‘The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn’ by Andrew Marvell is a lament on the death of a pet animal, a fawn (a deer of red-brownish color). The fawn has been shot at by some mounted soldiers passing by the residence of the young girl to whom the fawn belongs, and the animal is on the brink of death. The poem contains the feelings of the young girl who is metaphorically called a nymph on this occasion, and it contains also the brief history of the animal and the mutual affection between it and the young girl.
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Summary of The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn
‘The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn’ by Andrew Marvell presents the tragic death of a fawn by some cruel soldiers. The owner of the fawn deplores the criminal deed of the soldiers to whom the fawn had not done any harm. The girl had never wished any harm to those men either and, in fact, even now she does not wish them any ill. She will even pray to God to forgive those men for their murderous deed, though it will not be possible for God to forgive them because God maintains a register of all the actions of his creatures. The murderers of this fawn will not be able to wash their hands clean of the blood they have shed. It was a rare fawn that is dying, and there will be no other fawn of the same quality which could be offered as a sacrifice to expiate the sin that has been committed.
Analysis of The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn
The wanton troopers riding by
Have shot my fawn, and it will die.
Ungentle men! they cannot thrive
To kill thee. Thou ne’er didst alive
Them any harm, alas, nor could
Thy death yet do them any good.
I’m sure I never wish’d them ill,
Nor do I for all this, nor will;
But if my simple pray’rs may yet
Prevail with Heaven to forget
Thy murder, I will join my tears
Rather than fail. But oh, my fears!
It cannot die so. Heaven’s King
Keeps register of everything,
And nothing may we use in vain.
‘The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn’ by Andrew Marvell depicts the girl’s mental condition in the first stanza. In this stanza, the girl says that the reckless soldiers passing that way on horse-backs have fired at her fawn to enjoy some fun. The fawn is badly wounded, and it is now going to die. Seeing her dying fawn, she feels restless and says that they are “ungentle men” who can never prosper after killing it.
She even prays to God to save the soldiers from eternal damnation. They don’t know what crime they have committed due to their mental blindness. She goes on to talk in the delirium of the loss. At last, she says, “Heaven’s King/ Keeps register of everything,/ And nothing may we use in vain.” In this way, the girl in the poem shows her true Christian spirit and counts on the Almighty to do justice with her and her beloved fawn.
Ev’n beasts must be with justice slain,
Else men are made their deodands;
Though they should wash their guilty hands
In this warm life-blood, which doth part
From thine, and wound me to the heart,
Yet could they not be clean, their stain
Is dyed in such a purple grain.
There is not such another in
The world to offer for their sin.
In this stanza, the girl says, there must be some reason for the killing of animals. If human beings kill animals without just cause, they will become forfeits to God. The murderers of her fawn cannot wash their hands clean of the blood they have shed. Even if they were to dip their guilty hands in the warm blood flowing from the heart of the fawn, cannot purify the sin. In contrast, the robes of the saints were certainly washed clean in the blood of Jesus Christ.
The blood coming out of the fawn’s heart is wounding the girl’s heart and will kill her. The hands of those men have become stained with the fawn’s blood. The deep red color of this blood is not going to leave their hands. It was a rare fawn. There is no other fawn-like to be offered as a sacrifice to expiate the sin committed by those men. Likewise, Jesus Christ offered his life as a sacrifice to redeem mankind from all their sins.
Unconstant Sylvio, when yet
I had not found him counterfeit
One morning (I remember well)
Tied in this silver chain and bell,
Gave it to me; nay, and I know
What he said then; I’m sure I do.
Said he, “Look how your huntsman here
Hath taught a fawn to hunt his dear.”
But Sylvio soon had me beguil’d,
This waxed tame, while he grew wild;
And quite regardless of my smart,
Left me his fawn, but took his heart.
In the second stanza, the poetic persona discloses that she got this fawn from her faithless lover Sylvio. He brought it, tied in this sliver chain and with a bell around its neck, to her one morning when she had not yet discovered that he was false to her. She remembers that occasion well. She recounts what he said on that occasion. He said, “Look how I, a hunter, have brought you a fawn which has been trained by me to chase a darling like you.”
But soon afterward Sylvio proved to be a false lover. While the fawn became tame, Sylvio became wild, and deserted her, heedless of the grief which his desertion would cause to her. However, he deserted the speaker and left the fawn with her.
Thenceforth I set myself to play
My solitary time away,
With this, and very well content
Could so mine idle life have spent;
For it was full of sport, and light
Of foot and heart, and did invite
Me to its game; it seem’d to bless
Itself in me. How could I less
Than love it? Oh, I cannot be
Unkind t’ a beast that loveth me.
From that time onwards she began to play with the fawn to pass her time and relieve her loneliness. She could very well have spent her whole life and its idle hours playing with the fawn as it was a sportive animal. The fawn was very quick in its movements, and it was always merry. It seemed to invite the speaker to play games with it, and it felt her comradeship to be a blessing for itself. Under those circumstances, she was bound to love it. At last, she says, “Oh, I cannot be/ Unkind t’ a beast that loveth me.”
Had it liv’d long, I do not know
Whether it too might have done so
As Sylvio did; his gifts might be
Perhaps as false or more than he.
But I am sure, for aught that I
Could in so short a time espy,
Thy love was far more better then
The love of false and cruel men.
In this stanza, the speaker says, if the fawn had lived long, she is not sure whether it too might have proved faithless like Sylvio. The gifts given by Sylvio could perhaps have proved as false as he was. But, based on her observation of this fawn during the short period of its life, she feels sure that its love was far better than the love of faithless and cruel men like Sylvio.
With sweetest milk and sugar first
I it at mine own fingers nurst;
And as it grew, so every day
It wax’d more white and sweet than they.
It had so sweet a breath! And oft
I blush’d to see its foot more soft
And white, shall I say than my hand?
Nay, any lady’s of the land.
At the beginning of the fifth stanza, she is used to feeding the fawn with the sweetest milk and sugar. She offered food to it with her fingers. And, as the fawn grew, every day it became more white and sweet than even her fingers. The fawn’s breath was extremely sweet. And often she blushed on account of a sense of shame on seeing its feet softer and whiter than not only her hand but the hand of any lady in the whole country.
It is a wond’rous thing how fleet
’Twas on those little silver feet;
With what a pretty skipping grace
It oft would challenge me the race;
And when ’t had left me far away,
’Twould stay, and run again, and stay,
For it was nimbler much than hinds,
And trod, as on the four winds.
In this section, the speaker says, it is wonderful how fast the fawn could run on its little white feet. In what a pretty and graceful manner it leaped and jumped, often challenging the speaker to compete with it in running. And, when in the competition, it had gone far ahead, it would stop, and then run again, and then gone far ahead because the fawn ran faster even than grown-up deer. Indeed, it seemed to tread not on its own feet but the four winds (i.e. the Northwind, the South wind, the East wind, and the West wind).
I have a garden of my own,
But so with roses overgrown
And lilies, that you would it guess
To be a little wilderness;
And all the spring time of the year
It only loved to be there.
Among the beds of lilies I
Have sought it oft, where it should lie;
Yet could not, till itself would rise,
Find it, although before mine eyes;
For, in the flaxen lilies’ shade,
It like a bank of lilies laid.
Upon the roses it would feed
Until its lips ev’n seemed to bleed,
And then to me ’twould boldly trip
And print those roses on my lip.
But all its chief delight was still
On roses thus itself to fill,
And its pure virgin limbs to fold
In whitest sheets of lilies cold.
Had it liv’d long it would have been
Lilies without, roses within.
In this section, the girl says she has a garden of her own. Roses and lilies grow in that garden in such abundance that anyone would think that these flowers are growing wild. One can think that these are wildflowers and not planted by human hands.
The fawn loved to spend its time in that garden throughout spring. The girl often searched for it among the lilies where it would lie, but she could never find it till it got up of its own accord. She could never find it because it lay among the white lilies, itself white as a lily. Its white color blended with the color of the white lilies.
The fawn used to eat the red roses till its lips seemed to have become blood-stained. It ate rose-petals until its white mouth became blood-red. And then it would fearlessly come running towards the girl and kiss her mouth so that her lips also became blood-red. Its chief delight was to eat roses to its fill and to enclose its pure, chaste limbs in the white, cold lilies which served as bed-sheets for it. If the fawn had lived long, it could have been described as white like lilies on the outside and red like roses inside.
Stanzas Eight and Nine
O help, O help! I see it faint,
And die as calmly as a saint.
See how it weeps! The tears do come,
Sad, slowly dropping like a gum.
So weeps the wounded balsam, so
The holy frankincense doth flow;
The brotherless Heliades
Melt in such amber tears as these.
I in a golden vial will
Keep these two crystal tears, and fill
It till it do o’erflow with mine,
Then place it in Diana’s shrine.
In this section, the speaker suddenly finds that the fawn is fainting. It is dying calmly as a saint dies. She can see it weeing. Its tears are coming out of its eyes sadly and falling slowly just as gum oozes out of the bark of a tree. Its tears are coming out just as resin comes out of a balsam tree if such a tree were wounded like the fawn. Its tears are falling in the same way as holy incense comes out in the form of resin-drops from a frankincense tree.
The tears of the fawn can be compared to those shed by the three daughters of the Sun when they had lost their only brothers Phaethon. The tears of those three girls were hardened into amber, and the tears of this fawn have also the quality of amber. She will keep those two transparent tears of the fawn in a golden bottle. She is going to allow her tears to drop into that bottle until it overflows with them. She will place that bottle in a temple dedicated to Diana, the virgin goddess of chastity as she and her fawn are also pure and chaste like Diana.
Stanzas Ten and Eleven
Now my sweet fawn is vanish’d to
Whither the swans and turtles go,
In fair Elysium to endure
With milk-white lambs and ermines pure.
O do not run too fast, for I
Will but bespeak thy grave, and die.
First my unhappy statue shall
Be cut in marble, and withal
Let it be weeping too; but there
Th’ engraver sure his art may spare,
For I so truly thee bemoan
That I shall weep though I be stone;
Until my tears, still dropping, wear
My breast, themselves engraving there.
There at my feet shalt thou be laid,
Of purest alabaster made;
For I would have thine image be
White as I can, though not as thee.
The poem ends with a feeling of reconciliation. In this section, the girl is consoling herself by speaking of how she will commemorate her affection for the fawn and the fawn’s affection for her. Her sweet fawn is dead. It has gone to the fair Paradise where the swans and turtles go, and where it will live in the company of milk-white lambs and pure ermines. She implores the dying fawn not to leave so soon because she too is going to die with it. She needs a few more moments before that. She wants to commemorate their relationship by creating her “unhappy statue” sitting with the fawn.
But in this respect, the sculptor need not make use of his skill to carve tears of marble. Her lament over its death is so sincere that even her marble statue will shed actual tears. Those actual tears falling from the eyes of the statute on its breast. However, she says that the statute will be made of the purest alabaster which is white. She would like the fawn’s statue to be as white as it can be made, though its whiteness will never equal its real whiteness.
Critical Appreciation of The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn
‘The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn’ by Andrew Marvell is a lament on the death of a pet animal which in this case is a fawn. The lament over the death of a favorite is an ancient literary tradition dating back to Catullus (a great Roman poet) and Ovid (also a Roman poet) Catullus wrote a lament on the death of a sparrow, while Ovid wrote a lament on the death of a parrot.
The mourner in this poem is a nymph or a beautiful young girl, who had received this fawn as a gift from her lover, Sylvio. The fawn has been shot at by some passing soldiers in sheer sport. The animal lies dying while the young girl expresses her grief over what has happened and over the imminent death. The entire poem is dominated by overflowing emotions like sorrow and grief.
Pathos, indeed, is the keynote of ‘The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Fawn’. Readers’ sympathy for the fawn, and even more or even more for the girl, is aroused by the very opening lines in which the readers are told that the “wanton troopers” have shot the fawn and that it will now die. The feeling for the girl is heightened by the lines in which she refers to her lover Sylvio who proved false to her and how he took away his heart from her, quite regardless of the suffering he caused to her by his action. The climax of pathos, however, reach in the following lines: “O help, O help! I see it faint,/ And die as calmly as a saint./ See how it weeps! The tears do come,/ Sad, slowly dropping like a gum.”