English Literature
The Definition of Love

The Definition of Love

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The Intriguing Concept of Love in Andrew Marvell's 'The Definition of Love'

The concept of love is often perceived as abstract and deeply personal, making it challenging to define using a single definition. However, in his poem 'The Definition of Love' (1681), Andrew Marvell presents his argument that love is ultimately controlled by fate, leaving little room for human control. Through eloquent metaphors and vivid personification, Marvell demonstrates his mastery of metaphysical poetry.

The Life and Mystery of Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) was primarily known during his lifetime for his political and civil service roles, rather than his renowned metaphysical poetry. However, little is known about his personal life, including his whereabouts during the English Civil War and his marital status.

One of the enigmas surrounding Marvell is his religious beliefs. Though raised in the Anglican faith by his father, who was a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church and master of the Charterhouse, Marvell attended Trinity College, Cambridge. Over time, his beliefs seemed to evolve, leading some scholars to consider him a proto-deist.

Deism, a religious and philosophical movement that emerged in the 17th and 18th centuries, revolved around the idea of a divine, supernatural deity who did not interact with the human world. Instead of following organized religion, deists relied on rational thinking, empirical evidence, and observations to seek religious truth. Marvell's shifting beliefs suggest that he may have aligned with deism in his later years.

The Context and Setting of 'The Definition of Love'

'The Definition of Love' is believed to have been written during the 1650s, a time of political turmoil in England. As society underwent significant social and political changes following the English Civil War, Marvell managed to evade taking sides by supporting both Cromwellian politics and the monarchy at different points in his career.

The poem, one of many love poems penned by Marvell, adds to the ambiguity surrounding his personal life. There is no concrete evidence to support whether he was ever married or had children. Following his death, his housekeeper claimed they secretly married in 1667, though this remains unverified. Some speculate this to be a scheme to claim his wealth. The mystery surrounding Marvell's love life adds an extra layer of intrigue to his poetry.

'The Definition of Love' was posthumously published in Miscellaneous Poems in 1681, three years after Marvell's death.

Interpretation of 'The Definition of Love'

The poem's opening lines set the tone, with the speaker describing their love as something rare and divine, despite its impossibility. This love is born from despair, and the personification of 'magnanimous despair' implies that it is an extraordinary and heroic force. The use of 'impossibility' and 'magnanimous despair' hint at the idea that their love is unattainable and almost larger than life.

The speaker then explains that although it may be possible for them to unite, fate will always come between them. Fate is depicted as a jealous force that bars two perfect lovers from coming together, as their union would pose a threat to its power. This personification of fate is a recurring theme in Marvell's poetry, further showcasing the influence of his evolving religious beliefs.

In the final stanza, the inevitability of their love remaining unrequited is emphasized. Despite their love being infinite and parallel, it can never truly join due to the dominant force of fate. Their love can only exist in the opposition of the stars and their minds, as fate continues to hinder any chance of union.

In Conclusion

In 'The Definition of Love', Andrew Marvell challenges the notion of love being within one's control and presents it as a force dictated by fate. Through his use of eloquent metaphors and personification, he showcases his expertise in metaphysical poetry. While Marvell's personal life remains a mystery, his thought-provoking works continue to captivate readers and spark discussions on the intricacies of love.

Poetic Devices in "The Definition of Love" by Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell's poem "The Definition of Love" is a masterful example of metaphysical poetry. Through the skillful use of metaphor, personification, and oxymoron, Marvell explores the complexities of love and fate in a captivating and thought-provoking way.

The poem begins with a striking metaphor, comparing the speaker's love to a rare and valuable object. This sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as the speaker delves into the idea of a love that is doomed to remain unfulfilled. The imagery of the earth caving in and the heavens falling adds to the idea of impossibility and reinforces the tumultuous nature of the speaker's emotions.

Personification is another significant element in the poem, as abstract concepts such as "Despair," "Impossibility," and "Fate" are given human-like qualities. This not only adds depth to the central theme of the poem, but also portrays these concepts as antagonists in the speaker's relationship. In fact, they seem to hold a more dominant role than the speaker's beloved, who is only briefly mentioned.

The speaker's description of Despair as "Magnanimous" is a powerful use of oxymoron. It suggests that it is the absence of hope that makes their love all the more precious and divine to him. This idea is reminiscent of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet," where the lovers' doomed fate only intensifies the depth of their love.

Fate, the overarching force keeping the lovers apart, is portrayed as a jealous and tyrannical entity. The speaker explains that Fate "does iron wedges drive," emphasizing its power and control over their relationship. This depiction of Fate as possessive and controlling adds a sinister element to the poem.

The use of alliteration, particularly in the lines "And always crowds itself betwixt" and "For Fate with jealous eyes," emphasizes the theme of fate and its role in the lovers' relationship. The repetitive "F" and "W" sounds in "For Fate with jealous eyes" and "Though love's whole world on us doth wheel" also add a poetic rhythm to the poem, further capturing the reader's attention.

Through skilled use of metaphor, personification, and oxymoron, Andrew Marvell crafts a mournful yet poignant portrayal of a love that is destined to remain unrequited in "The Definition of Love." The reader is taken on a journey of intellectual and emotional complexities, making it clear that the impossibility of their relationship only serves to strengthen the bond between the two lovers.

Love is often portrayed as a beautiful and all-consuming emotion, but what happens when it becomes an intangible concept rather than a physical reality? This is explored in Andrew Marvell's poem, "The Definition of Love," where the speaker's beloved is depicted as a vague and distant figure, while his own feelings take center stage. This raises the question: does the speaker value his beloved or his perception of love more?

Destiny vs. Free Will: The Struggle of Love

The theme of destiny versus free will is a recurring motif in the poem. The speaker and his beloved are both at the mercy of fate, a force that the speaker believes cannot be challenged. He even suggests that their union would disrupt the natural order of things. This belief in the power of destiny highlights the idea that the speaker and his beloved are mere pawns, with no control over their own lives. The use of similes to describe them as lifeless objects further emphasizes their passivity in the face of a greater force. In the grand scheme of things, their actions hold no significance.

Not only does destiny control their lives, but it also carries religious undertones. In many religions, including Christianity, fate is seen as a predetermined plan set forth by a higher power. However, in this poem, fate is depicted as selfish, oppressive, and even violent. This could suggest that Marvell was questioning organized religion and instead favored the idea of finding truth through reason. The speaker's use of the word "divine" to describe his love also hints at his possible conversion to deism, where a higher power is believed to have created the universe but does not interfere in human affairs. This raises the question of whether a higher power both creates and hinders a perfect love.

The Use of Literary Devices to Portray an Impossible Love

One of the most significant literary devices used in the poem is the comparison of love to parallel lines. The speaker likens his and his beloved's love to two lines that can never intersect, no matter how much they long for it. This serves as a metaphor for their unattainable love, as well as highlighting the idea of absence and isolation. The speaker's love is defined by their physical and emotional separation, and he asserts that it is this distance that makes their love deeper and more divine.

The poem also utilizes alliteration, particularly in words such as "loves" and "lovers" in lines 14 and 25. This repetition adds a softness to the poem and showcases the speaker's resignation and acceptance of their fate.

The Timelessness and Relevance of "The Definition of Love"

Published posthumously in 1681, "The Definition of Love" was written by Andrew Marvell, a poet and politician from England. Despite being written over three centuries ago, the poem's themes still resonate with readers today. Its exploration of the possibility of love in the face of fate challenges traditional notions of love and fate, making it a timeless piece of literature.

In conclusion, "The Definition of Love" is a thought-provoking poem that delves into the complexities of love and destiny. Through the use of literary devices such as personification, oxymoron, alliteration, simile, and metaphor, Marvell masterfully captures the melancholic and contemplative tone of the speaker. The poem forces readers to ponder the true nature of love and the role of fate in shaping our lives, making it a poignant and enduring piece of literature.

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