Hi, I’m Andrew Marvell! You may know me from such poems as “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun” and “To His Coy Mistress”…

Sorry, sorry, couldn’t resist. Andrew Marvell(1621-1678) is today considered one of the foremost of the British Metaphysical poets, remembered for his lyric poetry. In his day, he was known instead for being a politician and a satirist, and largely forgotten afterwards. Interest in his work was revived first by Charles Lamb in the 19th century and then by T.S. Eliot in the 20th.

Marvell was the youngest of four children of the Reverend Andrew Marvell of Yorkshire, England, who drowned in the River Humber in 1640. Marvell graduated from Cambridge in 1639, but left the university and his academic career after his father’s death. During the early years of the English Civil War, he traveled the continent.

A few years after his return, he fell in with the parliamentarians. From 1650 to 1652, he was tutor to Mary Fairfax, future Duchess of Buckingham and daughter of the general Lord Thomas Fairfax. At their house Nun Appleton it is believed that he wrote some of his finest lyric poetry, like “Upon Appleton House” and “The Garden”.

In 1653, Marvell became the tutor to William Dutton, ward of Oliver Cromwell, which was the beginning of his association with the Lord Protector. He became a sort of poet laureate for Cromwell, but his laudatory political poems were too complex and ambivalent to be mere asskissing. His “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland” praises Cromwell, of course, but it is also quite sympathetic to the executed Charles I.

In 1657, he was appointed to the post Latin Secretary for the Commonwealth, a significant government post responsible for foreign correspondence (written in Latin) and affairs, with a salary of £200. The Latin Secretary was assistant to none other than fellow poet and friend John Milton, who was instrumental in securing the job for Marvell. Two years later, he became an MP in Parliament for his hometown of Hull. It was just in time too, because the Royalists were back in power and Charles II was king. They were out for the blood of Milton, a staunch defender of the Cromwell regime, but Marvell was instrumental in saving his life and the Royalists were content that the old, blind poet was harmless. Marvell would remain in Parliament until his death. In the next two decades, he penned his infamous satires and became involved in foreign political intrigue.

In 1678, he died of tertian ague as a result of a doctor’s malpractice. After his death, his poetry was published by his “widow”, “Mary Marvell”. She was actually his housekeeper Mary Palmer, who had gathered up Marvell’s papers and posed as his widow to get her hands on £500 of his money.

I suppose I’ll say a few words about his lyric poetry. Four will do: “To His Coy Mistress”. It’s witty, wicked, brilliant and one of the finest poems in the English language. If it was the only thing he ever wrote, it would be enough.

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