This Marvell Studies , was published on Monday 28 March 2016

Marvell’s Mower Poems as Alternative Literary History

 

BY BRADFORD BOYD

Abstract: Students of English pastoral—Raymond Williams, Frank Kermode, Helen Cooper, Sukanta Chaudhuri—have long assumed that the mode withers after the death of Marvell. This is mistaken; in fact, it flourishes in Restoration and Georgian Britain as mock-pastoral. Marvell, followed by Rochester, Swift, John Gay, Mary Wortley Montagu, and others, grafts Greco-Roman pastoral’s ironic, satiric energies back onto soft, “arcadian” English pastoral, restoring the mode’s premodern balance of buffo/serio, preeminently in the Mower poems. He recasts the farcical Polyphemus of Ovid’s Metamorphoses (the archetypal pastoral lover in Theocritus’s Idylls and Virgil’s Eclogues) as Damon the Mower, whose “polyphemic” plaints are at once poignant and comical. The pathos is not in the Mower’s erotic frustrations, however, but in his dispossession by changes to land tenure and agriculture after civil war (reactivating, again, Theocritus and Virgil, especially Eclogues 1 and 9). Marvell and his mock-pastoral inheritors, then, represent not the end of pastoral but its renewal.

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