The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Faun By Andrew Marvell

The poem, The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Faun, by Andrew Marvell is a lament on the death of a pet animal, a fawn (a deer of red-brownish colour). 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 here 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.

In the poem, the girl deplores the criminal deed of the soldiers to whom the fawn had done no harm. The girl had never wished any harm to those men either and, in fact, even now the girl does not wish them any ill. The girl 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 which 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.


The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Faun Analysis

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.

In this first stanza of the poem, the girl says that the reckless soldiers passing this way on horse-backs fired at my fawn to enjoy some fun. The fawn was badly wounded, and it is now going to die. Seeing her dying fawn, she goes restless and says that they were ill-bred men who would never prosper after killing you.

O my fawn. You never did any harm to those men when you were alive and, alas, your death now will do them no good. I am sure I never wished any harm to them previously; nor do I wish them any harm now whey they have mortally wounded you. In fact, I shall even pray to God to forgive them for the murder they have committed, if my prayers in this respect can have any effect. I shall even join my tears to my prayers in order to make the prayer effective.

Indeed, I shall add my tears to my prayers rather than fail to pray on their behalf. But I am afraid that the fawn cannot die unavenged. God maintains a record of the actions of all His creatures; and we are not allowed to make undue use of our powers.

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 our killing even animals. If human beings kill animals without just cause, they will become forfeits to God. The murderers of my fawn cannot wash their hands clean of the blood they have shed even if they were to dip their guilty hands in this warm blood which is flowing from the heart of the fawn, though the robes of the saints were certainly washed clean in the blood of Jesus Christ.

The blood which is coming out of the fawn’s heart is wounding my own heart (and will kill me). The hands of those men became stained with the fawn’s blood, and the deep-red colour of this blood is not going to leave their hands. It was a rare fawn, and there is no other fawn like it to be offered as a sacrifice to expiate the sin committed by those men in the manner in which Jesus Christ offered his life as a sacrifice to expiate the sins of all mankind.

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.

This fawn was given to me by my faithless lover Sylvio who brought it, tied in this sliver chain and with a bell round its neck, to me one morning when I had not yet discovered that he was false to me. I remember that occasion well; in fact, I remember what he said on that occasion. I am sure I remember his words. 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 afterwards Sylvio proved false to me. While this fawn became tame, Sylvio became wild, and deserted me, heedless of the grief which his desertion would cause to me. However, he left his fawn with me.

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 I began to play with the fawn in order to pass my time and   relieve my loneliness, and I could very well have spent my whole life and its idle hours in that manner (playing with the fawn) because it was a sportive animal. This fawn was very quick in its movements, and it was always merry. It seemed to invite me to play games with it, and it felt my comradeship to be a blessing for itself. Under the circumstances I was bound to love it. O, I cannot be unkind to an animal which loves 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.

If the fawn had lived long, I am not sure whether it too might have proved faithless like Sylvio. The gifts given by the false Sylvio  could perhaps have proved as false as he or even more false than he. But, on the basis of my observation of this fawn during the short period of its life, I feel 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.

In the beginning I used to feed the fawn with the sweetest milk and with sugar, offering the food to it with my own fingers. And, as the fawn grew, every day it became more white and sweet than even my fingers. The fawn’s breath was extremely sweet. And often I blushed on account of a sense of shame on seeing its feet softer and whiter than not only my own 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.

It is really wonderful how fast the fawn could run on its little white feet and in what a pretty and graceful manner it leaped and jumped, often challenging me to compete with it in running. And, when in the competition, it had gone far ahead of me, 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 t tread not on its own feet but on the four winds (i.e., the North wind, 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.

I have a garden of my own, but roses and lilies grow in that garden in such abundance that you would think that these flowers are growing wild. You would think that these are wild flowers and not planted by human hands. The fawn loved to  spend its time in that garden throughout the season of spring. I often searched for it among the lilies where it would lie; but I could never find it till  it got up of its own accord. I could never find it because it lay among the white lilies, itself white as a lily. Its white colour blended with the colour of the white lilies. The fawn used to eat the red roses till its lips seemed to have become blood-stained. It ate red rose-petals until its white mouth became blood-red. And then it would fearlessly come running  towards me and kiss my mouth so that my 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.

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.

O help! O help! I find that the fawn is fainting. It is dying calmly as a saint dies. I can see it weeing. Its tears are coming out of its eyes sadly, and falling down 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 cane 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. I shall keep these two transparent tears of my fawn in a golden bottle, and I shall allow my own tears to drop into that bottle till it overflows with them. I shall then place that bottle in a temple dedicated to Diana, the virgin goddess of chastity because my fawn and I are   also pure and   chaste like Diana.

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.

With this last stanza, the poem ends with a feeling of reconciliation because the girl is shown consoling herself by speaking of the manner in which she will commemorate her affection for the fawn and the fawn’s affection for her.

Now my 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. O my fawn, do not leave me so soon because I too am going to die now, though I need a few more moments so that I may describe the manner in which I shall  commemorate you. First    a statue of myself will be cut in marble and that statute will have a sad expression on its face. My statue will be shown as shedding tears.

But in this respect the sculptor need not make use of his skill in order to carve tears of marble. My lament over your death is so sincere that even my marble statue will shed actual tears.  Those actual tears falling from the eyes of the statute on its breast will be made and laid at the feet of my statute. Your statute will be made of the purest alabaster which is white in colour, because I would like your statute to be as white as it can be made, though its whiteness will never equal your actual whiteness.


Critical Appreciation

The poem, The Nymph Complaining For The Death Of Her Faun, 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 death which is imminent. The entire poem is dominated by emotions like sorrow and grief.

Pathos, indeed, is the keynote of the poem. My 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. My sympathy for the girl is heightened by the lines in which she refers to her lover Sylvio who proved false to her and how 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.

In all, I can say, this poem has touched me deep, and hit hard at my heart because I am also an animal lover, and never like and expect such a barbarous action from anyone.

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