The poem, Bermudas, by Andrew Marvell, describes the feelings of a group of English pilgrims, who had fled from the religious persecution of Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time in England, and who found refuge in one of the islands of the group known as the Bermudas. Besides expressing the feelings of those pilgrims, the poem also describes the natural wealth of the particular island where the pilgrims had arrived.
Theme, Imagery and Language in Bermudas
The poem has a two-fold theme. It expresses the feeling of thankfulness of the English pilgrims to God for having brought them to this island where they are safe from the persecution of the fanatical island. Secondly, the poem contains a vivid account of the wealth and plenty of this island. From the imagery point of view, there is a very vivid imagery in the poem, besides being richly sensuous.
There is eternal spring which “enamels” everything on this island. The bright oranges shine in the shade of trees “like golden lamps in a green night”. The pomegranates here are richer than the jewels to be found in Hormuz. Then there are figs, melons and pine-apples which grow here in profusion. The cedars have been brought here from Lebanon. Another sensuous image is that of the ambergris to be found on the sea-shore. The account of the fruits growing here makes our (readers’ mouth) begin to water. This account is, indeed, exquisitely sensuous and appeals to our sense of smell as well as our sense of taste.
But there are other pictures also which are remarkable for their vividness. The islands are imagined as “riding the ocean’s bosom”. “The listening winds” receive the song being sung by the pilgrims. The pilgrims have been brought to this island “through the watery maze”. The phrase, “the watery maze” is by itself admirably as conveying the idea that the pilgrims could have been lost on the sea, not knowing the direction in which to sail. One of the most vivid images is that of the whales which seem to carry the ocean upon their backs but which can be destroyed by the power of God:
Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs.
The image of the song of the pilgrims being echoed by the sky and being heard beyond the Mexique Bay is also remarkable. It is an example of what is known as a sound-image. Another sound-image occurs in the closing two lines when the poet says:
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.
That apart, the poem “Bermudas” is also remarkable from the language and singing quality perspective. There is a very simple language used in the poem and its singing quality is par excellence. The feeling in the poem is strong, sincere , and spontaneous. Thus, the poem has all the qualities that we expect in a good lyric.
Where the remote Bermudas ride
In th’ ocean’s bosom unespy’d,
From a small boat, that row’d along,
The list’ning winds receiv’d this song.
The distant islands known as the Bermudas seem to be resting upon the surface of the ocean like ships at anchor. These Islands have long remained unseen because of the distance at which they are situated (from England). From a small boat, being rowed by a group of men along the sea-shore there, a song was heard by the attentive winds of one of the islands.
What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the wat’ry maze
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
The song ran as follows: “It is our bounden duty to sing this song in praise of God who guided us over the uncharted sea when were not at all acquainted with the course which we should have followed. It was the grace of God which brought us to this island which had long remained undiscovered and therefore unknown, and which is much more hospitable to us than our own native island of England.
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storm’s and prelates’ rage.
This is an island near which the huge whales, which seem to lift the ocean upon their backs, are destroyed in their battle with human beings through the intervention of God. God has enabled us to land on this territory which is overgrown with grass. Here we are safe both from the fury of the storms and from the fury of fanciful and high-ranking priests like Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury.
He gave us this eternal spring
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowls to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
God has brought us to this island, which enjoys an endless spring lending a rare beauty to everything. God daily sends the birds to us and they come flying through the air to visit us and feed us.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night;
And does in the pomegranates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
God makes oranges grow here in plenty; and in the shade of the trees these oranges look so bright that they seem to be golden lamps burning in the darkness of a green orchard. God also makes the pomegranates grow here; and inside these pomegranates are the red pips which look like jewels more costly than those to be found in the rich land of Hormuz situated on the Persian Gulf.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
God makes the figs grow here, and we can reach them with our mouths. God also makes the melons grow at our very fee; and he plants the pine-apples of such a rare quality that no three could ever bear such a fruit twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas that roar
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
God enriches this island with cedar trees which he himself has selected from Lebanon (famous for its cedar trees). And God makes the seas here proclaim in a roaring voice that there is ambergris on the shore for the having, just as a town-crier with his hollow mouth reads out in a loud voice a government proclamation.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The Gospel’s pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
We are rather proud of the fact that God not only enabled us to land here but also enabled us to bring our precious and holy Bibles with us. And God has also provided us with a church in the shape of the rocks of this island. In the midst of these rocks (which we will serve as a church) we can offer worship to God.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven’s vault;
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexic Bay.
Oh, may our voices singing the praise of God rise upwards till they reach the arched roof of the sky. Perhaps these voices, after striking against the sky, may come back in the form of echoes to be heard as far away as the “Mexique Bay”.
Thus sung they in the English boat
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.
This is the song which those English pilgrims sang from their boat in a cheerful and devout voice. And all the time that they were rowing, the rhythm of the downward drop of their oars guided the music of their song.
The poem, ‘Bermudas’ by Andrew Marvell is about the Bermudas, which are group of Islands in mid-Atlantic. The name ‘Bermudas’ was given to these islands by Juan Bermudez who discovered them in 1515. These islands came back into the news when Sir George Summers was wrecked there in 1609 and gave them their second name, The Summer Islands. Marvell’s this poem describes the fertility of one of these islands in the context of the arrival there of a group of English pilgrims who had fled from the religious persecution of Laud, the Archbishop of Canterbury at that time.
The poem was probably written sometime after July 1653 when the author went to Eton to work as a tutor to William Dutton, later a ward of Cromwell’s. There Marvell lodged in the house of the Puritan divine, John Oxenbridge, a Fellow of Eton College, who in 1634 had been persecuted by Archbishop Laud and who had made two trips to the Bermudas.
Thus, Marvell was able to get some first-hand knowledge of these islands from Oxenbridge. It also appears that Marvell felt inspired by the Puritan holiness and cheerfulness of the Oxenbridge house-hold.