‘The Definition of Love’ – Andrew Marvell

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Andrew Marvell, ‘The Definition of Love’

Andrew Marvell’s
poem, ‘The Definition of Love’, was nominated by Sarah Cain, from

My Love is of a birth as rare

As ’tis, for object, strange and high;

It was begotten by Despair,

Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone

Could show me so divine a thing,

Where feeble hope could ne’er have flown,

But vainly flapped its tinsel wing

And yet I quickly might arrive

Where my extended soul is fixed;

But Fate does iron wedges drive,

And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see

Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;

Their union would her ruin be,

And her tyrannic power depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel

Us as the distant poles have placed,

(Though Love’s whole world on us doth wheel),

Not by themselves to be embraced,

Unless the giddy heaven fall,

And earth some new convulsion tear.

And, us to join, the world should all

Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

As lines, so love’s oblique, may well

Themselves in every angle greet:

But ours, so truly parallel,

Though infinite, can never meet.

Therefore the love which us doth bind,

But Fate so enviously debars,

Is the conjunction of the mind,

And opposition of the stars.

Further Reading

Andrew Marvell was born in 1621, and died in 1678.

Marvell wrote many lyric poems like ‘The Invention of Love’, but he was also very involved in the politics of his day. He was MP for Hull, during a period when – after of the English Civil War (in the 1640s) and the upheavals involved in the period between King Charles I’s execution in 1649 and Charles II’s restoration in 1660 – the political life of the country was in turmoil. Marvell also wrote poems and pamphlets about these political affairs and current events.

Another poet who lived and worked during the Civil War and after it was John Milton: in fact, Milton and Marvell worked together for a short period, as secretaries in the Council of State. Another poet who was involved in the twists and turns of late seventeenth-century politics, and whose poetry was influenced by them, is John Dryden. If you enjoy the wittiness and intricate ideas of this poem, you might also enjoy the work of Alexander Pope, who lived a few years after Marvell, especially his long poems The Rape of the Lock and The Dunciad, which are very funny indeed.

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