Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax

A topographical poem

This is one of Marvell's longest poems, 97 octaves, written in the same verse form as The Garden, that is iambic tetrameter couplets. In forms a link between metaphysical poetry and some of the poetry later in the century. The topographical poem centred on some country house or estate became quite fashionable, and Marvell's poem is one of the earliest examples.

Nun Appleton House

Nun Appleton House was begun in 1637, on General Fairfax's marriage to Anne Vere. It was finished in 1650, the year Marvell became tutor to their daughter, Mary. It lies some eight miles south of York on the banks of the River Wharfe, just above where it becomes part of the Humber, so it was country familiar to Marvell.

The poem is divided as follows:

  • I – X (1-10): The house itself
  • XI-XXXVI (11-36): Its history
  • XXXVII-XLVI (37-46): The gardens
  • XLVII-LX (47-60): The meadows and other grounds
  • LXI-LXXVIII (61-78): The woods
  • LXXIX-LXXXI (79-81): the river
  • LXXXII-LXXXXIII (82-93): Mary, his pupil
  • LXXXXIV-LXXXXVIII (94-98): the future

A brief summary

It is not possible to give an account of the whole poem here. The nunnery episode which forms the main part of the house's history happened about 1518. The nunnery was later torn down and the new house built nearby using some of the materials from it. The episode suggests Marvell's anti-Catholic sentiments, especially the false piety of using the bridegroom and virgins' imagery (XIV) taken from one of Christ's parables (Matthew 25:1-10).

The garden section is perhaps the most interesting, as it relates directly to Marvell's pastoral poems, especially The Garden. Imagery connected with the Garden of Eden is used (XLI), with especial reference to Adam and Eve's expulsion from the Israel crossing the Red SeaGarden (Genesis 3:23-24). In the meadows section, there are several other biblical references, both to the Israelites leaving Egypt to enter the Promised Land. The first is in XLVII ‘Where Men like Grasshoppers appear', an allusion to Numbers 13:33; the second in XLIX, crossing the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21-25). In this stanza, the reference to mowers ties the poem up with Marvell's series of Mower poems, analysed above.

Military imagery

Although much of the imagery is pastoral, especially the description of the gardens, woods and meadows, there is constant use of military imagery, since the poem is dedicated to Lord Fairfax, a career soldier and the Commander of the Parliamentary Army in the Civil War before Cromwell took over on Fairfax's retirement. The gardens themselves have a military lay-out, so this is a literal image; the mowers are described as waging war on the birds, especially the hapless rails; even Fairfax's fishing exploits are full of weaponry.

Investigating Upon Appleton House
  • Read through Upon Appleton House
    • Do you sense that Marvell enjoyed his time at Nun Appleton House?
      • What did he find most congenial there?
    • What is Marvell's attitude to Fairfax himself? ( (XLIV-XLV)
    • Compare the mowers in the meadows section (L-LV) with The Mower's Song.
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