December 14: Smarter Than You

As the Daily Mail article said, "Presumably spelled this way for the benefit of Sean Connery imitators."

I've hardly read Andrew Marvell, outside of "To His Coy Mistress," which I guess many people have run into in English class ("Mistress"! So spicy!). But he's a Metaphysical poet, and I like the Metaphysicals, so I liked his poems, all of which were new to me.

(Digression: I almost wrote "I like me some Metaphysicals," but I think this usage is tired and MUST BE STAMPED OUT. "I like me some X" is the "talk to the hand" of our time.)

One of the things I like about the Metaphysical poets, I must confess, is the idea that these poems are for the Smart Set, people who would become ever so bored by constancy of meter:

SEE with what simplicity
This nymph begins her golden days!
In the green grass she loves to lie,
And there with her fair aspect tames
The wilder flowers, and gives them names;
But only with the roses plays,
And them does tell
What colour best becomes them, and what smell.


However it's not as conceited (i.e. conceit-heavy) as Donne. Marvell, also, was apparently a little cleverer about managing his career, as this poem, a "Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return From Ireland" attests. "Horatian" is appropriate, as I take Horace to be another poet who knew which way the wind was blowing. While praising Cromwell, Marvell carefully puts in some to-be-sure stanzas upon the previous absolute ruler:
That thence the Royal actor borne
The tragic scaffold might adorn:
While round the arm├Ęd bands
Did clap their bloody hands.

He nothing common did or mean
Upon that memorable scene,
But with his keener eye
The axe’s edge did try;

Nor call’d the Gods, with vulgar spite,
To vindicate his helpless right
But bow’d his comely head
Down, as upon a bed.
In fact, just before this, there's some lines that might justify the idea of trimming your sails to catch those prevailing winds:
Though Justice against Fate complain,
And plead the ancient Rights in vain—
But those do hold or break
As men are strong or weak,

Nature, that hateth emptiness,
Allows of penetration less,
And therefore must make room
Where greater spirits come.
It's basically like, "Power isn't given -- it must be taken!" I was kind of surprised, though, to find Marvell on the side of Cromwell. I don't know where I got the idea that the Metaphysicals were Royalists -- probably from Eliot, a king of smarter-than-you poetry. (I think Ashberry might be the reigning king. Everyone tells me he's great, but I can't follow it at all.)

Oh, and here's his ode to the Hollywood Farmer's Market:
What wondrous life is this I lead! Ripe apples drop about my head; The luscious clusters of the vine 35 Upon my mouth do crush their wine; The nectarine and curious peach Into my hands themselves do reach; Stumbling on melons, as I pass, Ensnared with flowers, I fall on grass.
Except for the "grass" part, that is; in Hollywood (the actual neighborhood, not the shorthand for showbiz), "glass" would be better -- as in, broken glass from car windows. And this poem doesn't have the young dudes in goatees who play bluegrass. But otherwise it's pretty accurate.

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