The 400th anniversary of Andrew Marvell's birth arrived in March, so I've been rereading his poems.
The Restoration-era English poet, essayist and diplomat was honored in the Times Literary Supplement recently with new poems by Paul Muldoon, Will Harris and Angela Leighton.
Muldoon responded to Marvell's "The Mower to the Glowworms" with a comic poem from a glowworm's point of view, while Harris reflected upon Marvell's complementary "The Mower." Marvell's poems recall a wild English countryside all but destroyed by modern development. Muldoon and Harris give hope for a resurgence of Marvell's natural world.
The most historically resonant poem is Leighton's "By the Tide of Humber," reflecting upon Marvell's father drowning in 1641 while attempting to cross the Humber estuary in northeast England by barrow boat. Nine years later, Marvell wrote his most famous poem, "To His Coy Mistress."
The poem, which inspired American poet Archibald MacLeish's "You Andrew Marvell," cites the urgent passage of time in seeking to seduce a young woman. Other poems give clues that Marvell might have been gay.
He showed the same flexibility in navigating the political turmoil of the English civil war, the beheading of King Charles I, the Puritan regime of Oliver Cromwell and the restoration of Charles II. Along with poems on love and nature, Marvell commented upon the era's volatile politics, and might have been a Dutch spy.
Marvell's rhetorical wit sparkles, reflecting a poetic mastery no longer possible today. His rhyme, meter and metaphorical richness come from a vanished world. Yet his poems from four centuries ago have the eternal freshness of spring.