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"BERMUDAS" Andrew Marvell (1681) Andrew Marvell probably wrote "Bermudas" between 1653 and 1654, although, along with his other works, it would not be published until 1681. In the early 1650s Marvell served as tutor at Eton to William Dutton, Oliver Cromwell's "ward." While doing so, he stayed with his friend, John Oxenbridge, a fellow of Eton College and vicar of New Windsor. A victim of persecution by William Laud, Oxenbridge had twice visited the Bermuda islands and was made a commissioner for the government of the Bermudas in 1653. Marvell probably wrote the poem as a tribute to the Oxenbridge family. He greatly admired Oxenbridge and his wife, Jane, and their virtuous lifestyle, and he would later compose an epitaph for Jane Oxenbridge. Marvell viewed the Bermuda islands as a refuge from religious persecution, joining other poets in characterizing them as a modern Eden.
As the critic Nigel Smith discusses, Marvell employed several sources, altering them as fit his puritanical approach to celebrating a supposed work ethic of the island inhabitants. Edmund Waller had written a mock-heroic poem, "The Battle of the Summer Islands" (1645), which included erotic elements in its emphasis on the great fecundity of the Bermudas. In opposition to that view, colonialist oarsmen of the boat in Mar-vell's version celebrate God and the paradise he has seen fit to grant to them, as "From a small boat, that rowed along, / The list'ning winds received this song." The island had long remained unsettled, not discovered until 1515 by Juan Bermudez. The next lines acknowledge God for leading religious refugees over the ocean to the islands. The refugees sing God's praises, as the poem describes elements of the islands, including whales: "Where He the huge sea-monsters wracks / That lift the deep upon their backs." Waller had described the colonists' treatment of the whales as barbaric, a detail that Marvell avoids. God has provided all the refugees need, with nothing left to chance. He sends them "fowls," "the orange bright," which Marvell compares through the figurative language (figure of speech) of simile to "golden lamps in a green night"; "pom'granates," "Jewels," "figs," and "melons" thrown at their feet; in addition to apples of incredible size; dispute remains regarding whether the large apples were actually pineapples. Marvell compares the pomegranates to jewelry cases that contain seeds, natural "jewels" more beautiful than precious stones. He also references cedars "from Lebanon" and the ambergris, a sweet smelling substance secreted by sperm whales, so valued by colonists. His imagery avoids historic reports of squabbles among the settlers over the ambergris, instances of sodomy, and the natives' attempted rejection of Puritanism. He also does not make clear that some of the fruit he mentions, such as the melons, were not natural to the island, and his description belies the fact that colonists had to take with them most of the necessities of life as they knew it. Marvell's island is paradise reborn, Eden revisited.
The poem most strongly emphasizes the value of religion, as the biblical gospel is compared to a pearl, supposedly common in the Bermudas, although in reality pearls were rarely found. The line may reflect on the biblical passage Matthew 7:6, which refers to "pearls before swine," as hogs were common in the islands, having been taken there by previous colonizers. Line 32 notes that the islands possess a temple for the worship of the Lord. Voices rise from the islands in praise, and Marvell suggests that the sound arrives "at heaven's vault," from which it might rebound and "Echo beyond the Mexique Bay," referencing the Gulf of Mexico. That location would be important as a bastion of Catholicism, with the echoes of Protestant praise acting as a spiritual invasion. He concludes with the couplets
Thus sung they, in the English boat,
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
Critics note that Marvell's verse imitates the meter of most entries in the biblical book of Psalms, which are also songs. While he employs the familiar meter of iambic pentameter, he occasionally varies it with insertion of spondees and trochees. The public showed little interest in "Bermudas" until the 19th century, when critics interpreted the poem as Marvell's consideration of self-exile. Later interpretations held that Marvell reflected that such a paradise was inappropriate for man in his fallen state. More modern critics believe the poem exists to celebrate nature and the harmony it encourages in human communities.
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