The Gallery by Andrew Marvell

‘The Gallery’ by Andrew Marvel is a piece of metaphysical poetry. It  is  a “conceit” that uses a long and extended metaphor to describe an emotion or action. In this case, the love the speaker feels for “Clora.” 

The poem is written with a rhyme scheme of AABBCCDDEEFF. This pattern changes in accord with each stanza and remains consistent throughout the poem. Each strophe of this poem contains eight lines of a similar length and four beat pattern of meter. 

 

Summary of The Gallery 

“The Gallery” by Andrew Marvell describes a mental gallery of images that a devoted speaker has painted for his object of affection, Clora. 

The poem begins with the speaker inviting the reader and Clora to follow him into his soul where he has created a gallery. This gallery is filled only with images of his true love, and he hopes that she will be impressed by it. 

The first painting that he shows off is that of Clora as a “murderess” using her looks to charm those around her. The second shows her as Aurora the goddess of the dawn. These two contrasting images depict the intensive spot that she holds in the speaker heart. She is both a controlling and appealing woman. This is expanded on as the speaker shows the reader a portrait of Clora as Venus, as well as a “enchantress” who is telling the future from her lover’s entrails. 

The poem concludes with the speaker saying that these are only a few of the thousands of paintings he has and that of all of them, the original is his favorite. 

He most cherishes an image of his love shows her as she was when he first saw her, simple, and kind. 

 

Analysis of The Gallery 

Stanza One 

Clora, come view my soul, and tell

Whether I have contrived it well.

Now all its several lodgings lie

Composed into one gallery; 

And the great arras-hangings, made

Of various faces, by are laid;

That, for all furniture, you’ll find

Only your picture in my mind. 

The speaker of this piece, an unnamed devotee to a woman named Clora, begins the poem by inviting Clora to “come view [his] soul.” He is desperate for her approval and he hopes that after seeing what he has made for her, she will approve. It becomes clear at this point that the gallery referenced in the title is not a physical place but the interior of his soul.

The speaker, due to his obsession with Clora, has metaphorically made his soul into a “gallery” that is made up only of paintings of her. He desires to take her through the hallways and lift up the “great arras-hangings” to show her all that he has done. 

He informs her that she might see furniture in the room, but really all she’ll find are “your pictures in my mind.”

 

Stanza Two 

Here thou are painted in the dress 

Of an inhuman murderess;

Examining upon our hearts

Thy fertile shop of cruel arts:

Engines more keen than ever yet

Adorned a tyrant’s cabinet; 

Of which the most tormenting are 

Black eyes, red lips, and curlèd hair. 

The second stanza begins the tour of the gallery. Whether Clora has agreed to this viewing, the reader doesn’t know, but the speaker is taking the reader along anyway. 

He points out the first painting, showing his viewers a version of Clora “painted in the dress” of a “murderess.” Right away it is clear that these images are going to be fanciful, but perhaps related to the different parts of Clora that the speaker can sense.

In this instance, perhaps the decision to create a painting of her as a murderess with “Black eyes…and red lips,” that she uses to her advantage, was in an attempt to show her cruelty towards him. While he loves her, he also feels that she has treated him unfairly. 

 

Stanza Three

But, on the other side, th’art drawn

Like to Aurora in the dawn; 

When in the East she slumbering lies,

And stretches out her milky thighs;

While all the morning choir does sing,

And manna falls, and roses spring;

And, at thy feet, the wooing doves

Sit pérfecting their harmless loves. 

In the next stanza he points out another painting on the opposite side of the gallery. In this one Clora is shown as “Aurora” the goddess of the dawn. The picture is clearly more flattering as he describes her “milky thighs” and the way in which her body is stretched out across the canvas. 

The scene is peaceful and pristine, there is a “choir” singing in the background and flowers blooming around her. Additionally, doves are gathering at her “feet,” another representation of love.

This is most likely a version of Clora the the speaker prefers. This is his idealized vision of who he wants to believe she is. 

 

Stanza Four 

But, on the other side, th’art drawn

Like to Aurora in the dawn; 

When in the East she slumbering lies,

And stretches out her milky thighs;

While all the morning choir does sing,

And manna falls, and roses spring;

And, at thy feet, the wooing doves

Sit pérfecting their harmless loves. 

Another painting shows Clora as an “enchantress,” a darker version of her personality. She is said to be “Vexing” her lover’s ghost whom she may have murdered. She is using the “entrails” of her lover to predict some version of the future. He has been murdered, used, and then is eventually thrown out as the “enchantress” tosses his organs to the “vultures.” 

This version of Clora describes her as nothing more than a user. She takes what she needs and has little regard for what remains. 

It is clear that the narrator is conflicted in his feelings towards this woman. He deeply loves her, but fears her control over him. 

 

Stanza Five 

But, against that, thou sit’st afloat

Like Venus in her pearly boat. 

The halcyons, calming all that’s nigh,

Betwixt the air and water fly;

Or, if some rolling wave appears,

A mass of ambergris it bears. 

Nor blows more wind than what may well

Convoy the perfume to the smell. 

Once more crossing the gallery the speaker points out a painting that shows Clora as a goddess, specifically “Venus,” the Roman goddess of love and sex. She is reclining in her “pearly boat” surrounded by all manner of animals. The world is at peace here and the water is “rolling” by the boat carrying “ambergris,” a natural material used to create perfumes. 

There is nothing wrong with this image, in fact, the wind is blowing just enough so that the “ambergris” spreads it’s scent around Clora, improving the scene further. 

 

Stanza Six 

These pictures and a thousand more 

Of thee my gallery do store 

In all the forms thou canst invent

Either to please me, or torment:

For thou alone to people me,

Art grown a numerous colony;

And a collection choicer far 

Than or Whitehall’s or Mantua’s were. 

The speaker states that these are only a few of the “thousand” images that he has in his “gallery.” He stores them all there so that she can, in all her “forms,” provoke him. 

He does not mind feeling pain or torment, as long as it comes from her. The speaker wants all parts of her personality. It is her presence that will be his only company. His mind will never again be filled with any thoughts expect for those that are of his beloved. 

This strophe concludes with the speaker saying that his collection of imagery is far greater than any other. 

 

Stanza Seven 

But, of these pictures and the rest, 

That at the entrance likes me best:

Where the same posture, and the look

Remains, with which I first was took:

A tender shepherdess, whose hair 

Hangs loosely playing in the air,

Transplanting flowers from the green hill,

To crown her head, and bosom fill.

The final stanza of the poem shows the reader one last piece of art. This is the painting that the speaker confesses to like the most. Even though there are a lot of magnificent ones scattered throughout his soul, he likes the one near the “entrance” the best. 

It is Clora as he first saw her, a simple “shepherdess.” Her hair is hanging around her shoulders and she is picking flowers Some of these she clutches to her “bosom” and others she has woven through her hair. 

This much simpler image of Clora brings the reader closer to her than any of the others. This is the picture that truly represents the person that she is, or at least was, when the speaker first fell in love with her. 

 

About Andrew Marvell 

Andrew Marvell was born in March of 1621 in Yorkshire, England. As a boy he was educated at Hull grammar school and then later attended Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating in 1639. 

Marvell worked as a tutor for a number of years, living abroad, and then returning to Yorkshire. While there he wrote some of his best known poems, such as “The Garden”.  He would eventually tutor Oliver Cromwell’s ward, William Dutton, and work as a secretary to John Milton. Marvell’s admiration for Oliver Cromwell resulted in his election to to Parliament in 1659. He would hold this office until his death. 

By 1660, and the time of the restoration of Charles II, Marvell had devoted his written works to political satire. His work often promoted the toleration of different religions and advocated for the an end to the abuse of  monarchical power.  

During his lifetime his political commentary garnered the greatest attention but now Marvell’s poetical work is regarded as containing some of the finest examples of metaphysical verse. He died in 1678 in London, England. 

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