In ‘The Coronet’ by Andrew Marvell, the poet would like to write a poem, being ‘The Coronet’, in honor of Jesus Christ. Christ was made to wear a crown of thorns as a mark of his disgrace at the time of the Crucifixion. But the poet, too, has been piercing Christ with the thorns of his sinful actions. Now the poet wants to make amends to Christ for the wrongs which have been done to him by his enemies and by the poet too. To make amends, he wants to weave garlands of the best flowers to serve as a crown of honor for Christ.
Explore The Coronet
‘The Coronet’ by Andrew Marvell presents the poet’s attempt to honor Christ with his poetic “coronet”. To weave these garlands of honor, the poet would even remove the flowers which his beloved women have been wearing in their tall head-dresses. What the poet means is that he would collect the best available words and phrases to write a suitable poem in praise of Christ. However, the poet is now overcome by doubt. He finds the old serpent lurking amongst the flowers of the garlands which he has woven. In other words, he finds that the poem that is trying to write has been prompted by a desire to seek fame and in the hope of worldly advancement.
Fame and self-interest are the temptations offered to him by Satan. The poet now scolds himself for allowing selfish motives to mar his tribute to Christ. Finally, he appeals to Christ directly to trample upon both the serpent and the garlands which the poet has so skillfully woven. His garlands could not crown Christ’s head; but, when Christ tramples upon them, they will crown his feet.
The poet in the poem, ‘The Coronet’ wishes to offer a glorious tribute to Jesus Christ in the form of a poem in order to compensate Christ for the distance to which he was subjected when he was made to wear a crown of thorns at the time of his Crucifixion.
But, while writing his poem, the poet realizes that he is being prompted to write the poem by motives of fame and the hope of worldly advancement. The poet scolds himself for entertaining such unholy motives. He then thinks that his poem is fit only to crown the fee of Christ and not his head.
From the style point of view, most of the lines in the poem are loaded with meaning and packed with Biblical allusions. The vocabulary of the poem is also not simple. There is a large number of polysyllabic words.
The poet, in the poem, ‘The Coronet’ by Andrew Marvell, wishes to offer a glorious tribute to Jesus Christ in the form of a poem in order to compensate Christ for the disgrace to which he was subjected when he was made to wear a crown of thorns at the time of his Crucifixion. But, while writing his poem, the poet realizes that he is being prompted to write the poem by motives of fame and the hope of worldly advancement. The poet scolds himself for entertaining such unholy motives. He then thinks that his poem is fit only to crown the feet of Christ and not his head.
When for the thorns with which I long, too long,With many a piercing wound,My Saviour’s head have crowned,I seek with garlands to redress that wrong:Through every garden, every mead,I gather flowers (my fruits are only flowers),Dismantling all the fragrant towersThat once adorned my shepherdess’s head.
For a long, very long time I have been responsible for causing many painful wounds to Jesus Christ whose head was crowned with thorns at the time of his Crucifixion. Now I wish to write a poem in honor of Christ with the object of making amends for the wrongs that have been done to him. My only offering can be words; and so I try to collect the best possible words from all available sources. In my efforts to find proper words and phrases, I would even make use of those which I had been using in relation to the heroines of my love-poetry which I previously used to write.
And now when I have summed up all my store,Thinking (so I myself deceive)So rich a chaplet thence to weaveAs never yet the King of Glory wore:Alas, I find the serpent oldThat, twining in his speckled breast,About the flowers disguised does fold,With wreaths of fame and interest.
And now I have gathered together all the words and phrases which I could find in order to compose an exquisite poem to honor Christ who is himself the master of all the glory in this world. I had the idea that I would honor Christ in a manner in which he has never before been honored, but I am only deceiving myself with this idea because I find that the poem I have written has been marred by the intrusion of sinful motives.
Under the influence of the old serpent (or the Devil), I, while writing this holy poem, have been prompted by a motive to win fame and also in the hope of worldly advancement. Thus, my poem has been contaminated by selfishness which is an unholy motive.
Ah, foolish man, that wouldst debase with them,And mortal glory, Heaven’s diadem!But Thou who only couldst the serpent tame,Either his slippery knots at once untie;And disentangle all his winding snare;Or shatter too with him my curious frame,And let these wither, so that he may die,Though set with skill and chosen out with care:That they, while Thou on both their spoils dost tread,May crown thy feet, that could not crown thy head.
Ah, I am foolish indeed in disgracing the heavenly crown worn by Jesus Christ with my unholy motives and with the earthly honor which I am offering to him through my poem. O Christ, you were the only one who could subdue the Devil.
I now appeal to you to loosen all the slippery coils of the serpent which has my poem in its grip. I appeal to you to free my poem from the hold of the treacherous Devil. If you cannot free it, I would implore you to wreck either serpent (or the Devil) and the poem which I have written.
Let both these (the serpent and the poem) fade away and die, even though my poem has been written with all the skill and care which I could exercise in the writing of it. When you thus trample upon both the unworthy objects, namely, the serpent and the garland, that is; my poem, the garland which could not serve as a crown for your head would, in that case, serve to crown your feet.
The Coronet: a religious poem
The Coronet is a deeply religious poem in which the writer expresses his devotion to Christ. The writer recalls the Crucifixion and feels that he should pay his tribute to Christ in the form of a poem.
But this poem is also a confession of the writer’s own unworthiness. While he sets out to write a sacred poem expressing his reverence for Christ, he realizes that his actual motive in writing the poem is to impress others by his poetic talent, and in this way to win fame and also gain some worldly advantage.
These motives of self-interest take away the holy character of his poem, and so he rebukes himself for debating “heaven’s diadem” with these motives. Thus there is a strong note of self-disapproval and self-condemnation in the poem, while the tribute to Christ still remains the dominant theme.
The Coronet is not an easy poem to understand. In the first place, the use of “flowers”, “fruits”, “garlands”, and “towers adorning the heads of shepherdesses”, in a metaphorical sense is quite puzzling. Then we have a difficult allusion to the old serpent twining the poet in its “speckled breast”. In the closing lines, we have the phrase “my curious frame” which could mean the poet’s own skilfully-fashioned body but which actually means the skilfully-woven garland which in turn means his skilfully written poem.
Even the more explicitly religious poems of Marvell are difficult to appreciate in isolation. The Coronet, for example, may appear at first glance to be a purely religious meditation, but it is to be read as a pastoral. The “I” of the poem speaks of his shepherdess, and a whole dimension of the poem vanishes if we are inattentive to what is involved when Marvell represents his “I” as a singer-shepherd.
The poem is a paradigm of conversion, a dramatization (like Herbert’s The Collar) of the need for divine grace through the deliberate cultivation and then rejection of blasphemous or religiously mistaken thoughts. Marvell’s shepherd begins by announcing his intention to reform, to replace his Saviour’s crown of thorns with a garland of flowers:
Dismantling all the fragrant towers
That once adorned my shepherdeses’head
But he is forced to reject these thoughts, for he finds that pride, the “serpent old”, has become part of the garland with “wreaths of fame and interest”. The ascent, as St. Bernard says, is through humility rather than pride; and thus the shepherd begs Christ to “disentangle” the “winding snare” of Satan, or “shatter too with him my curious frame”:
Though set with skill and chosen out with care,
That they, while thou on both their spoils dost tread,
May crown thy feet, that could not crown thy head.
The little Augustinian drama is complete: the progress from sinner to save has been re-enacted in the poem with a great concentration of meaning. A good example of the concentration possible in this kind of pastoral may be found in the “curious frame” of Line 22: it refers first to the artful chaplet (poem as well as wreath) that is set with skill; but it also refers to the human being, that over-curious creature whose art may obscure the divine nature within; and finally it refers to the poem itself, an object of curious art that must be “disentangled” from the human “fame and interest” in order to become a pure wreath of the psalm in praise of the “king of glory”.