The Fair Singer by Andrew Marvell

The poem, The Fair Singer by Andrew Marvell is a short poem, based on a series of conceits, and describes the poet’s utter collapse before the charms of the lady who is beautiful to look at and who at the same time is an exquisite singer. The poet looks upon the fair singer as a “sweet enemy” who possesses two kinds of beauty which have combined together to defeat him. This lady has beautiful eyes which have cast a spell upon the poet’s heart, and she sings in such a sweet voice that his mind is bewitched.

The poet feels that, if he had to deal with a woman who had possessed only one kind of beauty instead of both kinds, he could have escaped from her. In that case, his soul could have broken out of the thick web of her hair in which it would have got entangled. But in the case of this particular woman he cannot help becoming her slave because she has the skill to forge fetters for him from the very air which he breathes.

The poet feels that it would have been easy for him to fight  a battle  against  this woman if he had met her on level ground and on equal terms, because in that case the chances of victory would have been equal for both the contestants. However, in the present case he finds all his resistance against her futile because she has a double advantage – the advantage of bright eyes and the advantage of a musical voice. He is sure to be defeated in this contest because with her voice she can sweep him off his feet, and with her eyes she can dazzle him.

 

Theme, Imagery and Metaphysical Elements in The Fair Lady

The poem, The Fair Singer is pretty little love-lyric based on a conceit. The poet finds in his beloved a combination of two beauties – the beauty of her eyes and the beauty of her voice. The beauty of her eyes implies her physical charm, while the beauty of her voice refers to her exquisite singing. The poet is completely overpowered and overwhelmed by this combination of two beauties.

All his powers of resistance collapse in the face of this two-fold beauty, and he therefore feels enslaved mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually, by her. If she had possessed only one of these two beauties, he might have been able to resist her charm but, as it is, his resistance has no meaning.

With her double advantage over him, he stands absolutely no chance of winning the contest against her. This poem is an excellent love-lyric as it has all the qualities of excellence. It is intensely emotional; it is written in simple language; it has spontaneity; and it has music on its own.

The intensity of the emotion in this poem is to be found in each of the three stanzas. The two-fold beauty of the woman conquers the poet finally, and conquers him fully. He finds himself fettered by her charm, and becomes her slave.

All his powers of resistance have been “undone” or completely defeated. A poem like this cannot fail to appeal to young readers.

 

Imagery and Metaphysical Conceits

The poem has sensuous imagery, which is very well depicted from the appeal of the poem to our senses of sight and hearing. The god of love has created a woman in whom both beauties, the beauty of eyes and the beauty of voice combine to captivate the poet.

In addition to the beauty of the eyes and the beauty of the voice, there is the appeal of the woman’s thick and abundant hair.

Besides, there are a series of metaphysical conceits in the poem. A metaphysical conceit is one that is far-fetched or fantastic and therefore surprising or startling, though at the same time enjoyable. In this case the fair singer is regarded as a “sweet enemy”.

To regard the beloved woman as a sweet enemy is a paradox. In fact, the basic conceit in the poem is that the relationship between two opposing parties. The woman is a sweet enemy whose charms are resisted by the poet, who, however, finds himself helpless and in no position to win.

In the final stanza, this particular conceit reaches its climax, especially in the concluding two lines in which the man and the woman are visualized as two army commanders facing each other, with the woman having the advantage of both the wind and the sun.

To regard the musical voice of the woman as having the power of the wind, and to regard the eyes of the woman  as having the dazzling brightness of the  sun is perhaps the most striking conceit in the poem.

The second stanza contains the conceit of the poet’s soul having become entangled in the curly hair of the woman and trying to disengage itself. The woman’s hair is here described as a kind of neither closely woven mesh nor net: “the curled trammels of her hair.”

In the first stanza, the image of both the beauties of the woman “joining in fatal harmony” against the poet is also a metaphysical conceit. Yet another conceit is to be found in the image of the woman’s subtle art invisibly devising fetters for the poet from the very air which he breathes.

 

The Fair Singer Analysis

To make a final conquest of all me,

Love did compose so sweet an enemy,

In whom both beauties to my death agree,

Joining themselves in fatal harmony;

That while she with her eyes my heart does bind,

She with her voice might captivate my mind.

In order to win a final and complete victory over me, the god of love devised a sweet enemy who was in possession of both kinds of beauty which combined to bring about my utter defeat.

This enemy was a woman whose two beauties combined in such a cooperative manner that there was no possibility of my being able to resist the appeal of her charms. While she casts a spell upon my heart with her bright eyes, she enslaved my mind with her sweet singing.

I could have fled from one but singly fair,

My disentangled soul itself might save,

Breaking the curled trammels of her hair.

But how should I avoid to be her slave,

Whose subtle art invisibly can wreath

My fetters of the very air I breathe?

I could have escaped from a woman who had been in possession of only one of these two kinds of beauty. In the case of a woman possessing only bright eyes and lovely thick hair, my soul, even if it had got entangled in the closely-woven net of her hair, would have been able to save itself by managing to get out of the net or web.

But how can I avoid becoming the slave of this particular woman who possesses the cunning art of being able invisibly to devise fetters for me from the very air I breathe?

It had been easy fighting in some plain,

Where victory might hang in equal choice,

But all resistance against her is vain,

Who has th’advantage both of eyes and voice,

And all my forces needs must be undone,

She having gained both the wind and sun.

It would have been easy if I had to fight against this woman on level ground and on equal terms because in that case the chances of victory would have been equal for both the contestants.

But in the present case all my efforts to resist this woman’s charms are futile because she has a two-fold advantage – the advantage of bright eyes and the advantage of a sweet singing voice.

All my powers of resistance are bound to be defeated completely because she can sweep me off my feet with the wind of her sweet voice, and she can at the same time dazzle me with her bright eyes, just as an army commander is bound to be defeated in a battle if his opponent has the advantage of the wind behind him or the advantage of the sun at his back.

 

Critical Appreciation

The poem, The Fair Singer by Andrew Marvell is a Cavalier lyric, and is a complete musical mixture. Each stanza in the poem is a self-contained sentence. The motion is onward and forward in each; there are no inversions of word-order in the third stanza, and elsewhere there are only the small changes needed to put the verbs “agree”, “bind”, “save” in a position to rhyme.

The poem is a masterpiece of decorous wit, though a miniature masterpiece. The wit takes several forms. It works through the imagery, for one thing. In addition, the wit works through the imagery, for one thing. In addition, the wit works through puns; but the best wit plays with the twin beauties of eyes and of voice which compose the fair singer.

The style of the poem shows that compression and concentration which are characteristics of the bulk of poetry of all the metaphysical poets. Every stanza of the poem here is packed with meaning and can be expanded into at least a page.

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