Notes on Selected Poems
This page contains guidance notes on fourteen of Andrew Marvell’s Poems: To His Coy Mistress : Horatian Ode : Eyes and Tears : The Fair Singer : Definition of Love : Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers : Bermudas : Dialogue Between Soul and Pleasure : Dialogue Between Soul and Body : The Garden : The Mower to the Glo-Worms : The Coronet : On a Drop of Dew : A Nymph Complaining For the Death of Her Faun
A poem of passionate urgent seduction which becomes a recognition of the temporality of life, the passage of time, and the necessity to pack experience into one’s allotted years.The three sections clearly introduce the stages of the argument : ‘Had we”, ‘But at my Back’, ‘Now therefore”, and each section has a different tone. The first uses familiarly audacious imagery to emphasise the vast spans of time, here for comic effect, particularly when timespans are devoted to the admiration of the woman’s body parts. The light-hearted touch is winning, designed to put the lady at her ease, and ends with earnest persuasion that the ‘Heart’ is the lover’s aim, and his suit honourable. This has already been undercut by his reference to her separate breasts, which are sexual, rather than the more neutral singular breast, the seat of the heart and emotions. His real aim is made more apparent in the second section, which seeks to frighten with ideas of death and decay before the morbid threat of the phallic ‘Worms’ taking her ‘Virginity’, and her ‘Honour’, with a possible pun on ‘quaint’/queynte, becoming dust. The section closes by easing off from the fright with a light-hearted off-hand quip, which nevertheless supports the argument. The rhythm and imagery of the final section is throbbing and forceful to convey the vigorous determination on action to outwit time; ‘Fires’, ‘birds of prey’, ‘devour’, ‘Strength’, ‘tear our Pleasures with rough strife’, ‘run.’ The attractiveness of this vigour can be undercut by focusing on the violence and negativity of some of the imagery, but the sense of energy is irrefutable. One cannot stop time, but one can cheat its ‘slow-chap’t Pow’r’. Note the three alliterative stressed syllables ‘Sun/ Stand still,’ with the caesura to emphasise the solid suggested motionlessness, before the headlong rush to the end of the final line.Though the poem is predominantly iambic quadrameter couplets, note how differently the rhythm works from the same rhythm in ‘The Nymph’.
A long, complex and ambiguous poem where it is difficult to be certain where Marvell’s sympathies really lie, which is perhaps a sign of his political astuteness. On the one hand, Cromwell is under an ‘active Star’ and he has ‘Courage’, but describing the ‘Arts of Peace’ as ‘inglorious’ sounds ironic. There is also a disturbing violence in ‘fiery way’, ‘burning’, ‘rent’ and ‘blast’, as well as energy. However, Cromwell appears to be God’s agent, compared with the elemental force of ‘Lightning’ and ‘angry Heavens flame’. This way, he cannot be resisted, but Marvell also pays tribute to the attributes of the man himself, a quiet man who ‘liv’d reserved and austere’ and progressed by praiseworthy ‘industrious valour’. This is the man who propels a revolution, capable of recreating the kingdom in ‘another Mold’. This is qualified, though; the new kingdom means the ‘ruine’ of a ‘great Work of Time’, and ‘antient Rights’ are lost. Kingdoms, suggests Marvell, are only as strong as those who govern them, a pragmatic view. Other men are lesser than Cromwell, and therefore must accommodate him. Marvell also pays ambivalent tribute to Cromwell’s political skills, which are ‘wiser’, but the imagery of ‘twining subtile fears’ and ‘Net’ is inescapably negative. This ambiguity extends to Charles himself, the beheading of whom is a crucial moment in Cromwell’s history. Charles is ennobled, a ‘Royal Actor’ who ascends the ‘Tragick Scaffold’. On the other hand, the dramatic imagery may suggest that Charles merely played the part of king. However, he accepts his death with patience, doing ‘nothing common’ or mean’, but ‘bow’d his comely Head,/ Down as upon a Bed.’ The simile of the bed suggests death gives final repose, and that it is accepted as the inevitable conclusion of life as sleep is the inevitable conclusion of the day. Marvell also toys with doubt when he points out that severed heads are not traditionally taken to be good omens, while in this one ‘the State/ Foresaw its happy Fate.’The Irish campaign is introduced not only to demonstrate Cromwell’s military skill in defeating the Irish within ‘one Year’, but also to point out the Irish acknowledgement of Cromwell’s goodness, justness and trustworthiness. This is confirmed by Marvell’s comments on his selflessness, gaining spoils not for himself but for ‘the Commons Feet’. His ‘Fame’ becomes the kingdom’s fame. This is illustrated with the metaphor of the Falcon, representing Cromwell, which hunts and kills not for itself but for the Falconer, representing ‘the Commons’, who retains control: he ‘has her sure.’Cromwell receives the ultimate accolade for a leader when he is compared to Caesar, and Marvell suggests that Cromwell’s empire might stretch as far as Caesar’s. The rest of Caesar’s history is tactfully not mentioned, but remains implicit — a man who was assassinated because he seemed ready to accept the crown and therefore threaten the republic. A closer domestic threat, the Picts, are mentioned, and pictured to be afraid, ready to abandon their colourful ‘Plad’ so that they might not be seen by ‘the English Hunter’. The last eight lines are written in a surging rhythm, marching towards the poem’s close. Cromwell is personified as ‘the Wars and Fortunes Son’, therefore tireless and unassailable, marching with ‘Sword erect’. He will not be vanquished by military opponents or the forces of evil. The last couplet, though, has a different tone, with a sense of a warning or a test for Cromwell. He has proved to have the ‘Arts’ for gaining ‘Pow’r’ but ‘must’ now maintain it. Since Marvell has already suggested that Cromwell is a man of action, finding the ‘Arts of Peace’ ‘inglorious’, some doubt is cast.
The poem contains the paradoxical metaphysical argument that tears are superior to that which produces them, the eyes. It also suggests that life is carefully balanced, and each joy must be paid for with equal weight of sorrow. It is full of typically linguistically logical but tenuous metaphysical metaphors, such as that straight-falling tears, as ‘Plummets’, are better tools of measurement than the eyes, which are ‘Self-deluding’ because they foreshorten height. The eyes also become ‘Scales’ to ensure that ‘Joyes’ are paid for in equal weight of tears. The metaphor of ‘Jewels’ for eyes is developed by the description of tears as ‘Pendants’. All ‘Laughter turns to Tears’; even the beauty of the garden is no solace, or in a slightly different reading of the last line of that stanza, tears are the only solace. The sun is described as an Alchemist, seeking to ‘Distill’ the ‘Essence’ of the world. The quintessence found is sorrow, which is returned ‘in pity’ as rain. With straining logic, Marvell suggests that the grieving are ‘happy’, because their tears prevent them from seeing clearly; not the softness of the imagery in ‘Bathe still their Eyes in their own Dew.’ Mary Magdalen showed wisdom in crying, as the tears ‘Dissolv’d’ her eyes which had been the source of her sin in ‘captivating’ men. In a development of the imagery, her insubstantial tears become ‘Chaines’ which ‘fetter’, but here the capture is of ‘her Redeemer’ (cf. ‘Dialogue between Soul and Body’, ‘The Fair Singer’, ‘The Coronet’). Taking a visual perspective, the swollen weeping eye is more beautiful than the full sail of a homeward-bound ship, the full moon, or, toying with sacrilege, ‘the chast Ladies pregnant Womb’. The waters also dispel the threat of passionate ‘desire’, as rain reduces the effect of lightning. Marvell continues with metaphors and reversal to demonstrate the superiority of tears, concluding that crying is the ‘noblest use’ of the eyes; this is what makes human eyes particular. Tears are associated with natural imagery: ‘Clouds’, ‘Fountains’, ‘floods’, ‘Streams’ and ‘Springs’. Ultimately, eyes weeping confuse the separation between themselves and the tears they shed, and this equals them with the paradox of ‘These weeping Eyes, those seeing Tears.’
In this poem the duality of Body and Soul is reflected in a different form. The poem is a love poem in praise of a woman, the Fair Singer of the title. She is so powerful in her effect over the man because she appeals to both his physical side through her beauty, and his spiritual side, through her singing. The relationship between them is couched in battle imagery, which is paradoxical as the Singer becomes his opponent. This paradox is confirmed in ‘so sweet an Enemy’. There is further play on ‘Harmony’, both referring to her singing, and the playing together of her ‘Eyes’ and ‘Voice’ to vanquish him. He is in thrall, a familiar idea for the powerless lover, and confirmed by ‘conquest’, ‘death’, ‘bind’ and ‘captivate’ in the first stanza. The second stanza repeats that it is the Singer’s two powers which defeat him, and his impotence is apparent: his ‘Soul’ is ‘intangled’ and he is victim of ‘subtile Art’ which is able to effect paradoxes, where the weak or insubstantial become imprisoning bands: her hair is ‘curled trammels’ and the air becomes ‘fetters’. The last stanza complains that the fight is unfair, and ‘resistance’ is ‘vain’, and her weapons of ‘Eyes and Voice’ are likened to ‘the Wind and the Sun’, elemental, unquenchable forces. Construction is tight and consistent, with each stanza consisting of an alternately rhymed quatrain followed by a couplet, written in iambic pentameter. The poem is therefore as regular and as well structured as one of the Singer’s songs might be.
Love is defined as impossible; this is a pessimistic rather cynical poem. Fate is personified as a ‘jealous’ and tyrannous character who opposes love, and who would be threatened by the existence of perfect love. Many of the images of love in the poem are positive and attractive taken on their own: ‘of a birth as rare’, ‘so divine a thing’, ‘my extended Soul is fixt’, ‘Two perfect Loves’, ‘Conjunction of the Mind’. However, each of these descriptions is antithetically opposed: the rare birth is from a mating of ‘despair/ Upon Impossibility’, the oxymoronic ‘Magnanimous Despair’ shows the divine thing, the Soul cannot reach its aim because of ‘Iron wedges’, Fate’s ‘jealous Eye’ will not let the perfect loves join, and the ‘Conjunction of the Mind’ is paired with the ‘Opposition of the Stars.’ Hope is also personified, but is no match for Fate, being ‘feeble’, and this weakness being illustrated by the pathetic vain flapping of ‘its Tinsel Wing.’ Note how this metallic image contrasts with the metal of Fate, strong and brutal in driven ‘Iron wedges’, and hard and cold in ‘Decrees of Steel’. The last few stanzas make much play of metaphysical concerns with geography, cartography and geometry. The two lovers are placed on the Poles, so though the whole world revolves on them , they cannot embrace unless the world is destroyed and the globe becomes flattened into two planispheres. Note how the optimistic ‘joyn’ becomes the reductive ‘cramp’d’ because it is created by cosmic chaos. Imperfect loves are like ‘oblique’ lines; they will meet at an angle. Perfect loves, however, are ‘truly parallel’, and therefore ‘can never meet.’ The antithetical pattern of the poem is apparent throughout, even in the diction of individual lines and stanzas: ‘flown… flapt’, ‘extended… fixt’, ‘union… ruine’, ‘pow’r depose’, ‘distant… embrac’d’, ‘distant Poles… whole World’, ‘oblique… parallel’, ‘greet… never meet’, ‘bind… debarrs’, ‘Conjunction… Opposition’. Look also at the opening words of each stanza to see clear stages in the progression of the argument.
Not just a sweet poem about a little child, but one which glances at a number if Marvell’s perennial concerns: time, ageing, and love. The innocence and ‘simplicity’ of the ‘golden daies’ of youth is the poem’s starting point. The child is pictured in a natural environment, though is already affecting it, but naming the flowers. Marvell the projects that when older, she will conquer Love with her weapon of chastity, leaving him with ‘Bow broke and Ensigns torn’. She will become, therefore, an ‘Enemy of Man.’ Again, relationships between the sexes are seen as a battleground. The poet would life to leap ahead in time and ‘parly’ with her himself, before she has wounded and driven over others. He then suggests he would like to watch her conquests from the safety of ‘some shade.’ The child’s beauty, in a departure from ‘The Faun’ and ‘The Garden’, is superior to nature; ‘every verdant thing’ is charmed by her, she ‘Reform[s] the errours of the Spring’, lends the tulips a ‘share/ Of sweetness’, ‘disarm[s]’ the roses, and Marvell would like her to ensure that violets lasted longer. He has already referred to her as ‘Nimph’ and ‘Darling of the Gods’, and this is continued in the final stanza with the apostrophe ‘O young beauty of the Woods’. He finally pleads with her to ‘spare the Buds’ as she gathers flowers: to kill burgeoning youth might make Flora, goddess of flowers, seek revenge on the child, who is a budding human being. By working through the associations with flowers in the poem, Marvell makes merit out of the cliché of nipping in the bud in the final line: ‘Nip in the blossome all our hopes and Thee.’
The poem reflects contemporary interest in exploration (the Bermudas were discovered in 1515, approximately 140 years before the poem was written) and the exotic riches which burgeoning world trade brought. The isolation of the islands is emphasised (‘unespy’d’, ‘wat’ry Maze’, ‘so long unknown’). The song which only the winds hear from the boat of Englishmen is a hymn of praise for the fabulous and sensual delights to be found. Fruits are actively gorgeous, reminiscent of The Garden, but here directed by God, who ‘makes’ the figs offer themselves, and ‘throws’ the melons. Other fruit have extra properties: oranges become ‘lamps’, the [pine]apples are immense and the pomegranate’s seeds become ‘Jewels’. Here Spring is paradoxically ‘eternal’, and God has transplanted Lebanon’s cedar trees. For all this delight, the Englishmen sing in ‘Praise’, to be heard in ‘Heaven’s Vault’ and echo back and beyond the Bay of Mexico. Note the construction of rhyming couplets, and the language of care (‘chosen by his hand’) to balance the excess (‘Jewels more rich than Ormus shown’). The antithetical balances can also be found elsewhere in Marvell; here note ‘shades/bright’, golden/green’ and ‘Lamps/Night’.Such perfection only exists in isolation, and the content is very reminiscent of fantastic travellers’ tales. The Bermudan land is ‘far kinder than our own’, and is ‘Safe from Storms, and Prelat’s rage.’ Again this has echoes of The Garden, though this poem’s praise of God is different from the Garden being a substitute for romantic contact and social intercourse.
Pleasure seeks to tempt the Soul from its path to Heaven by a number of sensual delights, with each being curtly rebuffed until the midway climax of aural pleasure, which the Soul acknowledges. All further temptations are likewise deflected. The civility of the argument contrasts with the Chorus’ military imagery, which elevates the debate. Even so, the attraction of Pleasure is recognised: ‘an Army strong as fair,/ With silken Banners spreads the air.’ Pleasure’s tone is friendly and inviting (‘downy Pillows’ and ‘soft Plumes’). The Soul, by contrast, sounds rather prim (My gentler Rest is on a Thought,/ Conscious of doing what I ought.’) The poem ends with the Chorus celebrating Soul’s ‘triumph’, though the reader may wonder how persuasive the poem has made this victory. Here Marvell’s frequent dilemma between the spiritual and the sensual life is given dramatic form, the two sides of the debate becoming characters engaging in argument. The perhaps unconvincing textual victory of the Soul may well indicate the impossibility of such an easy division between the two sides of human nature.
Again Marvell’s sensual/spiritual argument is dramatised, and the Soul and the Body become the direct representatives. They argue for complete separation from each other, the Soul seeing itself as imprisoned within the Body. Thus bones become ‘bolts’, feet become ‘fetters’ and hands become manacles. Parts of the body are metamorphosed into prison accoutrements: nerves and veins are torture ‘Chains’, and the eyes and ears are paradoxically ‘blinded’ and made ‘deaf’. On the other hand, Body resents that it is impelled by ‘Tyrannic Soul’. With outrageous paradox it sees life as an act of spite by the Soul, in order to make the Body die. Body can never rest while inhabited by the ‘ill Spirit’ of the Soul. Although appealing in their audacity, both Soul and Body undercut their own argument by their use of paradox. As a direct contrast to the Body, the Soul also longs for Death, and therefore release. Its argument in the third stanza is full of paradox: it feels pain, though it ‘cannot feel’, and has to ‘preserve’ the Body, which ‘destroys’ it. The curing of the disease is worse than the disease itself, thus ‘Health’ becomes a ‘shipwrack’. The Body attacks the Soul’s emotions, which no medicine can cure. Each emotion is given a correlative physical ailment, to show how the Soul affects the Body. (‘Cramp of Hope’, ‘Pestilence of Love’ etc.) Finally the Body rebukes Soul for equipping him for sin, and in this acknowledges the central concern of the Soul. Though there is a metaphysical logic in the arguments of the two assailants, the stretch of their paradoxes frequently becomes unsupportable, and therefore the more they argue for their separation, the more they in fact argue their mutual dependence. Body and Soul cannot be separated; each has no function without the other. Therefore the sensual/spiritual debate is what makes us human.
The pleasures of the Garden are seen as a substitute for, even superior to, the pleasures of society, social intercourse and romance. Immediately we are told that society confers honours on victors, rulers and poets with the leaves of one tree, whereas the Garden offers ‘all Flow’rs and all Trees’. It is a place of ‘repose’, offering the peace of ‘delicious Solitude’ which can never be found in the ‘busie Companies of Men’. The third stanza presents the Garden as more ‘am’rous’ than women, who are represented by the colours of white (fair skin) and red (lips). Love and Lovers are ‘cruel’, and the beauty of the Garden ‘far’ exceeds the beauty of women. This dismissal of women might surprise after ‘To his Coy Mistress’, but can be seen as a development of the man’s captivity in ‘The Fair Singer’ and ‘The Mower’. Nature exceeding feminine beauty also recalls the superior whiteness of the Faun’s foot in ‘The Nymph’. The Garden offers solace after ‘Passions heat’, so much so that Marvell reverses the myths of Apollo and Daphne and Pan and Syrinx to suggest that the gods pursued for the plants that their quarry turned into rather the women themselves. This section of the poem concludes with an evocation of the sensual delights the Garden itself provides. It is full of ‘ripe’ and exotic fruit, which offers itself to the visitor, reaching into his hands, and the grapes even passionately kissing him; they ‘crush their Wine’ on his ‘Mouth’. There is richness to excess; he is ‘Stumbling on Melons’ and is ‘Insnar’d with Flow’rs’, but when he falls, it is onto ‘Grass.’ Note the prevalence of m, l and s sounds in this stanza, which give it its sensual softness. Marvell is often concerned with the balance of the sensual and the spiritual, and this appears again here. Having described the physical pleasures of the Garden, he moves to that of ‘the Mind’ in stanza six. In the Garden, worldly concerns are transcended and subsumed into ‘a green Thought in a green Shade.’ In this environment, the Soul finds peace. Marvell uses the simile of a bird with ‘silver wings’, which in the Garden is able to prepare for its ‘longer flight’ to Heaven. In the penultimate stanza the Garden is compared with Eden, but notably Eden before Adam’s rib became Adam’s ‘Mate’. Provocatively, Marvell suggests a solitary existence in Eden was preferable, and that Eve was created because the enjoyment of Eden alone was too perfect for a mortal; it would be ‘two Paradises’ in one’. While rather cheeky, this almost jocular provocation is similar to his treatment of the myths in stanza four, and both fulfil his argument in the poem very well. Finally Marvell praises the Gardener for the organisation of the Garden. The sundial demonstrates time and season by the position of the sun, from which the Bee also ‘Computes its time’. Marvell ends with the appropriateness of reckoning time by means of the ‘herbs and flow’rs’ around the sundial.
A love poem in the pastoral tradition, the mower being the voice of the poem, drawing a lesson from the glow worms. The insects are elevated by the description of ‘Living Lamps’ by the light of which the nightingale studies her ‘matchless Songs’, and the light humour of this is continued with the mocking apostrophe of ‘Ye Country Comets’. Unlike real comets, which foretell the downfall of great men, the glow worm appearance only warns of the fall of ‘the Grasses’.In the second half of the poem, the glow worms as metaphor begins to run along side the glow worms as literal insects. The secondary meaning is found in ‘wandring’, ‘way’, ‘Night’, ‘aim’, ‘foolish Fires’ and ‘stray’. The lights keep the mowers on the right moral path as well as their literal path homeward. As the voice of the poem is that of a mower, he should be subject to the glow worms’ services, but in the final stanza he implicitly apologises to them for the ‘wast’ of their efforts. Juliana is his ‘foolish Fire’, leading him away from ‘the way’ and his proper ‘aim’. The ‘Fire’ is clearly the heat of passion, but there is a tone of lament in the last stanza. The glow worms are now ‘courteous’, whereas earlier they were ‘officious’, and the mower describes his loss of mind, which has been ‘displac’d’, both distracted, and removed from its proper place on its true path. There seems to be little joy in Juliana, as the poem ends rather emptily with an image of loss: ‘I shall never find my way home.’The powerlessness of the man in love, and his sense of being in thrall, is traditional (qv. ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci‘ by Keats), and is reminiscent of the imagery of conquest and capture in ‘The Fair Singer’.
Perhaps the most complex poem in the selection, but a perfect marriage between content and form. The complexity is not gratuitous, but very much part of the poem’s meaning and structure. The poet seeks to find a suitable garland to make redress for the crown of thorns worn by Christ, which is made up of his own sins. Note the ‘long, too long’ repetition, referring to a length of time but also recalling the length of the cruel thorns, picked up by ‘piercing wound’. To make the garland, which is represented by the poem, he takes flowers from the ‘Shepherdesses head’. Here the link between the garland of flowers (‘fragrant Towers’) and the poem itself is made clear, as the Shepherdess represents the pastoral tradition. Therefore he takes his art from the pastoral, and conveys the poetic skills on Christ as tribute. Thus coronet and poem are one, and the poem is weaved as closely as the intertwining stems and branches of the plants. In congratulating himself on his skilful weaving, he shows pride, thinking that ‘never yet the king of Glory wore’ a coronet so fine. This grants entry to the Serpent, ‘disguis’d’ amongst the flowers, as the poet’s own ‘Fame and Interest’ are contained there too. Only Christ can vanquish the Serpent, either by disentangling his ‘slipp’ry knots’ from the wreath, and therefore the wreath itself, or by smashing the whole thing. ‘Frame’ is both the wreath and the poet’s own body, who will only be saved at the moment of death. He therefore abandons the coronet, in order to kill the Serpent, his pride, thus casting aside his poet’s and flower-wreather’s ‘Skill’. He ends with humility: Christ treads on the flowers (‘Spoils’ being both victory trophies and spoiled things), and the poet is allowed to venerate Christ’s feet, bowing and abject, rather than crown his head.
A classic metaphysical poem, its argument hinging on a beautiful, potentially absurd conceit. The dewdrop is first introduced and described; its status as a visual aid for an argument is only made clear after eighteen lines, with ‘So the Soul, that Drop’. At this point the conceit becomes apparent and the argument unfolds, after the essential qualities of the dewdrop have already been explained by the poet. The description is full of playful paradox and personification, representing the drop as fearful of impurity and yearning to be evaporated. Much is made of its self-containing shape (‘Round in itself incloses’) and the limits of its tactile connection with the surface on which it rests (‘Scarce touching where it lyes’). Its physical features become personified emotional traits — the little touch becomes a ‘slight’, its wateriness becomes a ‘Tear’ and its liquid instability becomes a fearful ‘Trembling’. But it is ‘Orient’; both born from the east with the rising sun, and also precious.The poem’s main argument is thus conveyed almost by sleight of hand, fully established before the reader knows it is an argument. The second part of the poem explores the aptness of what has just been described for the dewdrop for the Soul. This is most apparent in the ten line section before the final quatrain, where the same ideas are explored simultaneously for the dewdrop and the soul. Note the uplifting final line: ‘Into the Glories of th’Almighty Sun’ augmented by the cadence of the rhythm.
A wistful pastoral elegy, written in iambic quadrameter couplets. The urgency of the Nymph’s grief is put aside after its first expression in order to reminisce about the life of the Faun, only to return with the cry ‘O help! O help!’ The poems ends with consideration of a fitting memorial rather than an outpouring of grief.The injustice and wastefulness of the death is first emphasised; the troopers are ‘wanton’, and the death will not ‘do them any good.’ The Faun, though, shows a patience which can be seen as Christian: she wishes them no ‘ill’, and prays ‘to forget/ Thy murder’. It is tempting to equate the Faun with Christ, particularly noting the final couplet of the section, (‘There is not such another in/ The World, to offer for their Sin.’) though this analogy is limited when the rest of the poem is considered. Note the connection between the killers, the Faun and the Nymph: they ‘wash their guilty hands’ in the Faun’s blood, which wounds the Nymph ‘to the Heart’. The generic name Sylvio is part of the pastoral tradition, and the pun on deer/dear is conventional. Sylvio’s gift of the Faun is calculated to win the heart (hart pun) of his lover, but the Faun is antithetically linked with Sylvio: as it became ‘tame,’ he ‘grew wild,’ and he leaves the Faun, but takes ‘his Heart.’
The delight of the Faun makes it a far more satisfactory companion than ‘false and cruel men’, and the Faun rewards it with tender nursing at her ‘own fingers’. It becomes superior to humanity, with a foot ‘more soft,/ And white’ than any lady’s hand. This extends to its fleetness, which is hyperbolically compared to riding ‘the four Winds’, but also brings in the first undercurrent, where the Faun seems to flirt with the Nymph: ‘ ‘Twould stay, and run again, and stay.’ Note how the punctuation accentuates the movement of the Faun. The description of the Faun becomes complex, balanced between purity, represented by the ‘Lillies’, and sensuality, represented by the ‘Roses’. It chooses at times to disappear amongst the lilies, but feeds on roses so that ‘its Lips ev’n seem’d to bleed’. Its forwardness, in ‘print[ing] those Roses’ on the Faun’s lip is contrasted with its ‘pure virgin Limbs’. The Faun’s death is as patient as the Nymph’s acceptance of it. Its tears become blessed relics and will be used in reverence of Diana, the hunting goddess of chastity.
The poem ends with a concentration of images of utter purity; first the Faun is connected with white animals, ‘Swans’ Turtles’, ‘Lambs, and Ermines’, then the Nymph promised a statue of herself in ‘Marble’, which though stone, will still weep (paradox and hyperbole). At the statue’s feet will be a replica of the Faun, in ‘Alabaster’, which is whiter than marble, and the whitest substance the Nymph can think of, but still not as white as the Faun itself.