Andrew Marvell's "The Definition of Love" an Analytical & Critical Note

My love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high;
It was begotten by Despair
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing
Where feeble Hope could ne’er have flown,
But vainly flapp’d its tinsel wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended soul is fixt,
But Fate does iron wedges drive,
And always crowds itself betwixt.

For Fate with jealous eye does see
Two perfect loves, nor lets them close;
Their union would her ruin be,
And her tyrannic pow’r depose.

And therefore her decrees of steel
Us as the distant poles have plac’d,
(Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embrac’d;

Unless the giddy heaven fall,
And earth some new convulsion tear;
And, us to join, the world should all
Be cramp’d into a planisphere.

As lines, so loves oblique may well
Themselves in every angle greet;
But ours so truly parallel,
Though infinite, can never meet.

Therefore the love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debars,
Is the conjunction of the mind,
And opposition of the stars.

Before we start our discussion about this poem, let us have a quick overview on the concept of the Metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical deals with new reality. The new discoveries that had been taking place in the 19th century. Thus, this poetry deals with the reality not with metaphysics, for we do not see any abstraction in this poetry and in most of the cases this poetry is not referential. 

In "The Definition of Love", Marvell has spiritualized love. This poem describes the character of the poet's love for his beloved. This love, says the poet is perfect and therefore unattainable. This love is divine, but for that very reason hopeless. Perfect love of this kind is most unwelcome to Fate who therefore never permits the union of perfect lovers. This kind of perfect love can mean only a spiritual union but never a physical one. This love is "the conjunction of the mind and opposition of the mind and opposition of the stars".

The poet begins with the three dimensional allegorical figures: Despair, Hope and Fate that control love of the whole world. The poem begins with the highly intellectual conceit. And at the beginning of this poem the poet says that the love of the poet has a rare parentage: and its aim is exceptionally strange and sublime. His love, the poet says, is the offspring of Despair and impossibility. Here he says:

"My Love is of a birth as rare
As 'tis for abject strange and high:
It was begotten by despair
Upon Impossibility"

It was so divine a thing as his love. The poet goes on to say that Fate grows jealous of two perfect lovers:
"But fate does Iron wedges drive,
And always crowds itself betwixt."

When we read this poem, we find that the clarity is not there; there is deviation from the decorum, and the conception is not familiar. In this kind of poetry you have to be at least of new area of poetry initiated by the poet. Those poets did use conceits. Most of the words or imagery is the idea where the thought and feeling are one. There is an image when there is a fusion between the thought and feeling. John Donne: in one of his poems says separate could not take place between him and his beloved.

The experience of this poem is one; it is an experience of love. Outside the poem the experience of love could be either simple or complex. Definitely, from the point of view of a good reader the poet must be at ease in order to tackle in the poem his experience. If the poet is truly in love, he wouldn't have written this poem because he is conceiving this experience from an architectural point of view. In architecture you could look on different aspects of the object. The object is one but the facts are many. The poet is at ease when he is writing the poem. The poet is not suffering for the reasons that will come. If he was suffering he couldn't write this work of art. This kind of poetry proves that poetry could be written outside the range of suffering. Suffering would be the material of the poem but not the product of it. 

In part 1, there is no point of departure and arrival in the poem. The poem is tackling one simple experience of love. Fate is against him. The way he is expressing his words proves that he is not suffering. 

In part 2 despair is never magnanimous; he is after paradox once more. This proves that there is a formula that prevails throughout the poem. Although the experience is one, there is complexity in the relationship between himself and his beloved. Therefore, he is using many images for the same experience.

In part 3 fate is like an iron wedge which separates us in between myself and my beloved. He must be cool to say that fate is against us. Otherwise he would have been meditative. He is playing with words. So we could conclude that the poem is moving through a formula (thesis & antithesis). They could be united but fate is against them; this formula prevails throughout the entire poem which explains on the structural level the usage of the paradoxes. So, he created a paradox and  enlarged the love experience through it. In a paradox there is some sort of oppositions by which the range of experience in the poem is extended. If he is expressing a personal experience, he would not need 32 lines to write the poem. What he is saying is one thing but extended through this formula. He is not expressing a personal experience, but he is writing a poetic experience. Therefore, he is exploiting a new area of poetry which is initiated by John Donne. 

In part 4 he is moving systematically throughout the same formula. If fate is strong, they will be separated; and if they unite, fate will be ruined.  

In part 5 "Her" refers to fate. Thus, there is a decrees that cannot be broken. It does not permit their union because the union of two lovers would mean the ruin of the power of Fate. Fate has placed these two lovers as far apart from each other as the North Pole and the South Pole are from each other. The love of the poet and his beloved are however like parallel lines which can never meet. Finally the poet describes the love between his and mistress as the conjunction of the mind and opposition of the stars. He is complicating the experience because he is resorting to an area outside the poem. He is doing this on purpose, intentional ambiguity. The imagery is borrowed from outside the poem. "Decrees of steel" can't be broken: between the north pole and the south pole there is an axis on which the world does rotate; the axis couldn't be broken because it is made of steel. In addition, they can't be embraced but the entire world does exist. The relationship can't be broken the two entity are opposite. It is true also around this axis the world does rotate. The experience in itself is simple. He is creating complexity by using an area beyond the range of poetry. He is borrowing imagery from outside the poem. Thus, he is enlarging our sensitivity. There is unity in his feelings. The idea and imagery are the body of his poem, so you have to respond emotionally before thinking.  

Thus the whole poem is a kind of logically developed argument. The whole poem is characterized by Metaphysical wit. Fate also plays an important role in this poem. However, in this poem we find the touch of Platonic love where spirit, soul and mind dominate the theme.

Thus, from the above discussion we can say that the attitude and mood of Marvell in this poem “The Definition of Love”, is full of gloom and frustrations as the lover is painfully aware of the impossibility of his union with of the beloved.