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My Echoing Song: Andrew Marvell's Poetry of Criticism

My Echoing Song: Andrew Marvell's Poetry of Criticism

Copyright Date: 1970
Pages: 347
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    My Echoing Song: Andrew Marvell's Poetry of Criticism
    Book Description:

    Professor Colie brings together all previous and partial perspectives on Andrew Marvell, adds new ones harvested from her own deep learning and wide research, and transforms the whole into what Professor Joseph Summers of the University of Michigan has called "the best critical book on Marvell's poetry." Rich in details and knowledge of seventeenth-century English poetry, aesthetics, Renaissance and Baroque literature and art, and critical theory,"My Ecchoing Song"first examines Marvell's uses of theme and device in various lyrics. Later parts of the book concentrate on "Upon Appleton House" and "The Garden," which Professor Colie reads from the various focuses of political history, Marvell's knowledge and use of emblems and classical authors, contemporary theology, philosophy, and painting.

    Originally published in 1970.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-7235-0
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    Rosalie L. Colie
  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. xv-2)
    (pp. 3-10)

    Theoretically and poetically, Marvell’s lyric poems move upon a very small floor. It is a mosaic floor, delicately worked in intricate patterns of great variety, with a great deal of fore thought; within the narrow limits that he chose, Andrew Marvell wrote fantastic variations upon his few themes. No other seventeenth-century poet, not even Marino, did so much in so little. In the last thirty years, Marvell has come into his own—perhaps into more than his own, or more than he deserves; this book adds to the bewildering array of interpretations and polemics clustered around Marvell’s name. Not that...


      (pp. 13-29)

      Marvell’s lyric poems have tempted more than one critic to draw conclusions about Marvell the man: his psychology and philosophy have been sketched out from what have seemed to different students the commanding themes and preoccupations of his verse, his character deduced from his imagery and interests.¹ That there are major themes in his poetry is of course undeniable; that he was obsessed by them, or that they have much to do with his life as he lived it, is a more dubious proposition. One does not need to resort to psychiatric caveats that there are not enough data in...

      (pp. 30-42)

      So many of Marvell’s poems have strong pastoral elements that it would be idle to try to discuss them all: the four Mower poems, conveniently enough, provide us with ample material to examine his ways within a single mode. In the four poems, four different perspectives upon pastoral are given.

      In “The Mower against Gardens,” the speaker inveighs against artifice and artificiality, in terms relevant to both “The Garden” and “Upon Appleton House.” In the longer poems, the poet, though by no means opposed to meadows, significantly praises the aesthetics of gardening; in this one, he sets out the traditional...

    • 3 LOVE POEMS
      (pp. 43-51)

      In a period so productive of brilliant love poetry,¹ Marvell’s love poems are remarkable for their coolness and self-sufficiency. From his love poetry, critics have often been tempted to derive a given poet’s attitude to love and psychological involvement generally, and Marvell has not been spared diagnosis from his poems. Precisely because of the detachment of his love lyrics, readers have come to various conclusions about the poet’s nature—that he was frigid, impotent, homosexual, capable only of “vegetable” love (whatever that may be). Actually, there is no more need to interpret Marvell’s love poetry as autobiographical than so to...

      (pp. 52-56)

      One great topic in western love literature is thecarpe diem,carpe floremtheme, so common in Renaissance poetry that one cannot expect a poet coming so late in time as Marvell to have made much of it. Normally,carpe diempoems are love poems, although in Marvell’s hands the theme is not so limited. He manages to try the hackneyed subject now this way, now that, to explore its possibilities and to reanimate some of its stiffened motifs. Hiscarpe diempoems range from love lyrics to meditative poetry, from “Young Love” to “The Garden.”

      In “The Coronet,” the...

      (pp. 57-72)

      Marvell’s examination of the implications of theme and genre led him to make different kinds of tacit comment on them: sometimes he noted the failure of a genre to fit even conventional and stylized behavior; sometimes he noted the limpness of conventional generic literary utterance, no longer interesting for a poet concerned with the limits and problems of his craft; sometimes he explored the possibilities implied in generic convention, developing its internal implications beyond their received limits; sometimes he analyzed the reasons for the failure of a genre or theme, occasionally offering new alternatives to a failed type. As in...


      (pp. 75-96)

      The place conveniently assigned to Andrew Marvell among seventeenth-century poets may be a generalization for the convenience of teachers, but it is also true. He does sum up in his practice most of the major idiosyncratic styles of the period; his work provides traces of the major “schools” of poetry into which late-Renaissance English verse is often divided. He shares something with the metaphysical school, with the classical school, and much with “Miltonic” moral poetry. Marvell is a mediator in lyric style, as in much else: from theconcettismoof Cleveland and Crashaw to the smoothness of Carew, from the...

      (pp. 97-105)

      Mr. leishman’s book demonstrates beyond question what Marvell had in common with his contemporaries: a good classical education, a store of rhetorical commonplaces deriving from antiquity and enlarged in the Renaissance, a lively professional interest in the technical possibilities of verse and of poetry. Like more poets than we realize, perhaps, Marvell used his stock of images with considerable economy, even, one occasionally thinks, niggardliness. A figure is likely to occur more than once in his work, adapted to different needs; some tendencies in his use of figure can be identified. His language often naturalizes the artificial or artificializes the...

      (pp. 106-117)

      Obviously, figures involve imagery, and imagery has something to do with pictures visible to the eye or the mind. Marvell’s use of visual tradition is remarkable, even in an age when “iconography” was one material reservoir for a poet. Many of the poems he wrote fall into standard forms accommodating ecphrasis, or poetic rendering of a work of art, and follow the Horatian maxim that poetry and painting are alike,ut pictura poesis. “The Gallery” is an obvious example, as are the various Instructions to a Painter, both forms common in late seventeenth century poetry, and both of them dependent...

      (pp. 118-123)

      Marvell’s use of visual traditions leads one to consider his tendency to miniature, so beautifully exhibited in a poem like “On a Drop of Dew,” or in the bird-emblems of “Upon Appleton House.” Emblems have a tendency toward diminution, but there are other kinds of diminution illustrated in several ranges of Marvell’s practice. In his epigrams, the poet achieves compactness and fullness at the same time, a compactness which opens out, as the epigrammatic couplets of “The Garden” do, like Japanese paper flowers. Very often, Marvell’s formal diminutions relate to thematic points: he wants to present, for instance, the mysterious...

    • 5 PERSONA
      (pp. 124-134)

      Since Marvell so often used the same theme to many different ends, or looked at an idea from many different perspectives, it is not surprising that the poet himself seems to some readers remarkably uncommitted to his poems and their “message.” Many readers react sharply to what seems a cold-bloodedness they feel inappropriate in a lyric poet, a cold-bloodedness absent from the work of, say, Donne, Herbert, Crashaw, and Vaughan. In this respect, Marvell is more like those Cavalier poets whose conventions permitted and even required that poetical persona be detached from the feeling poet: one would never guess from...

  7. Intersection Preface to Parts III and IV
    (pp. 135-138)

    In the sections which follow, I have tried to provide a reading for two of Marvell’s most substantial poems, “The Garden” and “Upon Appleton House.” Because the two poems share a good deal and draw upon a common store of resources, some of my observations may seem to overlap. What I say about the emblematic method, for instance, applies to both poems, or to parts of both poems, but I have laid it out most fully in the chapter on “The Garden.” Much of what I say about mixed genres applies to both poems, too; indeed, I think the poems...

  8. PART III “The Garden”

    • 1 “THE GARDEN”
      (pp. 141-178)

      The Garden “presents a primary puzzle, because though its language is clear as glass, thesfumatoof its meanings seems to belie the beautiful precision of vocabulary and syntax. However we read the poem, it seems to hold “more” the next time; it must, then, withhold something of itself from us at each reading. It shares its mysteriousness with other poems in Marvell’s lyric collection, although its idiom of mystery seems to me to be its own.

      Among other poems, “Bermudas,” oddly unexplained, is a case in point. We know a great deal about the poem and its content, perhaps...


      (pp. 181-191)

      Like “The Garden,” which it so resembles in theme and language, “Upon Appleton House” is a puzzling poem, made up of elements in themselves peculiar and in conjunction odder yet. It is unlike “The Garden,” though: where the shorter poem is polished, accomplished, at moments even slick, “Upon Appleton House” is frankly irregular. It flaunts its own seams, points to its own joinery, publicizes its own gaps. The transitions from one section of the poem to another, from one theme to another, from one kind of language to another are neither sinuous nor gradual; modulation is not a characteristic of...

      (pp. 192-218)

      Upon Appleton House” is a poem about a house and the estate crowned by the house, mutually supporting and honoring each other. From very different perspectives, the poet provides us with different views of the topography: we see the house itself, as a study in architecture; the ruins of an earlier “house,” still visible as a pile of masonry on the estate, seen in the poem as a “quarry” and even a “chaos”; the formal gardens next the house; the water-meadows by the river, with the rural activities appropriate to such a scene; the wood, cut by a straight alley;...

      (pp. 219-238)

      From his remarkable use of many different kinds of visual traditions, it is plain that Marvell wanted to emphasize the problematical in “Upon Appleton House.” In this poem, itself directed to questions of choice and of self-definition, definitions themselves are continually called into question, and point of view comes to take an overriding importance. Officially, the poem praises retirement, the country life, the pastoral-georgic existence in a mutable world. The more it is examined, however, the less straightforward this “praise” turns out to be, the more peculiar and qualified life on the perfect estate seems. Retirement has its problems, too,...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
      (pp. 239-249)

      Poet and pupil, then, go properly “in,” retiring to a house designed as a fixed point at the center of the swirling instability outside it. They go in without fanfare, because it is night: so Lord Fairfax went in, because the political world was benighted, and men were in the dark. But Appleton House, though in so many ways a model of goodness and proper economy and thus a model from which England might well be redesigned, is at the same time no earthly paradise untouched by time, disorder, and disaster. On the estate, catastrophes seem to take place, although...

      (pp. 250-263)

      Like so much else in this shifty poem, “in” and “out” shift their boundaries, interchange with one another, interpenetrate one another. The poet has learned much from Montaigne’s method of working, although compared with Montaigne’s essays, Marvell’s work is far more indirect, offhand, mysterious, noncommittal; Marvell never tells us directly what his subject is, only circles around it, alludes to it, builds it up by inference, reference, and tone. One must abstract from what Marvell says in “Upon Appleton House” to understand what he is doing. In theApologie, Montaigne is far franker: he takes mutability as his subject, faces...

      (pp. 264-276)

      When Maria transfixes the natural scene into its still-life, the irregular flux of this long poem is for a time checked: in the poetic language, the flowing river, the actualfluvius, is hardened to glass, the creatures in and around it arrested to a perfect stillness. Against the background of metamorphosis and anamorphosis, this moment forces attention, as the poet also redresses himself, puts away his “Toyes” in obedience to his strict pupil’s appropriate decorum. From that moment to the end of the poem, the poet addresses himself to a proper chronicle and moralization of what is and should be...

      (pp. 277-294)

      On the largest scale of literary elements, “Upon Appleton House” manages to express its author’s attitude to the world by still another means, the peculiar manipulation of languages, subjects, and themes associated with different literary genres. We have become accustomed to the notion that as soon as Renaissance authors learned to observe the strict definition of literary kinds, they immediately began to trespass across the generic boundaries; in seventeenth-century English literature, for instance, we findgenera mixtaself-consciously and self-confidently displayed in some of the very greatest works of the period. By strict standards, very few authors adhered for long...

    (pp. 295-306)

    In spite of the clarity and frankness with which Marvell uses his literary resources in both “The Garden” and “Upon Appleton House,” he consistently mutes his references to traditions, presenting only obliquely his peculiar modifications of them. With so much expressed in these poems, the wonder is that so much isnotsaid as compared, say, with Milton’s practice: Milton’s references to sources and to traditions are usually clear, while Marvell’s are sidelong, more often than not concealed. Marvell manages to make uneasy very alert and learned readers by his hints and insinuations of further meanings just beyond their grasp....

  11. INDEX
    (pp. 307-315)