This week, Emily Carman shares with us a poem by Andrew Marvell.
Andrew Marvell was a 17th Century English metaphysical poet who lived from 1621 to 1678. He was the son of a clergyman and schoolmaster, and received his education at Trinity College, Cambridge. He was a traveler, a tutor, an advocate for constitutional liberties, and an assistant to John Milton. Although some of his poetry was published during his lifetime, the majority of his work was published after his death in 1681. Oddly enough, his publisher was his housekeeper Mary Palmer, who was merely trying to claim that she was Marvell’s widow in order to collect money.
The first time I read Marvell’s “A Dialogue Between the Soul and Body” I was immediately taken with his clever use of metaphor in this poem. At a time when it was commonly believed that the soul and body coexisted in harmony, Marvell brilliantly envisioned a conflict between the two, each desperately seeking freedom from the other. Although his poetry is obviously religious in nature, I do not believe that you have to be spiritual in order to appreciate his talent.
A DIALOGUE BETWEEN THE SOUL AND BODY
By Andrew Marvell
Soul. O, WHO shall from this dungeon raise
A soul enslaved so many ways ?
With bolts of bones, that fettered stands
In feet, and manacled in hands ;
Here blinded with an eye, and there
Deaf with the drumming of an ear ;
A soul hung up, as 'twere, in chains
Of nerves, and arteries, and veins ;
Tortured, besides each other part,
In a vain head, and double heart ?
O, who shall me deliver whole,
From bonds of this tyrannic soul ?
Which, stretched upright, impales me so
That mine own precipice I go ;
And warms and moves this needless frame,
(A fever could but do the same),
And, wanting where its spite to try,
Has made me live to let me die
A body that could never rest,
Since this ill spirit it possessed.
What magic could me thus confine
Within another's grief to pine ?
Where, whatsoever it complain,
I feel, that cannot feel, the pain ;
And all my care itself employs,
That to preserve which me destroys ;
Constrained not only to endure
Diseases, but, what's worse, the cure ;
And, ready oft the port to gain,
Am shipwrecked into health again.
But Physic yet could never reach
The maladies thou me dost teach ;
Whom first the cramp of hope does tear,
And then the palsy shakes of fear ;
The pestilence of love does heat,
Or hatred's hidden ulcer eat ;
Joy's cheerful madness does perplex,
Or sorrow's other madness vex ;
Which knowledge forces me to know,
And memory will not forego ;
What but a soul could have the wit
To build me up for sin so fit ?
So architects do square and hew
Green trees that in the forest grew.