The Loss of Innocence

George Herbert:

Henry Vaughan:

Andrew Marvell:

Adam and Eve before The FallThis theme is very largely dealt with by Marvell and is related to his pastoralism. It is the typical form taken by his Christian Platonism. The pastoralism is linked to the biblical account of the Garden of Eden: it describes the first, primitive state of innocence, from which the human soul has been expelled and to which it longs to return. This can sometimes be glimpsed in solitary contemplation, as in Marvell's The Garden. But typically the passions, in the form of sexual love, destroy any such glimpses or states of being. This is ironically expressed in The Picture of Little T.C., where he takes the picture of an innocent little girl, and sees in her the cause, a few years hence, of sexual passion in her lovers. She will not necessarily consciously be the cause of this. In the Mower poems, we have no sense that Juliana deliberately provokes sexual passion in the Mower.

Sometimes, the loss of innocence is caused deliberately, as in the case of The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun. Marvell sees the causes as wider than passion. In The Mower Against Gardens, the loss comes through the acquisition of wealth and false sophistication. Herbert, in Affliction I, portrays his ‘lost innocence' as in fact a self-centred naïve belief that God had organised life for his personal benefit. This sort of innocence is worth losing, as it is grounded in unreality.

Vaughan tackles the theme more philosophically in The Retreate. The loss of innocence is metaphysical: that is, part of the nature of human life and being. The soul is innocent at birth because it has just emerged from heaven. Its loss of innocence is part of its forgetting, as it widens the distance in time and space between where it is now and its origins. Retrieval is possible, certainly more possible than for Marvell. It is through seeking revelation of heaven, through the contemplation that Marvell hints at in The Garden.

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