Andrew Marvell. A review of Miscellaneous Poems, by Andrew Marvell
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[ 455 Andrew Marvell1 A review of Miscellaneous Poems, by Andrew Marvell London: Nonesuch Press, 1923. Pp. 148. The Nation and the Athenaeum, 33 (29 Sept 1923) 809. The Nonesuch Press, having produced an admirable edition of poems by John Donne, has now brought out a still more beautiful and wholly satisfactory edition of Marvell.2 It is to be hoped that these will be followed by similar editions of other poets of the same epoch; for if seventeenth-century poetry is to be in fashion – and we suspect that the Nonesuch Press is a barometer of the tastes of at least 850 people – let it be a thoroughgoing fashion.3 Fashions can be turned to account, and in this fashion there is a great deal that is wholly commendable; but if it is to be fruitful, and not merely an expression of petulance against the nineteenth century, it must establish itself by a discriminating study of a considerable number of poets, an appreciation of what they have in common, and of what each has that he shares with none other. A year or two ago, after the City of Hull, with more gratitude than most cities, had commemorated the tercentenary of a Parliamentarian who had served his constituency well, there appeared a memorial volume which did more credit to the City which subventioned it than to the writers whose critical essays on Andrew Marvell were there assembled.4 From such a collection some genuine agreement, or definite difference, concerning the place and significance in English literature of the author celebrated, ought to transpire: but it never does. Critics almost invariably treat a writer, on such solemn occasions, as if it were impiety to recognize that any other authors have existed, or have had any relation to the subject of the eulogy. Exactly the points which it is their business to ponder, and on which their consensus or discord would have some interest and value, are avoided; the critics neither agree nor disagree: they expatiate upon their own whimsies and fancies. Now, a poet must be very great, very individual indeed, for us to be more or less safe in isolating him in this way; and even then we have only the part of a true appreciation. And Marvell and his contemporaries are not in this class. There is no one of them who is a safe model for study, 1923 456 ] in the sense that Chaucer, that Pope, is a safe model. For they are all more or less fantastical. This is no censure; there is no reason why a poet should not be as fantastical as possible, if that is the only way for him. But fantasticality must be that proper to its age, and the fantastic which may be a proper expression for our own will not be the fantastic of any other. Our conceits cannot be those of Marvell; they will spring, equally genuine, from a different impulse, from a different level of feeling. Marvell is, without doubt, a very conceited poet. In a conceit two things very different are brought together, and the spark of ecstasy generated in us is a perception of power in bringing them together. It is, in my opinion , a conceit of the very finest order when Marvell says, of a spring of clear water: Might a soul bathe there and be clean? Or slake its drought?5 Our pleasure is in the suddenness of the transference from material to spiritual water. But when Shakespeare says – She looks like sleep As she would catch another Antony In her strong toil of grace,6 it is not a conceit. For instead of contrast we have fusion: a restoration of language to contact with things. Such words have the inevitability which make them appropriate to be spoken by any character. And when a greater than Marvell – Bishop King – says – But hark! my pulse, like a soft drum, Beats my approach, tells thee I come,7 that also is a conceit. If the drum were left out it would cease to be a conceit – but it would lose the valuable associations which the drum gives it. But when Dante says – Qual si fe Glauco, al gustar della erba,8 or – l’impresa Che fe Nettuno ammirar l’ombra d’Argo, –9 or the best known – [ 457 Andrew Marvell si ver noi aguzzevan le ciglia, come vecchio sartor fa nella cruna,10 these are not conceits. They have rational necessity as well as suggestiveness ; they are...