In the Miscellaneous Poems of Andrew Marvell, published posthumously, “The Mower, Against Gardens” stands first in a set of four pastoral poems centering on the figure of the mower. A significant proportion of Marvell’s poetry is pastoral by nature, but, as here, Marvell uses the pastoral convention in a most original way to ask fundamental questions about man’s fall, his passions, and the possibility of (re)gaining lost innocence within nature. Traditionally, pastoralism has opposed the innocence of country life (typified by the shepherd) to the corruption of civilization and the culture of the city. Marvell replaces the figure of the shepherd with a more ambiguous one, the mower, and he suggests that country life itself may be invaded by the corruption of the city. In other words, there is a moral and spiritual threat that mere place, or state, by itself, is insufficient to prevent. In the three other “mower” poems, the mower himself is seen losing his peace of mind through his passionate sexual feelings for a shepherdess, Juliana. He “falls” in love and in the ensuing despair and moral confusion thinks of death. As a mower, he sees himself as bringing death to the grass; he, too, has been cut down by passion.
In this poem, however, the mower is much more unambiguously denouncing the corruption typified by the ornate enclosed garden that was coming into vogue in the seventeenth century. The references to horticultural...
(The entire section is 477 words.)