The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Andrew Marvell is classified as a Metaphysical poet. The Metaphysical poets flourished in the first half of the seventeenth century; their love poetry deals with the philosophical, not the romantic, aspects of being in love. The title suggests such an approach. The eight quatrains of the poem appear as an argument leading to the “therefore” of the final stanza, which has the terseness and compactness normally associated with definitions. It must be realized, however, that much Metaphysical poetry utilizes ambiguity, double meanings, and ironies. Here the term “definition” has its original Latin meaning of “restriction” as a double meaning. Marvell’s aim is to link the two meanings.

The poet speaks in the first person about “my love.” It soon becomes clear that “love” refers to the state, not the person, who is never described. The love poetry of the most famous Metaphysical poet, John Donne, works similarly; the object of love remains almost a fiction or cipher. Only in the first stanza is the object of love mentioned, in an enigmatic statement that “it” is “strange and high.” This suggests, perhaps, the aristocratic origins and uniqueness of the lady, as well as the quality of the poet’s love: It is elevated and outrageous that he should dare to love someone so nobly born.

He does not trace the birth of his love in terms of time and place but by abstractions, here personified as “Despair” and...

(The entire section is 564 words.)