The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell is a regretful depiction of the poetic persona’s love life. The poetic persona is none other than the poet, Andrew Marvell, himself. He provides a subjective definition of love from a dejected lover’s point of view. How deplorable his life is, without the soft rays of love is the main matter of concern in the poem. However, the poet not only talks about his grief but he also provides the reasons. Those reasons are the only source to feel what the speaker felt in his life.

The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell

 

Summary of The Definition of Love

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell presents the account of the lovelorn poet and his definition of love.

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell talks about the nature of love, which exists between the poet and his beloved. The poet regards this love as being perfect and therefore unattainable. In the poem, the poet, first of all, makes his readers acquainted with the parentage of this love. This love, the poet says, is of rare birth. It is the offspring of the marriage of “Despair/ upon Impossibility.” Only resolute Despair could have produced such divine love. In the case of a love like this, “Hope” would prove to be utterly vain and futile because this love can never be achieved.

The poet in the next lines tells that it is the hostility of “Fate” which is responsible for not permitting him and his beloved to be united. It has placed the two lovers apart like the “North Pole” and the “South Pole”. The love can be fulfilled only if the spinning spheres collapse and if the earth is torn asunder by some violent convulsion. For the inability to come close to his beloved, he defines his love as “the conjunction of the mind”, and “opposition of the stars.”

 

Structure and Form of The Definition of Love

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell has the same stanza form that is used in the poems, ‘Mourning’ and ‘The Mower to the Glow-worms’. Each line of the poem is octosyllabic and it constitutes an iambic tetrameter. The alternate lines of the poem rhyme altogether. It is not a glib measure, and all three poems are noticeably short. This poem of Marvell’s has eight stanzas, whereas the two others have nine and four respectively. What distinguishes this poem from the poems mentioned earlier is its confidence, resonant tone, and exceptional speed.

 

Themes in The Definition of Love

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell contains several themes. The most important theme of the poem is love. The poet describes the character of his love for his beloved. According to the poet, this love is perfect and therefore unattainable. This love is divine, but for that very reason hopeless. The perfect love of this kind is most unwelcome to “Fate” who therefore never permits the union of perfect lovers. This kind of perfect love can mean only a spiritual union but never a physical one. This love is “the conjunction of the mind and opposition of the stars.”

Another important theme of the poem is sadness. The poetic persona in the poem got hardened with time. His heart knows well, it is never possible for him to get what he wants. In his love life too, he longs for getting fulfillment. In this poem, the theme of grief gets a unique representation. It is not coming out of an inexperienced heart. The poet’s grief is generating from a wise and experienced heart. That’s why there is a calm and cold ambiance in the poem. The poet creates it by implementing his controlled emotions to express his sadness.

 

Tone and Mood of The Definition of Love

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell has a very simple idea, but the idea is expressed through learned imagery so that it requires a scholar to explain to us all the meanings and the implications of the various lines of the poem. However, some of the lines make a direct appeal to us because of their sheer simplicity. For example, the psychology of despair in the second stanza corresponds closely to the human experience. Likewise, the third and fourth stanzas are very easy to understand because readers are acquainted with the concept of a hostile fate. The antagonist in the poet’s love story is “Fate” which never allows perfect lovers to be united.

Although the love described in the poem is perfect and therefore ideal, the poem is a depressing one to read. There is neither any note of exultation nor any feeling of triumph in the non-fulfillment of the poet’s desire. At most, readers have a feeling of subdued contentment with the non-fulfillment of love. The repeated emphasis on the malice of fate is very pessimistic. Hence the prevailing mood of the poem is one of despondency notwithstanding the feeling of calm contentment at the end.

 

Theme, Imagery, and Metaphysical Conceits in the Poem

The poem, The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell describes the character of the poet’s love for his beloved. This love, says the poet, is perfect and therefore unattainable. This love is divine, but for that very reason hopeless. The perfect love of this kind is most unwelcome to Fate who therefore never permits the union of perfect lovers. This kind of perfect love can mean only a spiritual union but never a physical one. This love is “the conjunction of the mind and opposition of the stars.”

The poem contains a number of metaphysical conceits, which can be best defined by the lines like “begotten by Despair upon Impossibility”. The idea here is that the poet’s love is unattainable, but in order to express this idea, the poet personifies Despair and Impossibility and imagines that his love was produced by their union.

There is another use of conceit in the poem. And this is a more fantastic conceit than that of the previously discussed. The poet says: “His love can be achieved only if three conditions are fulfilled: first, the spinning planets must collapse; second, the earth should be torn asunder by some fresh convulsion; and third, the whole world should be projected or flattened into a planet. As these three conditions are impossible to fulfill, the lovers cannot be united.

Yet another conceit occurs in the stanza in which the poet compares the loves between him and his beloved to the parallel lines which can never meet. Only oblique lines meet in all geometrical angles, and in the same way, only the passion of guilt or adulterous lovers can be satisfied. The two closing lines of the poem also contain a metaphysical conceit.

The love, which binds the poet with his beloved, has the genus “Conjunction”, and the difference is “of the mind”. The love that “Fate so enviously debars” has the genus “opposition” and difference “of the Stars.” They enter as the allies of Fate. Opposition and conjunction are antonyms, but not merely astronomical metaphors here, irrespective of the attendant “stars” and notwithstanding the sustained astronomical imagery in Stanzas V and VI.

 

Tone and Meter The Definition of Love

The poem, The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell has a very simple idea, but that idea is expressed through learned imagery so that it requires a scholar to explain to us all the meanings and the implications of the various lines of The Definition of Love. However, some of the lines make a direct appeal to us because of their sheer simplicity.

For example, the psychology of despair in the second stanza corresponds closely to the human experience. Likewise, the third and fourth stanzas are very easy to understand because we are all acquainted with the concept of a hostile Fate. The villain in the case of the poet’s love is Fate which never allows perfect lovers to be united.

Although the love described in the poem is perfect and therefore ideal, the poem is a depressing one to read. There is neither any note of exultation nor any feeling of triumph in the non-fulfillment of the poem. At the most, we have a feeling of subdued contentment with the non-fulfillment of love.

The repeated emphasis on the malice of Fate is very pessimistic. We could even say that the prevailing mood of the poem is one of despondency notwithstanding the feeling of calm contentment at the end.

Moreover, the stanza form used in the poem is the same as in Mourning and The Mower to the Glow-worms, an octosyllabic iambic quatrain with alternate lines rhyming. It is not a glib measure, and all three poems are noticeably short.

The Definition of Love has eight stanzas, whereas the two others have nine and four respectively. What distinguishes this poem from the other two techniques is its confident, resonant tone and exceptional speed.

 

Metaphysical Conceits and Imagery in The Definition of Love

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell contains several metaphysical conceits, which can be best defined by the lines like “begotten by Despair Upon Impossibility”.

  • In the line mentioned above, the idea is that the poet’s love is unattainable, but to express this idea, the poet personifies Despair and Impossibility. He imagines that his love was produced by their union.
  • There is another use of conceit in the poem. And this is a more interesting conceit than that of the previously discussed. The poet says he can achieve love only if three conditions are fulfilled. Firstly, spinning planets must collapse. Secondly, the earth should be torn asunder by some fresh convulsion. Thirdly, the whole world should be projected or flattened into a planet. As these three conditions are impossible to fulfill, the lovers cannot be united.
  • Yet another conceit occurs in the stanza in which the poet compares the love between him and his beloved to the parallel lines which can never meet. Only oblique lines meet in all geometrical angles, and in the same way, only the passion of guilt or adulterous lovers can be satisfied.
  • The two closing lines of the poem also contain a metaphysical conceit. The love, which binds the poet with his beloved, has the genus “Conjunction”, and the difference is “of the mind”. The love that “Fate so enviously debars” has the genus “opposition” and difference “of the Stars.” They enter as the allies of “Fate”. Opposition and conjunction are antonyms, but not merely astronomical metaphors in the poem, irrespective of the attendant “stars” and notwithstanding the sustained astronomical imagery in stanzas five and six.

 

Analysis of The Definition of Love

Stanza One

My love is of a birth as rare

As ’tis for object strange and high;

It was begotten by Despair

Upon Impossibility.

‘The Definition of Love’ by Andrew Marvell gives a preliminary idea about the poet’s love. According to the poet, his love originates from a rare source. The objective of the poet’s love is exceptionally strange and sublime. In the end, the poet refers to the origin of his love. It is the offspring of “Despair” and “Impossibility”. These two words point to the poet’s conception of love. There is also a reference to the poet’s mental condition in this section.

 

Stanza Two

Magnanimous Despair alone

Could show me so divine a thing

Where feeble Hope could ne’er have flown,

But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.

In the second stanza, the poet thinks that only “magnanimous” or resolute despair could produce such a noble feeling as love in him. In his case, the feelings of love proved to be weak. Here the poet uses a simile of a bird with gaudy but feeble wings to compare it with his hope of love. His heart tried to promise him fulfillment but its effort proved to be futile. So the poet thinks his love could never have been fulfilled.

 

Stanza Three

And yet I quickly might arrive

Where my extended soul is fixt,

But Fate does iron wedges drive,

And always crowds itself betwixt.

In the third stanza, the poet says he could have quickly arrived at the destination in his view. But his “Fate” put forth obstacles to keep him away from his beloved. Here the poet uses a metaphor of a carpenter who drives iron into a log of wood to split it into two parts. The poet presents this image of a carpenter to compare it to his fate.

 

Stanza Four

For Fate with jealous eye does see

Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;

Their union would her ruin be,

And her tyrannic pow’r depose.

In the fourth stanza, the poet provides the reason for his failure in getting a soulmate. According to him, the personified fate looks at two lovers always with hostile eyes. It does not let them unite. If two perfect lovers like the poet and his beloved are in a union, the bond would be disastrous for fate. True love between two souls would set aside her dictatorial authority.

 

Stanza Five

And therefore her decrees of steel

Us as the distant poles have plac’d,

(Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel)

Not by themselves to be embrac’d;

As the poet has mentioned earlier, the inflexible and stern decrees of fate have kept the poet and his beloved apart. Here the poet employs his famous metaphysical conceit of the North Pole and the South Pole. Just as the two poles cannot come closer, the poet and his lady love cannot be united. Even though the two are the pivot around which the whole world of love revolves, they cannot stay together for the cruelty of fate.

 

Stanza Six

Unless the giddy heaven fall,

And earth some new convulsion tear;

And, us to join, the world should all

Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

In this section, the poet says that there is a possibility of their union. If the spinning planets collapse and some new convulsion occurs and splits the earth with its violence, they can get united. To bring them together the world must be crammed into the flat thickness of a cartographer’s planisphere. It means that the whole world must be projected or flattened into a plane to bring the two poles in one place.

 

Stanza Seven

As lines, so loves oblique may well

Themselves in every angle greet;

But ours so truly parallel,

Though infinite, can never meet.

In this section of the poem, the poet uses another metaphysical conceit concerning geometry. The poet says only oblique lines can meet each other in all geometric angles. Similarly, only two guilty lovers can meet each other. But the poet’s love is pure. He and his beloved are like parallel lines. Such lines can never meet even if they are stretched to infinite distance. Likewise, the poet cannot get united with his love.

 

Stanza Eight

Therefore the love which us doth bind,

But Fate so enviously debars,

Is the conjunction of the mind,

And opposition of the stars.

The last stanza ends on a sad note. There is a ray of hope too. Fate might have kept them apart but it cannot stop them from being together spiritually. So the poet feels a little sad about their physical separation. Somewhere in his heart, there is the hope of getting closer. Only the path of spirituality can bring the poet and his lady love together.

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  • Avatar ساره زين says:

    هل الترجمه صحيح حقت الموقع؟

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I’m not sure I know what you mean; this translated to “Is the translation correct attached to the site?” but this poem has not been translated.

  • Avatar Anthony says:

    I think that Marvell might have been talking of homosexual love — but of course without admitting it or leaving any direct clues in the wording.

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I almost think it’s irrelevant really. gay or straight, love is love isn’t it?

  • Avatar lucy says:

    need to cover semantic fields

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      I had never heard the term before. I had to google it, this is a good technique for analysing poems, I agree. However our team all have their own approach.

  • Avatar Siavash says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such a useful analysis!

    • Lee-James Bovey Lee-James Bovey says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

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