Metaphysical poets, selected poems Contents
- Donne, John
- John Donne's early life
- John Donne - from Catholic to Protestant
- John Donne's marriage and its aftermath
- John Donne - The Reverend Dean
- Herbert, George
- Crashaw, Richard
- Vaughan, Henry
- Marvell, Andrew
- King, Henry
- Lovelace, Richard
- Cowley, Abraham
- Philips, Katherine
- Cleveland, John
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context: ideas and innovations
- Aire and Angels
- A Hymn to God the Father
- A Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse
- A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day
- At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Synopsis of Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Commentary on Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Structure and versification in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Imagery and symbolism in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Themes in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- A Valediction: of Weeping
- Batter my heart
- Death be not Proud
- Elegie XIX: Going to Bed
- Elegie XVI: On his Mistris
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
- Lovers' Infiniteness
- Oh my blacke Soule!
- Satyre III: 'On Religion'
- Show me Deare Christ
- Since She Whom I Lov'd
- Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre
- The Anniversarie
- The Dreame
- The Extasie
- The Flea
- The Good-morrow
- The Sunne Rising
- This is my playes last scene
- Twicknam Garden
- What if this present
- Affliction I
- Easter Wings
- Jordan I
- Jordan II
- Love II
- Prayer I
- The Church-floore
- The Collar
- Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Hymn to St Teresa
- St Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper
- To the Countesse of Denbigh
- Ascension - Hymn
- The Night
- The Retreate
- The Water-fall
- A Dialogue between Soul and Body
- On a Drop of Dew
- The Coronet
- The Definition of Love
- The Garden
- The Mower Against Gardens
- The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- The Mower's Song
- The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
- The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
- To his Coy Mistress
- Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
The Mower to the Glo-Worms
One of four ‘Mower' poems Marvell wrote
This is one of a set of four ‘Mower' poems. Three of them concern the Mower's hopeless love for Juliana, and the loss of his inner peace. In one of them, Damon the Mower, he also plays with the idea of Death being symbolised by a mower with his scythe. Like grass, he is ready to be cut down. All the poems are pastoral, but with mowers substituted for shepherds.
Glow-worms and foolish fires
Glow-worms are rarely seen in Britain these days. They can be quite breathtaking: little flashes of light literally appear as from nowhere. It would appear they used to be collected in jars and used as a source of light. The other type of natural light mentioned is the ‘foolish Fires' or ignus fatuus, which is a type of marsh-gas or methane, given off by the marsh. If followed, it can lead you straight into the marsh. The two contrasting lights become symbolic in the poem.
In the first stanza, the glow-worms benefit the nightingale, traditionally the song bird of the night. In pastoral, singing represents the making of poetry. The nightingale studies and meditates, as is appropriate for the night: hers is a serious song, in the manner of Marvell's contemporary, John Milton, whose pastoral Il Penseroso was written a little before this.
The poem now gradually slips downhill. The glow-worms are likened to ‘country comets'. Comets were seen as prophetic signs (‘portend','presage') that something bad was going to happen (‘War ... Prince's funeral'). Here, the Mower suggests the only bad thing is going to be the cutting of the grass, its ‘fall'.
The glow-worm is then seen as directing the way ‘To wandring Mowers ... that ... have lost their aim'. In retrospect, we can see exactly the symbolism of this, though when we first read it, we take it literally. For in stanza four, we find that:
my Mind hath so displaced
That I shall never find my home.
So the ‘wandring' Mower will stay wandering. The Latin word for ‘to wander' is ‘errare' from which we get ‘to err', hence ‘to fall into error'. So he has fallen, too, ‘fallen' in love and into error at the same time.
The strength of human passion
The Mower cannot be led by the glow-worms, but only the ‘foolish Fires' of sexual passion – a far cry from the quiet and harmonious meditations of the nightingale. The pathos of addressing the glow-worms as ‘courteous' while his mind is ‘displac'd' is poignant. He seems a decent fellow: really good-hearted, but sexual passion is too strong for even those who love the tranquillity of nature. This is the true nature of human fallen-ness. There may be the light of truth available; there may be the desire for it; but human passion in the end ultimately is too strong.
- Read through Marvell's The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- Is it about love, or passion, or infatuation?
- Look at the play on ‘ignis fatuus' and ‘infatuation'
- Why does he say ‘have lost their aim' rather than ‘their way'?
- Compare this to a Herbert poem. What is the difference of quality between Marvell's simplicity and Herbert's?
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