Well, he looks tough enough, doesn’t he ? Meet Andrew Marvell (1621-78) poet, politician and sometime private tutor. We’re going to look at some of his work in a moment, but let me fill in some of his biographical details.
He was the son of a clergyman ( also called Andrew Marvell) and was born in East Yorkshire. It’s a lovely area, rolling wolds leading to the coast. But it can be pretty bleak at times. East Yorkshiremen are a tough breed and young Andrew was no different.
After university, and the obligatory grand tour round Europe, he came back to England at the time of the Civil War. This was a long and bloody conflict between Parliament and King Charles 1, lasting nearly ten years. As in most civil conflicts, there were zealots at each end of the spectrum, but most people were simply unsure about who, if anyone to support.
For a while Andrew dallied with the Royalist side- he even considered becoming a Catholic- but in the end he chose to be private secretary to Sir Thomas Fairfax, one of the Parliamentarian generals.
Part of his duties was to act his private tutor to Fairfax’s daughter, Ann. The Fairfaxes had a house at Nun Appleton- a village outside York, and it was there that Marvell wrote ” Upon Nun Appleton House”- now you might think that he would write about the war- but he chose to write about the things which do not change, rather than the things that it do. It’s a poem about fields and woodlands, rivers and fishing. It’s a kind of oasis in the middle of all the fighting.
After the war – in which he had spent writing propaganda- he became a Member of Parliament for Hull. And he was a successful politician too.
His poems divide neatly into the public and the private.” A Horatian Ode” is a poem about Cromwell, but it’s no panegyric. Marvell writes in a finely shaded, allusive style, giving Charles 1 as much credit as Oliver Cromwell”
His private poetry is wild, fantastical and rude. ” To His Coy Mistress” is a seduction poem- immensely clever, not too crude, but crude enough to remind you what he’s writing about.
In ” Bermudas” he creates a lush, exotic jungle, a paradise for the Puritan exiles who come ashore.
But… damn ! I’ve run out of words ! I have this rule that no blog piece should be longer than 450 words…and I’m there already !
I’ll have to do a Part 2. Next time I want to tell you about his cleverest, most intriguing poem…… back, as they say, after the break.