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
A Dialogue between Soul and Body
The dialogue form
The dialogue is a form of poetry which is not often used. However, Marvell did write several: A Dialogue between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure; Clorinda and Damon; Ametas and Thestylis are other examples, the first like this one, a moral debate; the other two, pastoral poems with some religious significance. It is best to see this dialogue as being like a first class cricket match. Both sides get two innings, alternately. At the end, we have to declare the match drawn. Marvell, though clearly favouring the Soul, does not give either side the match-winning argument.
The soul opens the batting with a powerful complaint: it is not only being imprisoned in the body, but tortured by it. The image of the soul being imprisoned is typically Platonic. Its move is to escape through the death of the body. Marvell plays with several parts of this extended conceit: ‘blinded with an Eye' makes a nice paradox. The organs of sense blind (and bind) the soul to heaven, keeping it bound to sense impressions. Blinding was a common form of torture, as was constant sound. The worst part is ‘a vain head', meaning stuffed with idle, fruitless thoughts, and a ‘double Heart', because divided.
The body is not too well pleased with this onslaught, and accuses the soul of driving it around, when all it wants is a quiet life. It even has to get up and walk upright! (‘mine own Precipice I go'). The soul makes it restless with its own restlessness. It feels possessed by ‘this ill spirit'.
The soul's response is to enlarge on the ‘double Heart'. It has its own grief through being trapped in the body and has to bear the body's grief as well. We might say in modern terms, the soul here is both the psychology and the spirituality of human existence: the psychology derives from the body; the spirituality, from its heavenly origins. Left to itself, it would escape the body by letting it die; but the body's concern is to keep itself alive, and the soul is forced to help it do that. Again, Marvell makes the most of this paradox in his imagery: ‘Shipwrackt into health again'; ‘whats worse, the cure'.
The body is allowed its second innings. It lists the psychological suffering the soul forces on it through hope, fear, love, hatred and so on. The list goes on through the whole stanza. It climaxes with the paradox:
To build me up for Sin so fit?
Only the soul has given it the consciousness of sin. Left to itself, it would live like the animals in instinctive, undifferentiated being. The final image is one that Marvell was to take up several times in his ‘Mower' poems: the body is like an undifferentiated tree growing naturally; the soul like an architect (or topiary gardener, as we might say), which trims and prunes it into all kinds of outlandish and unnatural shapes.
The key question
The final question is a real dilemma, then: Marvell has been working slowly towards it. Do human beings live ‘as Nature intended', however shapeless that life might be morally or intellectually? Or do we raise ourselves through, allowing our ‘souls' or spirits to restrain and shape our lives according to some overall design? Marvell does not push through to the soul's early conclusion: its wish for death as escape. He recognises life is something that has to be accepted, however problematic it is.
- Read through A Dialogue between the Soul and Body
- Pick out some of the images and work them out
- Compare Marvell's Platonism here with that of Vaughan in his Ascension - Hymn
- What are the differences in the way they express their desire to escape earthly existence?
- What is metaphysical about this poem?
- Compare Marvell's attitude to the body to Donne's.
Scan and go
Scan on your mobile for direct link.