Hammond, Paul. John Oldham and the Renewal of Classical Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Zigerell, James. John Oldham. Boston: Twayne, 1983.
"ON A DROP OF DEW" Andrew Marvell (1681) As did most poetry by Andrew Marvell, "On a Drop of Dew" first appeared in published form in his Miscellaneous Poems (1681) after his death. Various critics argue that it was written between 1650 and 1652 or in 1640, but no one can be sure of the year in which Marvell created it. He drew on a tradition of writing about dewdrops, descendants from heaven that were regarded as microcosms of the entire world, a technique popular in religious writing. Written as a companion piece to a Latin version titled "Ros," "On a Drop of Dew" has complicated syntax, perhaps as a result of the dual-language presentation. Influences on Marvell may have included John Donne's reference to the dew while reflecting upon the immortality allowed through faith in Christ, and Marvell uses it to represent the human soul. Dewdrops also had represented drops of blood from martyrs, and 16th-century poets used dew in erotic imagery. For example the dew is described as "penetrating" a rose, a traditional symbol for woman, in this case Mary, with that action in turn compared to God's slipping into the womb in Ippolito Capilupi's Carmina (1574).
Marvell presents his poem in two parts, the first describing the dewdrop's relationship to man and earth and the second its emblematic representation of the human soul. The rhythm shifts frequently as the num ber of syllables often varies in the 20 lines of the first section. He begins,
See how the orient dew,
Into the blowing roses, then notes that the drops eschew their heavenly mansions. Each drop is a world unto itself: "round in itself incloses: / And in its little globe's extent, / Frames as it can its native element." Lines 14-18 describe the dew's feeling of alienation as it is "so long divided from the sphere," and that division causes its "Trembling lest it grow impure." This allows a transition into his comparison of the soul to the drop of dew. Each section concludes with two rhyming couplets, their formality signaling a conclusion and unity of thought. The first pair leads into the second section, with the sun acting on its sympathy to evaporate the drop of dew, so that it may again enter Heaven, allowing the comparison offered in the poem's second portion:
Till the warm sun pity its pain And to the skies exhale it back again. So the soul, that drop, that ray of the clear fountain of eternal day.
The soul recalls "its former height" and "Shuns the swart leaves and blossoms green," remembering "its own light." Marvell inserts a skillful antithesis to describe the soul's activities while on earth separated from God and heaven, as in its "pure and circling thoughts" it expresses "The greater Heaven in an heaven less" (26). He includes imagery of dark and light, further contrast of the earth, not naturally graced with God's light, to heaven. The soul's location affects its attitude, as on earth it remains "disdaining," but in heaven it loves. The soul is "girt and ready to ascend," with the term girt implying enclosed within, just as the dewdrop was self-enclosed.
Marvell references in line 37 the biblical story of the miracle of manna, or bread, which appeared with the morning dew to sustain the Israelites as they wandered in the desert on the way to the Promised Land. In emphasizing the dew's sacred properties, Marvell more
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closely ties it to the redeemed soul. As the manna was congealed in the dew, the soul remains congealed while earth-bound but will melt and return to heaven when exposed to Christ's redemption. The poem ends with a pair of couplets:
Such did the manna's sacred dew distil; White and entire, though congealed and chill. Congealed on earth; but does, dissolving, run Into the glories of the'Almighty Sun.
Marvell uses wordplay with his pun on the word sun, as in God's son, Christ, as he extends the figurative language (figure of speech) of the sun metaphor. God is also referred to as "a sun and shield" in Psalm 84:11. other critical approaches compare the dew to sin, which must be burned out of the soul.
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