UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Public man, private poet : the poetry of Andrew Marvell. Coleman, Peter


This thesis is concerned with the life and poetry of Andrew Marvell as these reflect a literary and social period, 1600-1660, with quite distinctive characteristics. It is argued that Marvell led a dualistic and compartmentalised life, and that he was in this a typical figure of the age. The dualism is traced in his public career as a Civil Servant and parliamentarian, and in his private career as a poet. It is further maintained that the best poetry of Andrew Marvell derived from his years as a recluse, and the influence of the Metaphysical school of poets. His entry into public life in 1658 coincided with, and probably brought about, the termination of his private activity as a lyric poet. The thesis is divided into three chapters, which describe respectively the major events of the life, the influence on Marvell's poetry of contemporary poets, and the qualities and techniques of many of the major lyrics. The conclusions arrived at in the first section are only of the most generalised kind, since detailed information about Marvell is scanty, but it is possible to establish correlations between phases in the life and the writing of certain kinds of lyric. In the second section a good many verbal parallels between poems by Marvell and poems by Cowley and Lovelace are pointed out, but far the most important objective of this section is the description of the qualities of metaphysical poetry and the demonstration of the relevance of these to an understanding of Marvell's lyrics. In addition, it is maintained that it is only in the context of metaphysical poetry that Marvell's achievment can accurately be estimated. The final section yields no conclusions in the ordinary sense, but provides the detailed study of some lyrics and some of the longer poems which justifies the final judgment that, in some lyrics, Marvell demonstrates the qualities of technical skill, complexity of thought, and personal reinterpretation of the lyric tradition which are usually considered the hallmarks of a major poet, but that many poems in the canon fall far below the standard of the best lyrics.

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