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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: March 2011

6 - Marvell and the designs of art


Despite the sparkling verbal wit of his poetry, Andrew Marvell is a decidedly visual poet. Indeed, one of the distinguishing features of Marvell’s lyrics is their deep sensitivity to the visual, even painterly, elements of perception and representation. Regularly in his poetry, visual attributes mark ethical, psychological, or political stances. His poetry is distinguished by a remarkable responsiveness to the full range of the visual and plastic arts, from painting to sculpture and architecture. Architecture in particular seems to engross him because it allows him to explore the permutations of structure and design as he meditates on the formal aspects of his own poetic work. His poetry is obsessed by the ever-shifting distinction between the aesthetics implicit in nature, frequently articulated as if it were a self-conscious work of art, and the aesthetics of human creative effort. Marvell, moreover, is fascinated by the ways that art frames and enables apprehension. His profound insight into the contingent qualities of perception complicates any simple distinction between the products of nature and the artefacts of human design. The conventions of visual representation, he seems to say, are what enable us to see the design implicit in the order of the natural world. Most important, these conventions are also what enable us to imagine the world from perspectives other than our own. Tracking the various manifestations of the visual in Marvell’s poetry elucidates his singular accomplishments as a poet.

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