Andrew Marvell

Eyes and Tears by Andrew Marvell

The poem, ‘Eyes and Tears‘ by Andrew Marvell is also metaphysical by virtue of its unusual imagery and its metaphors which are both ingenious and just. There is, for instance; the image of tears which better measure tings and which are therefore like the plumb-lines by means of which the depth of water is measured.

Then there is the metaphysical image of two tears which have long been weighed by Sorrow within the scales of the eyes, and then been “paid out in equal poise”. Highly metaphysical is the conceit according to which the all-seeing sun each day extracts the essence of this world in the form of moisture which then returns to the earth in the shape of rain-drops which are here regarded as the tears of the sun.

However, the Biblical image of Magdalen bathing the feet of Jesus Christ with her tears is not metaphysical but it is valuable in deepening the pathos of Eyes and Tears. There is a metaphysical conceit in the comparison of the copious human tears with broad rivers of overflowing their banks. There is a fanciful picture in the lines where the poet tells us that even the destructive lighting which belongs to Jove gets extinguished in his tears of pity.

Then there are a number of images that are partly fanciful but mainly realistic. You can check this kind of image in the lines describing the beauty of eyes swollen with weeping. The beauty of such eyes, the readers are told, is greater than that of the sails of a ship on the homeward run, than that of a pregnant housewife, later than that of the full moon. Perfectly realistic but presented in a highly imaginative manner is the image of the lust of a man dissolving in his tears.

Eyes and Tears by Andrew Marvell


Eyes and Tears Analysis

HOW wisely Nature did decree,

With the same eyes to weep and see ;

That, having viewed the object vain,

They might be ready to complain !

Nature showed great wisdom in deciding that the eyes of human beings should perform a twofold function: to see things, and then to weep. When human eyes look at the objects of this world, they realize that all is vanity. In order to give an outlet to this realization, they are able to shed tears.

And, since the self-deluding sight

In a false angle takes each height,

These tears, which better measure all,

Like watery lines and plummets fall.

The eyesight of human beings deceives itself in so far as it measures the height of everything from a false perspective. For example, the eyes of sailors on a ship judge the height of a star by triangulation and they often judge wrong. But our tears do fall vertically downloads and therefore make a truer assessment like plump-lines measuring the depth of water in an ocean or in a lake correctly.

Two tears, which sorrow long did weigh

Within the scales of either eye,

And then paid out in equal poise,

Are the true price of all my joys.

Two tears, one in each eye, had long been weighed against each other by Sorrow from where they had originated. After weighing them in the eyes which served as a balance. Sorrow allowed those two tears to flow out, one from each eye, and both of the same weight. Those two tears are worth all my joys in life.

What in the world most fair appears,

Yea, even laughter, turns to tears ;

And all the jewels which we prize

Melt in these pendants of the eyes.

Even the loveliest object in this world ultimately ends in tears. Yes, even our laughter ultimately ends in tears. The emotion with which we look at precious jewels brings tears to our eyes, and these tears are the best jewels of all.

I have through every garden been,

Amongst the red, the white, the green,

And yet from all the flowers I saw,

No honey, but these tears could draw.

I have visited every garden and looked at all the greenery there and at all the flowers, both red and white. And yet instead of deriving any sweetness from all those flowers which I saw, I could only draw tears.

So the all-seeing sun each day

Distils the world with chymic ray ;

But finds the essence only showers,

Which straight in pity back he pours.

In the same manner, the sun, shining in the sky and looking at everything below on the earth, extracts moisture from the earth with its hot rays, just as the alchemist’s heat extracts the essence of a substance. Moisture is the essence which the sun draws from the earth, but soon afterward the sun returns the same moisture to the earth in the form of rain. The rain-drops are the tears of pity being shed by the sun.

Yet happy they whom grief doth bless,

That weep the more, and see the less ;

And, to preserve their sight more true,

Bathe still their eyes in their own dew.

Yet, happy are those people who suffer some sorrow or grief, because this sorrow or grief is a blessing for them. Grief makes those people weep, and the more they weep, the less they are able to see with their eyes. Frequent tears do them much good by maintaining their capacity to see things more truly. When they weep, it is as if their eyes were washing in their own moisture.

So Magdalen in tears more wise

Dissolved those captivating eyes,

Whose liquid chains could flowing meet

To fetter her Redeemer’s feet.

Same was the case with that reformed prostitute, Mary Magdalen, when her bewitching eyes shed plentiful tears of repentance. Her tears bathed the feet of Jesus Christ, making it impossible for him to move onwards without forgiving her for her sins and blessing her.

Not full sails hasting loaden home,

Nor the chaste lady’s pregnant womb,

Nor Cynthia teeming shows so fair

As two eyes swollen with weeping are.

A pair of eyes swollen with weeping present such a lovely full curve as cannot be equally by the full sails of a ship laden with merchandise and returning homeward at full speed, or by the faithful housewife. Who has become pregnant through her union with her husband, by Cynthia (the moon) at the full.

The sparkling glance that shoots desire,

Drenched in these waves, does lose its fire ;

Yea oft the Thunderer pity takes,

And here the hissing lightning slakes.

The bright lance which shoots arrows of desire or lust cools down when tears fill the eyes from which that glance came. Yes, even the destructive lightening of the chief god, Jove, who is known as the Thunderer, gets extinguished with a hiss in his tears which flows when he feels pity, as he often does.

The incense was to Heaven dear,

Not as a perfume, but a tear ;

And stars shew lovely in the night,

But as they seem the tears of light.

The original attractions of incense for the goals or angels in heaven did not lie in its sweet smell, but in its origin in the resin which appeared on the frankincense tree in the shape of a tear. Even the stars in the night sky look beautiful only because they seem to be the tears being shed by Light.

Ope then, mine eyes, your double sluice,

And practise so your noblest use ;

For others too can see, or sleep,

But only human eyes can weep.

For this reason, O my eyes, open your double gates, that is; your eyelids and make the noblest use of your eyelids, and make the noblest use of yourselves by shedding tears because, while other creatures can also use their eyes for seeing or sleeping, only human beings have the capacity to shed tears.

Now, like two clouds dissolving, drop,

And at each tear in distance stop;

Now, like two fountains, trickle down;

Now, like two floods, o’erturn and drown:

Sometimes you, my eyes, may shed tears like two clouds dissolving in rain, and on such occasions, your tears may punctuate my prayers in the same way as milestones signal a traveler to rest a while. Sometimes, your tears may trickle down thinly like two rivers not far from their source. And sometimes you may shed copious tears comparable to two broad rivers overflowing their banks.

Thus let your streams o’erflow your springs,

Till eyes and tears be the same things ;

And each the other’s difference bears,

These weeping eyes, those seeing tears.

Thus, let your tears overflow their source like rivers overflowing their banks. Let tears flow so plentifully that you and the tears shed by you become one and the same thing. In this way you, O my eyes, will acquire the distinctive character of the tears while your tears will acquire your distinctive character. You will weep and shed tears, while the tears will acquire the capacity to see.


Critical Appreciation

The poem, ‘Eyes and Tears’ by Andrew Marvell has both a philosophical and a psychological character. The poet here seeks to establish the superiority of tears over the seeing capacity of eyes. The eyes perform a twofold function: they see objects, and they shed tears of sorrows over the vanity and futility of those objects. Tears, according to the poet, are a more reliable guide to reality than eyes. The eyes can delude themselves, but tears make better assessments.

In other words, the judgment of the eyes can be wrong, but tears are a better means of measuring things. Blessed are those who can shed profuse tears in their misfortunes because by this method they can preserve the reliability of their judgment. It was so with the sinful Mary Magdalen when her beautiful eyes shed plentiful tears of repentance, bathing the feet of Jesus Christ with those tears and in this way earning his forgiveness and blessing.

But, although tears are superior to the seeing capacity of the eyes, the best result can be achieved through a combination of both the functions which the eyes are capable of performing because, through such a combination, both the vanity and the wisdom of life will become perceptible.

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Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
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