersonal; the nameless, faceless boatmen are only indirectly identified through the phrase “the English boat.” Almost all the action verbs in the song have God as the subject: He is the prime agent, and the boatmen are the passive receivers of God’s actions. God is credited with having protected them from the dangerous waters and from persecution; he is the one who has given these refugees this new home. He is the one who “sends” the fowls, “hangs” the oranges in the trees, and “throws the Melons” at their feet. The boatmen’s description reflects their belief in the daily action and care of God in all the details of their lives.
Marvell conveys the significance of this island-paradise through a confluence of several archetypes. First, there are parallels with the biblical Garden of Eden. Just as God planted a garden and brought Adam to it, so too he has prepared this new “garden” and brought these people to it. In this place where all is provided—where God “makes the Figs our mouths to meet”—there is no labor, no sweat, no toil.
Second, there are specific reminiscences of the Garden of Hesperides. This classical paradise lay far to the west of known civilization, across a vast body of water, just as the Bermudas do. The oranges in the Bermudas, that are hung “Like golden Lamps in a green Night,” function as a parallel image to the famous golden apples of the Hesperides.
Third, these islands bear some similarities to the New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation. That whole city, like the Bermudas in this poem, is the temple of God and is full of his presence. There is no need for sun and moon, since God is the light of that city (Revelation 21:23); on these islands, there is no darkness or night—only bright colors and the “green Night” of the orange trees whose fruits are like golden lamps. In the heavenly Jerusalem, God will feed his chosen at a banquet that he has prepared (Revelation 19:7-9); on this island, God supplies food for the people. Each of the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem is a huge pearl; the coast, or “gate,” to the Bermudas is the place upon which God has “cast . . ./ The Gospels Pearl.” For his description of the Bermudas, Marvell draws from classical and biblical archetypes, weaving together details from various paradisiacal garden models in Western tradition, to create a powerful depiction of a land of beauty, abundance, and blessedness.
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