Posts filed under ‘Andrew Marvell’

Eyes and Tears

Andrew Marvell


How wisely Nature did decree,
With the same Eyes to weep and see!
That, having view’d the object vain,
They might be ready to complain.

And since the Self-deluding Sight,
In a false Angle takes each hight;
These Tears which better measure all,
Like wat’ry Lines and Plummets fall.

Two Tears, which Sorrow long did weigh
Within the Scales of either Eye,
And then paid out in equal Poise,
Are the true price of all my Joyes.

What in the World most fair appears,
Yea even Laughter, turns to Tears:
And all the Jewels which we prize,
Melt in these Pendants of the Eyes.

I have through every Garden been,
Amongst the Red,the White, the Green;
And yet, from all the flow’rs I saw,
No Hony, but these Tears could draw.

So the all-seeing Sun each day
Distills the World with Chymick Ray;
But finds the Essence only Showers,
Which straight in pity back he powers.

Yet happy they whom Grief doth bless,
That weep the more, and see the less:
And, to preserve their Sight more true,
Bath still their Eyes in their own Dew.

So Magdalen, in Tears more wise
Dissolv’d those captivating Eyes,
Whose liquid Chains could flowing meet
To fetter her Redeemers feet.

Not full sailes hasting loaden home,
Nor the chast Ladies pregnant Womb,
Nor Cynthia Teeming show’s so fair,
As two Eyes swoln with weeping are.

The sparkling Glance that shoots Desire,
Drench’d in these Waves, does lose it fire.
Yea oft the Thund’rer pitty takes
And here the hissing Lightning slakes.

The Incense was to Heaven dear,
Not as a Perfume, but a Tear.
And Stars shew lovely in the Night,
But as they seem the Tears of Light.

Ope then mine Eyes your double Sluice,
And practise so your noblest Use.
For others too can see, or sleep;
But only humane Eyes can weep.

Now like two Clouds dissolving, drop,
And at each Tear in distance stop:
Now like two Fountains trickle down:
Now like two floods o’return and drown.

Thus let your Streams o’reflow your Springs,
Till Eyes and Tears be the same things:
And each the other’s difference bears;
These weeping Eyes, those seeing Tears.

After that stinging rejoinder to his last poem, I figured Marvell would want a good cry.

This is Marvell at his baroque best, each quatrain an intricate and polished gem – a new image or metaphor introduced, expanded and then beautifully closed out, and through it all the constant counterpoint of eyes and tears, ending with that glorious final line. This isn’t, to me, a particularly moving poem in an emotional sense – I’m more apt to laugh out loud at the cleverness of the verses than to feel any real empathy for Marvell – but it’s a sparklingly brilliant one.

May 17, 2006 at 7:37 pm 1 comment

To his coy mistress

Andrew Marvell


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’ed 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 glue
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-chapped 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 grates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Few poems in the English language are as influential [1] or as well-beloved as this one. And justly so. It’s a particularly deceptive poem, one that opens on comic, mocking note and can be read, in its entirety, as a rather frustrated gentleman’s desperate and hyperbolic attempt to get his lady into bed [2]. And yet somewhere in the middle of the poem, the silliness gives way to a darker sensibility and the poem gets down to business (a change in tone marvellously consonant with the change in meaning, vividly highlighting the two different arguments). What follows is arguably the most eloquent statement of the dictum ‘carpe diem’ ever put down in rhyme.

What woman, one wonders, could resist?

For more commentary, see Minstrels

[1] Eliot devotees will notice the “At my back I always hear / Time’s Wing’ed Chariot hurrying near” that Eliot parodies in the Waste Land.

[2] Some things, apparently, do not change

P.S. The text for this version comes from the Complete Poems published by Penguin Classics and edited by Elizabeth Story Donno. There are several discrepancies between this and other texts – most notably the use of glue rather than hue / hew in line 33. Donno argues that glue is what appears in the Folio, and is therefore the correct reading.

May 13, 2006 at 3:24 pm 1 comment