The Mower's Song

Pastoral convention

This is one of Marvell's four Mower poems. In one way, it represents almost a full circle for metaphysical poetry. John Donne began by mocking the Elizabethan pastoral convention, and striking out in a very anti-idealistic love poetry. Marvell now apparently re-instates the pastoral conventions, especially in the repetition of the last two lines – a typical Elizabethan device – and bewails his unfortunate fate at the hands of Juliana.

Human passion and contemplation in conflict

However, taken with two of the other Mower poems, The Mower to the Glo-Worms and Damon the Mower, these poems do set up a deeper enquiry into the conflict of human passion against the joy of contemplation. This is also a theme of The Garden.

Here, Marvell is taking the theme of the indifference of nature to passion. Nature can offer him little comfort: if he does not have the inner resources, then he is going to fall prey to hopeless frustration in his love. The first stanza opens with the phrase ‘My Mind', which is significant. He saw things clearly, as they were. Hopes were ‘green', that is, innocent, without passion, as in The Garden we have ‘a green thought in a green Shade'.

Pastoral fall

However, Juliana has come, and as he cuts the grass down, so she cuts him down. He falls. The idea of a pastoral fall and subsequent loss of peace and/or innocence runs throughout Marvell's pastoral poems, echoing the biblical Fall in the Garden of Eden. But Nature is now indifferent: in The Garden, it seemed as if Nature supported him in his tranquillity, but not now in his passion. In stanza two the garden keeps on growing and flowering; in stanza three he feels cut off from the meadows – is this a case of projection? Who is cutting whom?


So, in stanza four, he vows revenge on the meadows: he'll cut the grass down to size, but he will take himself with it ‘in one common Ruine fall'. There will be a shared fellowship in their fall, echoing the New Testament: Adam's fall is Nature's fall (Romans 8:22). But here it is only an act of revenge. The fallen meadow grass and flowers cannot adorn his grave.


The tight verse form suggests a certain irony. It is difficult to see if this is a real complaint, or just a tongue-in-cheek dramatisation by the poet. Here Marvell differs from Herbert. Herbert is always obviously committed to his speaking voice but Marvell's voice is more ambiguous, more ironic. What is clear is the gap between Nature and those who depend on it. There is even hostility, acts of violence and revenge. This is the practical result of the Fall, and so is anti-Romantic. The Mower is helpless to do anything about it.

Investigating The Mower's Song
  • Read through The Mower's Song
    • List the images and phrases that contrast Nature (the meadows) and the Mower?
    • What is Juliana's role in the poem?

(see Themes and significant ideas > The Loss of innocence).

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