14 December 2011

Marvell

Recently, as standard bearer of the Yorkshire Freedom Army, I have had to apologise for Jeremy Clarkson and George Bamber. However, today I celebrate the life of another Yorkshireman - the metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell who was born at Winestead in East Yorkshire in 1621. His father was the vicar there and this is the church he presided over. It's called St Germain's:-

Sadly the rectory house where Marvell junior was born was demolished long ago.

Marvell was a pupil at Hull Grammar School but at the age of only twelve he became a student at Cambridge University where he immersed himself in his studies, afterwards becoming an influential figure in English intellectual and political life. He was a well-known political satirist and became Hull's Member of Parliament in turbulent political times but it is chiefly as a poet that we remember him and perhaps his most famous poem is included below.

"To His Coy Mistress" - on the face of it, it is about the seduction of a young woman whose coyness had clearly frustrated the poet's baser instincts. However, it is also about man alone in a universe where the presence or absence of God seems immaterial. We are all victims of time and if we don't seize the day it will have passed us by. Here physicality and spirituality are woven together. Though written in the middle of the seventeenth century, this poem has a universal theme that should easily touch those modern day readers who are prepared to sit quietly for a few open-minded minutes and discover for themselves why Marvell remains so highly regarded:-

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave 's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Following the fatal attack of a malaria-like fever called tertian ague, Marvell was buried at St Giles in the Field in London in 1678, many miles from the quiet and rather remote Yorkshire hamlet where his life began. Thankfully, for every Jeremy Clarkson there is an Andrew Marvell.

7 comments:

  1. That's all very well, but I bet Marvell couldn't tell the difference between an Allegro and an Alfa or a Ferrari from a Fiat.

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  2. another good read YP..... but NEVER, EVER, EVER apologise to Mr Clarkeson...who is an odious piece of shite!
    Happy Christmas xxxx

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  3. I read this in my first-year English course at UC Davis. Not having much life experience, I read it literally and missed all the hidden meaning. When the professor went through line-by-line and gave her interpretation I thought, "What a pervert to see all that in a simple poem, and how am I supposed to read her mind?" And I switched my interest from English to Political Science.

    Alas, it makes more sense now.

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  4. ps could I not know your first name YP seems so teenage!

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  5. Andy Marvell as my lecturer used to call him.

    I think 'The Garden' and the even more inappropriate 'Mower Against Gardens' are unbelievably modern in more ways than one.

    Larkin (adopted) Sean O' Brien, Marvell- three reasons to include Hull in Yorkshire- not to mention yourself 'Tarquin' Pudding...

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  6. Yes it is lovely YP. Thanks for another pleasant literary interlude.
    Cheers

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  7. One of my favourite poems - thank you for posting it. Although I have read it many times, it never ceases to move me.

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