The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
A pastoral poem
This is one of a number of pastoral poems that Marvell wrote. It takes the form of a dramatic monologue, spoken by the nymph, which begins with an elegy or lament for the death of her faun and then moves on to raise wider spiritual and philosophical issues.
More on pastoral: See The Coronet
In general, Marvell's pastoralism centres on the locus of a garden, rather than the open countryside. This poem contains both open woodlands and a garden.
The English Civil War
Critics looking for a historical context point to the devastation caused by the English Civil War, which, at the time this poem was written, was either still going on or had just finished. ‘The wanton Troopers' are therefore soldiers from one of the armies. They are ‘wanton' because they have caused needless damage and death, as happens only too frequently in civil wars. They have killed the fawn, which then becomes metonymic, or a sign, of all such grief from needless destruction. Again, the nymph may be an actual girl that Marvell knew, whose pet deer really was shot. He imagines her in a pastoral setting, dramatising her situation, and through this, protesting at the violence. Similar hunting imagery is used in his poem An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland.
Classical and Christian references
The pastoral genre is a classical form in origin so Marvell uses Greek mythology. The poem refers to an incident in a Latin poem, Virgil's Aeneid (Book VII), in which Ascanius, son of Aeneas, causes a war by killing a stag without realising that it is the pet of Silvia, daughter of the royal gamekeeper. However, as a Christian poet, Marvell also uses these classical references symbolically, as many did many sixteenth and seventeenth poets. A second strand of allusion is woven into the poem, this time from Christian tradition, referring to the death of another innocent victim - the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross. The pastoral garden of Marvell may also evoke the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:8-10), the Fall of Humankind and the loss of innocence.
The nymph in fact loses her innocence twice over, both times at the hands of men. Firstly, there is Sylvio who ‘soon had me beguiled', taking his heart away but leaving her the fawn. Marvell creates puns on the names of deer: heart/hart; dear/deer. Whether the fawn signifies a child is ambiguous. Secondly, the wanton troopers then shoot the fawn but don't kill it outright. The nymph cradles it in her lap, where it dies. We actually see it die during the poem. Marvell seems to be saying that is is no place on earth of pure Edenic innocence any more. Sooner or later, corruption will come – not through any wily serpent, as in Genesis 3:1, but through humans, corrupted by sex and violence. Now the nymph looks forward to being united in death and remembrance with her fawn.
The verse form
The verse form is iambic tetrameter couplets, which Marvell uses very flexibly to gain the effect of the speaking voice. The language retains the simplicity of a country girl, though at times, Marvell's own learning comes through, in terms like Deodands (something which has caused a death and is therefore forfeit to the Crown) or Heliades (daughters of the sun god Helios who were turned into trees). There is other symbolism, such as the red and white of the roses and lilies, flowers associated with the Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ.
Investigating The Nymph Complaining
- Read through Marvell's The Nymph Complaining
- To what extent is can you sense a deeper meaning in this a sad story about the loss of a loved pet?
- What is the nymph's attitude to her ex-lover and the soldiers?
- What do you find attractive in the poem?
(see Themes and significant ideas > The Loss of Innocence).
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. 3So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation. 4These are the generations of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens. 5When no bush of the field was yet in the land and no small plant of the field had yet sprung up - for the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the land, and there was no man to work the ground, 6and a mist was going up from the land and was watering the whole face of the ground - 7then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers. 11The name of the first is the Pishon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold. 12And the gold of that land is good; bdellium and onyx stone are there. 13The name of the second river is the Gihon. It is the one that flowed around the whole land of Cush. 14And the name of the third river is the Tigris, which flows east of Assyria. And the fourth river is the Euphrates. 15The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die. 18Then the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him. 19Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. 20The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. 21So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. 22And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. 23Then the man said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
1Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. 2And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 3And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. 4These are the generations of the heavens and of the earth when they were created, in the day that the LORD God made the earth and the heavens, 5And every plant of the field before it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before it grew: for the LORD God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was not a man to till the ground. 6But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. 7And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. 8And the LORD God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9And out of the ground made the LORD God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil. 10And a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads. 11The name of the first is Pison: that is it which compasseth the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold; 12And the gold of that land is good: there is bdellium and the onyx stone. 13And the name of the second river is Gihon: the same is it that compasseth the whole land of Ethiopia. 14And the name of the third river is Hiddekel: that is it which goeth toward the east of Assyria. And the fourth river is Euphrates. 15And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. 16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. 18And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. 19And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. 20And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. 21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; 22And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. 23And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. 24Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, Did God actually say, You shall not eat of any tree in the garden? 2And the woman said to the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, 3but God said, You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die. 4But the serpent said to the woman, You will not surely die. 5For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil. 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. 7Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths. 8And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, Where are you? 10And he said, I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. 11He said, Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat? 12The man said, The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate. 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, What is this that you have done? The woman said, The serpent deceived me, and I ate. 14The Lord God said to the serpent, Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel. 16To the woman he said, I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you. 17And to Adam he said, Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, You shall not eat of it, cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return. 20The man called his wife's name Eve, because she was the mother of all living. 21And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them. 22Then the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever - 23therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden? 2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden: 3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die. 4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: 5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. 6And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. 7And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons. 8And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden. 9And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou? 10And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself. 11And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat? 12And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. 13And the LORD God said unto the woman, What is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat. 14And the LORD God said unto the serpent, Because thou hast done this, thou art cursed above all cattle, and above every beast of the field; upon thy belly shalt thou go, and dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life: 15And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel. 16Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. 17And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. 20And Adam called his wife's name Eve; because she was the mother of all living. 21Unto Adam also and to his wife did the LORD God make coats of skins, and clothed them. 22And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever: 23Therefore the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken. 24So he drove out the man; and he placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.
1. Associated with spiritual care
2. A literary work depicting sheperds or rural life.
1. A poem written in a certain classical metre.
2. A poem lamenting the death of someone; a poem of mourning.
Expression of grief. A lament is a literary form used to express grief and sometimes questioning caused by a crisis.
In classical mythology fauns were the attendants of the Roman god Faunus.
1. Consisting of or relating to (the) spirit(s), rather than material or bodily form.
2. Relating to matters of the soul, faith, religion, or the supernatural.
3. A type of religious song whose roots are in the slave communities of North America.
(1642-51). Series of military conflicts which rose out of religious, political and financial tensions between King Charles I and Parliament, which was increasingly influenced by Puritan sympathies.
To do with metonymy.
To do with Ancient Greek and Roman civilisation or literature.
Each culture and belief-system has its own set of explanations and stories which deal with the creation of the world; the way the universe is upheld; the way God, or the gods, deal with humans; and how the particular culture or belief was founded.
Publius Virgilius Maro (70-19 BCE) was a Roman poet who wrote the Aeneid, an epic poem about the Trojan Wars.
Aeneas - a Trojan prince, the son of Venus and Anchises; after the fall of Troy he finally settled in Italy where his descendants founded Rome.
Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.
In literature, something that is chosen to take on a particular meaning by the writer, e.g. clouds as symbols of mutability.
The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.
1. Instrument of execution used in the Roman Empire.
2. The means by which Jesus Christ was put to death and therefore the primary symbol of the Christian faith, representing the way in which he is believed to have won forgiveness for humankind.
The place described in the Book of Genesis in the Old Testament, in which God placed his first human creatures, Adam and Eve.
Adam and Eve's act of disobedience in the Garden of Eden described in the Old Testament Book of Genesis which led to estrangement from God for them and their descendants.
A play on the meaning of words, often for comic effect.
A term used of speech rhythms in blank verse; an iambic rhythm is an unstressed, or weak, beat followed by a stressed, or strong, beat. It is a rising metre.
A line of verse consisting of four metrical feet (in modern verse) or eight feet (in classical verse).
A rhyming 2-line unit of verse.
Something which represents something else through an association of ideas.