Andrew marvell statue

Statue of Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), Hull, UK, 2007. Photo by Oliver Brown. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Andrew Marvell
Born March 31 1621(1621-Template:MONTHNUMBER-31)
Winestead, England
Died August 16 1678(1678-Template:MONTHNUMBER-16) (aged 57)
London, England
Occupation Poet
Notable work(s) "To His Coy Mistress", "The Garden", "An Horatian Ode"

Andrew Marvell (March 31, 1621 – August 16, 1678) was an English poet and Member of Parliament. As a metaphysical poet, he is associated with John Donne and George Herbert. He was a colleague and friend of John Milton.

Life Edit

Marvell was born in Winestead-in-Holderness, East Riding of Yorkshire, near the city of Kingston upon Hull. The family moved to Hull when his father, a Church of England clergyman also named Andrew Marvell, was appointed Lecturer at Holy Trinity Church there. The younger Marvell was educated at Hull Grammar School.

At the age of 12, Marvell attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where he eventually earned a B.A. degree.[1] Afterwards, from the middle of 1642 onwards, Marvell probably travelled in continental Europe. He may well have served as a tutor for an aristocrat on the Grand Tour; but the facts are not clear on this point. While England was embroiled in the civil war, Marvell seems to have remained on the continent until 1647. It is not known exactly where his travels took him, except that he was in Rome in 1645 and Milton later reported that Marvell had mastered four languages, including French, Italian and Spanish.[2]

First poems and Nun AppletonEdit

Marvell's first poems, which were written in Latin and Greek and published when he was still at Cambridge, lamented a visitation of the plague and celebrated the birth of a child to King Charles I and Queen Henrietta Maria. He only belatedly became sympathetic to the successive regimes during the Interregnum after Charles I's execution, which took place 30 January 1649. His "Horatian Ode" (Full title, "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland"), a political poem dated to early 1650, responds with sorrow to the regicide even as it praises Oliver Cromwell's return from Ireland.

Circa 1650-52, Marvell served as tutor to the daughter of the Lord General Thomas Fairfax, who had recently relinquished command of the Parliamentary army to Cromwell. He lived during that time at Nun Appleton House, near York, where he continued to write poetry. One poem, "Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax," uses a description of the estate as a way of exploring Fairfax's and Marvell's own situation in a time of war and political change. Probably the best-known poem he wrote at this time was "To His Coy Mistress."

Anglo-Dutch War and Latin secretaryEdit

During the period of increasing tensions leading up to the First Anglo-Dutch War of 1653, Marvell wrote the satirical "Character of Holland," repeating the then current stereotype of the Dutch as "drunken and profane": "This indigested vomit of the Sea,/ Fell to the Dutch by Just Propriety".

He became a tutor to Cromwell's ward, William Dutton, in 1653, and moved to live with his pupil at the house of John Oxenbridge in Eton. Oxenbridge had made two trips to Bermuda, and it is thought that this inspired Marvell to write his poem Bermudas. He also wrote several poems in praise of Cromwell, who was by this time Lord Protector of England. In 1656 Marvell and Dutton travelled to France, to visit the Protestant Academy of Saumur.[3]</ref>[4]

In 1657, Marvell joined Milton, who by that time had lost his sight, in service as Latin secretary to Cromwell's Council of State at a salary of £200 a year, which represented financial security at that time. In 1659 he was elected to Parliament from his birthplace of Hull in Yorkshire, and was paid a rate of 6 shillings, 8 pence per day during sittings of parliament, a financial support derived from the contributions of his constituency.[5] This was a post Marvell soon lost in the changes that occurred to parliament in 1659, only to regain it in 1660, whereafter he held it until his death.

Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell circa 1660. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

After the RestorationEdit

Oliver Cromwell died in 1658. He was succeeded as Lord Protector by his son Richard, but in 1660 the monarchy was restored to Charles II. Marvell eventually came to write several long and bitterly satirical verses against the corruption of the court. Although they circulated in manuscript form, and some found anonymous publication in print, they were too politically sensitive and thus dangerous to be published under his name until well after his death. He avoided punishment for his own cooperation with republicanism, while he helped convince the government of Charles II not to execute John Milton for his antimonarchical writings and revolutionary activities. The closeness of the relationship between the two former office mates is indicated by the fact that Marvell contributed an eloquent prefatory poem to the second edition of Milton's famous epic Paradise Lost. According to a biographer:

Skilled in the arts of self-preservation, he was not a toady.[6]

Marvell took up opposition to the 'court party', and satirised them anonymously. In his longest verse satire, Last Instructions to a Painter, written in 1667, Marvell responded to the political corruption that had contributed to English failures during the Second Anglo-Dutch War. The poem did not find print publication until after the Revolution of 1688-9. The poem instructs an imaginary painter how to picture the state without a proper navy to defend them, led by men without intelligence or courage, a corrupt and dissolute court, and dishonest officials. Of another such satire, Samuel Pepys, himself a government official, commented in his diary, "Here I met with a fourth Advice to a Painter upon the coming in of the Dutch and the End of the War, that made my heart ake to read, it being too sharp and so true."

From 1659 until his death in 1678, Marvell was a conscientious member of Parliament, steadily reporting on parliamentary and national business to his constituency and serving as London agent for the Hull Trinity House, a shipmasters' guild. He went on two missions to the continent, one to Holland and the other encompassing Russia, Sweden, and Denmark.



Marvell's poetry is often witty and full of elaborate conceits in the elegant style of the metaphysical poets. Many poems were inspired by events of the time, public or personal. "The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers" was written about the daughter of one of Marvell's friends, Theophila Cornwell, who was named after an elder sister who had died as a baby. Marvell uses the picture of her surrounded by flowers in a garden to convey the transience of spring and the fragility of childhood.

Others were written in the pastoral style of the classical Roman authors. Even here, Marvell tends to place a particular picture before us. In "The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn," the nymph weeps for the little animal as it dies, and tells us how it consoled her for her betrayal in love.

His pastoral poems, including "Upon Appleton House," achieve originality and a unique tone through his reworking and subversion of the pastoral genre.

Prose worksEdit

Marvell also wrote anonymous prose satires criticizing the monarchy and Catholicism, defending Puritan dissenters, and denouncing censorship.

The Rehearsal Transpros'd, an attack on Samuel Parker, was published in two parts in 1672 and 1673.

In 1676, Mr. Smirke; or The Divine in Mode, a work critical of intolerance within the Church of England, was published together with a "Short Historical Essay, concerning General Councils, Creeds, and Impositions, in matters of Religion."

Marvell's pamphlet An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England, published in late 1677, claimed that:

There has now for diverse Years, a design been carried on, to change the Lawfull Government of England into an Absolute Tyranny, and to convert the established Protestant Religion into down-right Popery...[7]

John Kenyon described it as "one of the most influential pamphlets of the decade"[8] and G. M. Trevelyan called it: "A fine pamphlet, which throws light on causes provocative of the formation of the Whig party".[9]

A 1678 work published anonymously ("by a Protestant") in defense of John Howe against the attack of his fellow-dissenter, the severe Calvinist Thomas Danson, is also probably by Marvell. Its full title is Remarks upon a late disingenuous discourse, writ by one T.D. under the pretence de causa Dei, and of answering Mr. John Howe's letter and postscript of God's prescience, &c., affirming, as the Protestant docrine, that GOd doth by efficacious influence universally move and determine men to all their actions, even to those that are most wicked.


Although Marvell became a Parliamentarian, he was not a Puritan. He had flirted briefly with Catholicism as a youth,[10] and was described in his thirties (on the Saumur visit) as "a notable English Italo-Machiavellian".[11][12] During his lifetime, his prose satires were much better known than his verse.[13]
File:Andrew Marvell engraving.jpg

Vincent Palmieri noted that Marvell is sometimes known as the "British Aristides" for his incorruptible integrity in life and poverty at death. Many of his poems were not published until 1681, three years after his death, from a collection owned by Mary Palmer, his housekeeper. After Marvell's death she laid dubious claim to having been his wife, from the time of a secret marriage in 1667.[14]

Critical introductionEdit

by Goldwin Smith

Andrew Marvell was not only a public man of mark and the first pamphleteer of his day, but a lyric and satiric poet. As a lyric poet he still ranks high. His range of subjects and styles is wide. He touches at different points Herbert, Cowley, Waller, Dryden, and the group of Lovelace and Suckling. But his most interesting connection is with Milton. Of that intellectual lustre which was produced by the union of classical culture and ancient love of liberty with Puritan enthusiasm, Milton was the central orb, Marvell a satellite, paler yet bright.

Like Milton, Marvell was at Cambridge, and there, after making himself an excellent Latinist, he graduated, as Milton had before him, in rebellious Liberalism by a quarrel with the authorities of his college. During his student days he was nearly drawn into the toils of the Jesuits; but he broke loose with an energy of reaction which has left its trace in Fleckno, his earliest satire. He afterwards spent four years on the Continent, living for some time at Rome, where, like Milton, he steeped his mind in Latin literature and inflamed his hatred of the Papacy.

In 1650 Marvell became tutor to Mary the daughter of Fairfax, the general of the Parliament, who had laid down his command and was spending his quiet days in literature, gardening and collecting books and medals at his manor house of Nun Appleton in Yorkshire. Here Marvell was in a special home of the Protestant chivalry of which Spenser was the poet. Spenser accordingly appears in his satires as the spokesman of English patriotism. The Hill and Grove at Billborow and Appleton House are memorials of the sojourn in the shades of Nun Appleton, and they bear no small resemblance to the compositions of Lord Fairfax.

In 1657 Marvell was recommended to Bradshaw as Assistant Latin Secretary of the Council of State by Milton, who describes him in his letter as a man of singular descent, acquainted with the French, Italian, Spanish and Dutch languages, well read in the Greek and Latin authors, and one whom if he had any feeling of rivalry or jealousy he might hesitate to bring in as a coadjutor. Marvell did not at that time receive the appointment; but he was employed as tutor to young Dutton, Cromwell’s intended son-in-law, at Eton, where he boarded with his pupil in the house of Oxenbridge, a zealous Puritan who had been driven into exile, with his wife, by prelatical persecution, and had preached in the Bermudas.

By Cromwell as protector, Marvell was made joint Secretary with Milton. The connection has left memorials in several poems, including that on the Death of the Protector, in which we find a little picture, vivid and true, of the great man’s look and bearing, by one who had often seen them.

  ‘Where we (so once we used) shall now no more
To fetch day press about his chamber door,
From which he issued with that awful state,
It seemed Mars broke through Janus’ double gate,
Yet always tempered with an air so mild,
As April suns that e’er so gentle smiled.’

On the return of the Stuarts, Milton, the defender of regicide, was driven into retirement, where he had leisure to prove that a great man may throw himself thoroughly into the struggles, the feelings, even the passions of his time, and yet keep Art, serene and unimpaired, in the sanctuary of his mind. Marvell, far less compromised and by no means regicidal, remained in public life, and as member for Hull sat, a Roman patriot incorruptible and inflexible, in the corrupt and servile parliaments of Charles II. The poems of his later days were not epics or lyrics, but satires, levelled, like his renowned pamphlets, against tyranny and wickedness in Church and State; and he died in the midst of a fierce literary affray with Parker, the most odious of the Restoration prelates, not without suspicion of poison. To Milton he remained bravely true, and his lines on Paradise Lost are about the earliest salutation of that sun as it rose amidst the clouds of the evil days.

As a poet Marvell is very unequal. He has depth of feeling, descriptive power, melody; his study of the classics could not fail to teach him form; sometimes we find in him an airy and tender grace which remind us of the lighter manner of Milton: but art with him was only an occasional recreation, not a regular pursuit; he is often slovenly, sometimes intolerably diffuse, especially when he is seduced by the facility of the octosyllabic couplet. He was also eminently afflicted with the gift of ‘wit’ or ingenuity, much prized in his day. His conceits vie with those of Donne or Cowley. He is capable of saying of the Halcyon:—

  ‘The viscous air where’er she fly
Follows and sucks her azure dye;
The jellying stream compacts below,
    If it might fix her shadow so.’
And of Maria—
  ‘Maria such and so doth hush
The world and through the evening rush.
No new-born comet such a train
Draws through the sky nor star new-slain.
For straight those giddy rockets fail
Which from the putrid earth exhale,
But by her flames in heaven tried
Nature is wholly vitrified.’

"The Garden" is an English version of a poem written in Latin by Marvell himself. It may have gained by being cast originally in a classical mould, which would repel prolixity and extravagant conceits. In it Marvell has been said to approach Shelley: assuredly he shows a depth of poetic feeling wonderful in a political gladiator. The thoughts that dwell in ‘a green shade’ have never been more charmingly expressed.

"A Drop of Dew", like "The Garden", was composed first in Latin. It is a conceit, but a pretty conceit, gracefully as well as ingeniously worked out, and forms a good example of the contrast between the philosophic poetry of those days, a play of intellectual fancy, and its more spiritual and emotional counterpart in our own time. The concluding lines, with their stroke of ‘wit’ about the manna are a sad fall.

"The Bermudas" was no doubt suggested by the history of the Oxenbridges. It is the ‘holy and cheerful note’ of a little band of exiles for conscience sake wafted by Providence in their ‘small boat’ to a home in a land of beauty.

"Young Love" is well known, and its merits speak for themselves. It is marred by the intrusion in the third and fourth stanzas of the fiercer and coarser passion.

The "Horatian Ode on Cromwell’s Return from Ireland" cannot be positively proved to be the work of Marvell. Yet we can hardly doubt that he was its author. The point of view and the sentiment, combining admiration of Cromwell with respect and pity for Charles, are exactly his: the classical form would be natural to him; and so would the philosophical conceit which disfigures the eleventh stanza. The epithet indefatigable applied to Cromwell recurs in a poem which is undoubtedly his; and so does the emphatic expression of belief that the hero could have been happier in private life, and that he sacrificed himself to the State in taking the supreme command. The compression and severity of style are not characteristic of Marvell; but they would be imposed on him in this case by his model. If the ode is really his, to take it from him would be to do him great wrong. It is one of the noblest in the English language, and worthily presents the figures and events of the great tragedy as they would impress themselves on the mind of an ideal spectator, at once feeling and dispassionate. The spirit of Revolution is described with a touch in the lines

  ‘Though Justice against Fate complain
And plead the ancient rights in vain
    (But those do hold or break
    As men are strong or weak).’
Better than anything else in our language this poem gives an idea of a grand Horatian measure, as well as of the diction and spirit of an Horatian ode.

Of the lines "On Milton’s Paradise Lost" some are vigorous; but they are chiefly interesting from having been written by one who had anxiously watched Milton’s genius at work.

Marvell’s amatory poems are cold; probably he was passionless. His pastorals are in the false classical style, and of little value. Clorinda and Damon is about the best of them, and about the best of that is

‘Near this a fountain’s liquid bell
Tinkles within the concave shell.’

The "Satires" in their day were much admired and feared: they are now for the most part unreadable. The subjects of satire as a rule are ephemeral; but a great satirist like Juvenal or Dryden preserves his flies in the amber of his general sentiment. In Marvell’s satires there is no amber: they are mere heaps of dead flies. Honest indignation against iniquity and lewdness in high places no doubt is there; but so are the meanness of Restoration politics and the dirtiness of Restoration thought. The curious may look at "The Character of Holland", the jokes in which are as good or as bad as ever, though the cannon of "Monk and De Ruyter" have ceased to roar; and in "Britannia and Raleigh" the passage of which giving ironical advice to Charles II is a specimen of the banter which was deemed Marvell’s peculiar gift, and in which Swift and Junius were his pupils.

Like Milton, Marvell wrote a number of Latin poems. One of them had the honour of being ascribed to Milton.[15]

Recognition Edit

A secondary school in Hull is now named after him.

Seven of his poems ("An Horatian Ode," "A Garden," "To His Coy Mistress," "The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers," "Thoughts in a Garden," "Bermudas," and "An Epitaph") were included in the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900.[16]

Publications Edit


  • "To his Noble Friend Mr. Richard Lovelace, upon his Poems," in Richard Lovelace, Lucasta. London: Printed by Tho. Harper & sold by Tho. Ewster, 1649.
  • "Upon the death of Lord Hastings," in Lachrymæ Musarum; The Tears of the Muses.... Collected and set forth by R. B. London: Printed by Tho. Newcomb, 1649.
  • Miscellaneous Poems (edited by Mary Marvell). London: Robert Boulter, 1681; London: Nonesuch Press, 1923.
    • facsimile edition, Menton, UK: Scolar Press, 1969.[17]
  • The Poetical Works. Boston: Little, Brown / Cincinnati, OH: Moore, Wilstach, Keys, 1857.[18]
  • The Complete Poems (edited by Alexander Balloch Grosart). privately published (The Fuller Worthies Library), 1872.
  • Satires. London: Lawrence& Bullen; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1892.[19]
  • The Complete Poetry (edited by George deF. Lord). London: Dent, 1968; New York: Random House, 1968.
  • The Complete Poems (edited by Elizabeth Story Donno). Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1972.


  • The First Anniversary of the Government Under His Highness the Lord Protector. London: Printed by Thomas Newcomb & sold by Samuel Gellibrand, 1655.
  • The Rehearsal Transpros'd: Or, Animadversions Upon a late Book, Intituled, A Preface Shewing What Grounds there are of Fears and Jealousies of Popery. London: Printed by A. B. for the assigns of John Calvin & Theodore Beza, 1672.
  • The Rehearsal Transpros'd: The Second Part. London: Printed for Nathaniel Ponder, 1673.
  • "On Mr. Milton's Paradise lost," in John Milton, Paradise Lost, second edition London: Printed by S. Simmons, 1674.
  • Mr. Smirke; or The Divine in Mode. N.p., 1676.
  • An Account of the Growth of Popery, and Arbitrary Government in England. Amsterdam, 1677.
  • Remarks Upon a Late Disingenuous Discourse, Writ by one T.D. Under the pretense De Causa Dei. London: Printed & sold by Christopher Hussey, 1678.
  • The Rehearsal Transpros'd and The Rehearsal Transpros'd: The Second Part (edited by D.I.B. Smith). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971.

Collected editionsEdit

  • The Complete Works in Prose and Verse (edited by Alexander B. Grosart). (4 volumes), London: Robson, 1872-1875. Volume I, Volume II, Volume III
  • The Poems and Letters (edited by H.M. Margoliouth). (2 volumes), Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1927
    • 3rd edition (revised by Pierre Legouis with E.E. Duncan-Jones). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1971.
  • Andrew Marvell (edited by Frank Kermode and Keith Walker). Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press (Oxford Authors Series), 1990.



  • Volume 2 of The Complete Works in Prose and Verse (edited by Alexander B. Grosart. (4 volumes), London: Robson, 1872-1875.
  • Volume 2 of The Poems and Letters, third edition (edited by H.M. Margoliouth, revised by Pierre Legouis with E.E. Duncan-Jones). (2 volumes), Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1971.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[20]

Poems by Andrew Marvell Edit

The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell01:41

The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell

  1. "On a Drop of Dew"
  2. "To His Coy Mistress"
  3. "The Garden"

See alsoEdit


  • Kenneth R. Friedenreich (ed), Tercentenary Essays in Honor of Andrew Marvell (Hamden CT, 1978).
  • A. B. Chambers, Andrew Marvell and Edmund Waller: Seventeenth-Century Praise and Restoration Satire (University Park, PA, 1991).
  • Nicholas McDowell, Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars: Marvell and the Cause of Wit (Oxford, OUP, 2008).
  • Nigel Smith, Andrew Marvell: The Chameleon (New Haven, CT, 2010) ISBN 978-0300112214.
  • Will Davenport features Andrew Marvell as a character in his novel about Rembrandt: 'The Painter' (HarperCollins) ISBN 0-00-651460-X
  • Warren L. Chernaik, The poet's time: politics and religion in the work of Andrew Marvell. Cambridge University Press 1983.


  1. Marvell, Andrew in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. Nicholas Murray, Andrew Marvell (1999), pp. 24-35.
  3. Andrew Marvell, Chronology of Important Dates, Luminarium, Apr. 7, 2012.
  4. Nicholas Murray, Andrew Marvell (1999), pp. 92-3.
  5. John Stuart Mill, Considerations on Representative Government, Chapter X, last paragraph p.369 Oxford World's Classic edition, On Liberty And Other Essays, 1991, reed. 1998
  6. Nicholas Murray, Andrew Marvell (1999), p. 117.
  7. Andrew Marvell, An Account of the Growth of Popery and Arbitrary Government in England (Gregg International Publishers Limited, 1971), p. 3.
  8. John Kenyon, The Popish Plot (Phoenix, 2000), p. 24.
  9. G. M. Trevelyan, England under the Stuarts (Routledge, 2002), p. 513.
  10. John Dixon Hunt Andrew Marvell: his life and writings (Paul Elek, 1978) pp. 24-25
  12. Robert R. Hay, An Andrew Marvell Companion (Routledge, 1998), p. 101.
  13. Robert Wilcher, "Andrew Marvell"
  14. Nicholas Murray, Andrew Marvell (1999), pp. 296-9.
  15. from Goldwin Smith, "Critical Introduction: Andrew Marvell (1621–1678)," The English Poets: Selections with critical introductions (edited by Thomas Humphry Ward). New York & London: Macmillan, 1880-1918. Web, Apr. 14, 2016.
  16. Alphabetical list of authors: Jago, Richard to Milton, John. Arthur Quiller-Couch, editor, Oxford Book of English Verse 1250-1900 (Oxford, UK: Clarendon, 1919)., Web, May 19, 2012.
  17. Poem Info, The Fair Singer, Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto,, Web, Apr. 7, 2012.
  18. The Poetical Works of Andrew Marvell, Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 7, 2012.
  19. Satires of Andrew Marvell, Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 7, 2012.
  20. Andrew Marvell 1621-1678, Poetry Foundation, Web, Nov. 5, 2012.

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