The text of "Andrew Marvell" by T.S

Andrew Marvell's "to His Coy Mistress" - Essay

English Essays: Andrew Marvell's "to His Coy Mistress"

greatly in the nineteenth century, a dream world utterly differentfrom the visionary realities of the or of thepoetry of Dante's contemporaries, is a problem of which variousexplanations may no doubt be found; in any case, the result makes apoet of the nineteenth century, of the sameMarvell is no greater personality than William Morris, but he hadsomething much more solid behind him: he had the vast and penetratinginfluence of Ben Jonson. Jonson never wrote anything purer thanMarvell's ; this ode has that same quality ofwit which was diffused over the whole Elizabethan product andconcentrated in the work of Jonson. And, as was said before, this witwhich pervades the poetry of Marvell is more Latin, more refined, thananything that succeeded it. The great danger, as well as the greatestinterest and excitement, of English prose and verse, compared withFrench, is that it permits and justifies an exaggeration of particularqualities to the exclusion of others Dryden was great in wit, asMilton in magniloquence; but the former, by isolating this quality andmaking it by itself into great poetry, and the latter, by coming todispense with it altogether, may perhaps have injured the language. InDryden wit becomes almost fun, and thereby loses some contact withreality; becomes pure fun, which French wit almost never is.
How oddly the sharp Dantesque phrase 'whence Gaza mourns' springs out fromthe brilliant contortions of Milton's sentence!
There is here an equipoise, a balance and proportion of tones, which,while it cannot raise Marvell to the level of Dryden or Milton,extorts an approval which these poets do not receive from us, andbestows a pleasure at least different in kind from any they can oftengive. It is what makes Marvell a classic; or classic in a sense inwhich Gray and Collins are not; for the latter, with all theiraccredited purity, are comparatively poor in shades of feeling tocontrast and unite.

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"Puritan" literature, with Milton or with Marvell. But if so, we areat fault partly in our conception of wit and partly in ourgeneralizations about the Puritans. And if the wit of Dryden or ofPope is not the only kind of wit in the language the rest is notmerely a little merriment or a little levity or a little improprietyor a little epigram. And, on the other hand, the sense in which a manlike Marvell is a "Puritan" is restricted. The persons who opposedCharles I and the persons who supported the Commonwealth were not allof the flock of Zeal-of-the-land Busy or the United Grand JunctionEbenezer Temperance Association. Many of them were gentlemen of thetime who merely believed, with considerable show of reason, thatgovernment by a Parliament of gentlemen was better than government bya Stuart; though they were, to that extent, Liberal Practitioners,they could hardly foresee the tea-meeting and the Dissidence ofDissent. Being men of education and culture, even of travel, some ofthem were exposed to that spirit of the age which was coming to be theFrench spirit of the age. This spirit, curiously enough, was quiteopposed to the tendencies latent or the forces active in Puritanism;the contest does great damage to the poetry of Milton; Marvell, anactive servant of the public, but a lukewarm partisan, and a poet on asmaller scale, is far less injured by it. His line on the statue ofCharles II, 'It is such a King as no chisel can mend', may be set offagainst his criticism of the Great Rebellion: 'Men ... ought and mighthave trusted the King'. Marvell, therefore, more a man of the centurythan a Puritan, speaks more clearly and unequivocally with the voiceof his literary age than does Milton.

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the dim and antiquated term wit into the equally unsatisfactorynomenclature of our own time. Even Cowley is only able to define it bynegatives:
It has passed out of our critical coinage altogether, and no new termhas been struck to replace it; the quality seldom exists, and is neverrecognized.
So far Cowley has spoken well. But if we are to attempt even no morethan Cowley, we, placed in a retrospective attitude, must risk muchmore than anxious generalizations. With our eye still on Marvell, wecan say that wit is not erudition; it is sometimes stifled byerudition, as in much of Milton. It is not cynicism, though it has akind of toughness which may be confused with cynicism by thetender-minded. It is confused with erudition because it belongs to aneducated mind, rich in generations of experience; and it is confusedwith cynicism because it implies a constant inspection and criticismof experience. It involves, probably, a recognition, implicit in theexpression of every experience, of other kinds of experience which arepossible, which we find as clearly in the greatest as in poets likeMarvell. Such a general statement may seem to take us a long way from, or even from the "Horatian Ode";but it is perhaps justified by the desire to account for that precisetaste of Marvell's which finds for him the proper degree ofseriousness for every subject which he treats. His errors of taste,when he trespasses, are not sins against this virtue; they areconceits, distended metaphors and similes, but they never consist intaking a subject too seriously or too lightly. This virtue of wit isnot a peculiar quality of minor poets, or of the minor poets of oneage or of one school; it is an intellectual quality which perhaps onlybecomes noticeable by itself, in the work of lesserpoets. Furthermore, it is absent from the work of Wordsworth, Shelley,and Keats, on whose poetry nineteenth-century criticism hasunconsciously been based. To the best of their poetry wit isirrelevant:
We should find it difficult to draw any useful comparison betweenthese lines of Shelley and anything by Marvell. But later poets, whowould have been the better for Marvell's quality, were without it;even Browning seems oddly immature, in some way, beside Marvell. Andnowadays we find occasionally good irony, or satire, which lack wit'sinternal equilibrium, because their voices are essentially protestsagainst some outside sentimentality or stupidity; or we find seriouspoets who seem afraid of acquiring wit, lest they lose intensity. Thequality which Marvell had, this modest and certainly impersonalvirtue--whether we call it wit or reason, or even urbanity--we havepatently failed to define. By whatever name we call it, and however wedefine that name, it is something precious and needed and apparentlyextinct; it is what should preserve the reputation of Marvell.

Andrew Marvells To His Coy Mistress English Literature Essay