Andrew Marvell is surely the single most compelling embodiment of the change that came over English society and letters in the course of the 17th century. In an era that makes a better claim than most upon the familiar term transitional, Marvell wrote a varied array of exquisite lyrics that blend Cavalier grace with Metaphysical wit and complexity. He first turned into a panegyrist for the Lord Protector and his regime and then into an increasingly bitter satirist and polemicist, attacking the royal court and the established church in both prose and verse. It is as if the most delicate and elusive of butterflies somehow metamorphosed into a caterpillar.

— from Poetry Foundation

Andrew Marvell was born 400 years ago today. On the face of this poem, he is taking the case of the renunciate who forgoes the delights of the senses for the idea of God. But the pleasure that are offered in temptation are so wholesome and their portrayal is so sumptuous that I have to wonder if Marvell wasn’t hypnotically inviting us to relish nature’s wonders and live in this world rather than the next. — JJM

A Dialogue, between the Resolved Soul and Created Pleasure

Courage, my Soul, now learn to wield
The weight of thine immortal shield.
Close on thy head thy helmet bright.
Balance thy sword against the fight.
See where an army, strong as fair,
With silken banners spreads the air.
Now, if thou be’st that thing divine,
In this day’s combat let it shine:
And show that Nature wants an art
To conquer one resolvèd heart.

Welcome the creation’s guest,
Lord of earth, and heaven’s heir.
Lay aside that warlike crest,
And of Nature’s banquet share:
Where the souls of fruits and flowers
Stand prepared to heighten yours.

I sup above, and cannot stay
To bait so long upon the way.

On these downy pillows lie,
Whose soft plumes will thither fly:
On these roses strewed so plain
Lest one leaf thy side should strain.

My gentler rest is on a thought,
Conscious of doing what I ought.

If thou be’st with perfumes pleased,
Such as oft the gods appeased,
Thou in fragrant clouds shalt show
Like another god below.

A soul that knows not to presume
Is heaven’s and its own perfume.

Everything does seem to vie
Which should first attract thine eye:
But since none deserves that grace,
In this crystal view thy face.

When the Creator’s skill is prized,
The rest is all but earth disguised.

Hark how music then prepares
For thy stay these charming airs;
Which the posting winds recall,
And suspend the river’s fall.

Had I but any time to lose,
On this I would it all dispose.
Cease, tempter. None can chain a mind
Whom this sweet chordage cannot bind.

Earth cannot show so brave a sight
As when a single soul does fence
The batteries of alluring sense,
And heaven views it with delight.
   Then persevere: for still new charges sound:
   And if thou overcom’st, thou shalt be crowned.

All this fair, and soft, and sweet,
   Which scatteringly doth shine,
Shall within one beauty meet,
   And she be only thine.

If things of sight such heavens be,
What heavens are those we cannot see?

Wheresoe’er thy foot shall go
   The minted gold shall lie,
Till thou purchase all below,
   And want new worlds to buy.

Were’t not a price, who’d value gold?
And that’s worth naught that can be sold.

Wilt thou all the glory have
   That war or peace commend?
Half the world shall be thy slave
   The other half thy friend.

What friends, if to my self untrue!
What slaves, unless I captive you!

Thou shalt know each hidden cause;
   And see the future time:
Try what depth the centre draws;
   And then to heaven climb.

None thither mounts by the degree
Of knowledge, but humility.

Triumph, triumph, victorious Soul;
The world has not one pleasure more:
The rest does lie beyond the Pole,
And is thine everlasting store.

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