A new reading of Andrew Marvell's Mower poems.

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Badley, William
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Middle Tennessee State University
Andrew Marvell's Mower poems, as a group, have been seen divergently as "charming" pastoral divertissements, ironic anti-pastorals, emblematic soul struggles, and theological allegories but have not been examined carefully in the context of his canon. From my reading, there does not appear to be, as some have maintained, more than one Marvell. That is, Marvell uses themes, techniques, and images found in the Mower poems in his other works. This continuity is seen in the Mower poems in his inclusion of most levels of language and allusion--from the Greek and Roman classics to the bawdy street singers, both in the context of biblical imagery. His satiric humor appears along with his noted wit of joining apparently opposite ideas. The political and religious debates of mid-seventeenth century appear, along with contemporary sciences of optics, alchemy and horticulture. His continuing interests in art, nature and their relation appear in conjunction with two major themes of the Renaissance, love and death. My argument is that Marvell's work is syncretic and synthetic, that he is the "ultimate Renaissance poet" (Donno, "The Unhoopable" 44). Specifically, the Mower poems provide a "casebook" of Marvell's poetry and prose; Renaissance concerns of perception and rational thought are examined through the pastoral peregrinations of the bawdy Mower whose struggle with Love and Death enfolds on him as a character in time and as Time.
My analysis begins with a discussion of critical opinion of Marvell generally and the Mower poems in particular in Chapter One. Chapter Two is a detailed reading of "The Mower against Gardens," with its mix of biblical and erotic diction. Chapter Three describes the bawdy connotations in the shifting perspectives found in "Damon the Mower." Chapter Four examines the sinister and erotic connotations in "The Mower to the Glowworms," drawing on information from the classics and folklore. Chapter Five describes the shattering experience of passion aroused, self-satisfaction, and despairing anger when frustrated. This is followed by a Conclusion that suggests areas for further study.