A short analysis of Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘The Definition of Love’


A short analysis of Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘The Definition of Love’

By Hisham M Nazer

 

The Complete Poem:

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 flapp’d its tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive

Where my extended soul is fixt,

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 pow’r depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel

Us as the distant poles have plac’d,

(Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel)

Not by themselves to be embrac’d;

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 loves 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.

Clearing the metaphysical obscurity:

“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.”

The separation of lovers is fatal, and fate places the lovers at distant poles which is why they always feel to be more together even when there’s not an inch’s gap between them physically. The minds remain ever unsatisfied, for the nature of love is to extend it more to extreme and beyond; it is ever ‘begotten upon impossibility’, meaning that it doesn’t know how to be expressed in the countenance of infinity and perfection. Thus two lovers’ mind placed in distant poles always participate in the act of loving, and become themselves the individual vehicles through which Universal Love expresses itself, but still “Though love’s whole world on us (lovers) doth wheel”, meaning though the essence of Universal love is within the lovers in individual portion, yet their minds, possessed by love, can never embrace (come so closer to) each other. These lines compliment and explain the lines aforementioned-

“As lines (so loves) oblique may well

Themselves in every angle greet:

But ours so truly parallel,

Though infinite, can never meet.”

Variations have the advantage of making the opposites meet in twists and turns, like drawing lines haphazardly and gluing the opposite points by a special curve, but the said lovers’ love is so parallel, so linear, so similar in essence that the opposite points never meet, as there actually is none. Their love is always ‘a plainsphere’, that never makes them meet together—be one with each other mentally, and therefore this makes them more love sick, superior to happy lovers.

The last four lines too are complimentary:

“Therefore the love which us doth bind

But Fate so enviously debars,

Is the conjunction of the mind,

And opposition of the stars”.

The word ‘conjunction‘ here is so important. The idea of universal love and the natural essence in human that makes him a creature capable of loving, binds the lovers together in the love knot but in the way conjunction binds two sentences. There is always a separation, a juxtaposition, a gap in the use of conjunction, but never a complete union. Two things are connected together with an ‘and’ or ‘or’ which denotes both of them are active separately, and both them are of similar potentiality, potent to be used according to the demand of circumstance, respectively. Conjunction is a comma that denotes ‘continuity’, not an end, but yet this continuity is devised for two separate objects so that one can extend itself into the other. Love is this conjunction that binds two minds together, and fate produces the consciousness of gap in that conjunction. Fate is compared with the gap between the stars, that are almost similar in size and light, and same formally, but yet distant from each other. All of them share the light (all the lovers share the love), but none can be completely one with the other (as the love expressed in two individuals cannot make them be absolutely together, because their love is not the absolute-essential-love: the timeless idea of Love that does not depend upon the actors).

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    • tanvir
    • December 18th, 2011

    its a great pleasure for my part to take the taste of literature from this site. i like literature.
    Tanvir Mostafa ( Romen)

    • Immy khan
    • July 27th, 2012

    It,s been superb getting some faboulous data from here. It,s really helpfull for the students of literature

    • Origbo Gift
    • September 28th, 2012

    The write-up is a very good one.Pls can the metaphysical conceit of the poem be explained.

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