Marvell (1681) The date when Andrew Marvell wrote "The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn" remains unknown. Some of its vocabulary may be traced to the 1640s and some possible associations can be made, especially with a poem published in 1642 by Rowland Watkins. However, its only secure date is that of 1681, the date of publication along with most of Marvell's lyrics in the posthumous Miscellaneous Poems. It represents the traditional format known as the lover's complaint, as Marvell frequently echoes Ovid's Metamorphoses. Mythology on which Ovid drew included Agamemnon's killing of Diana's hind, or deer. It also featured Cyparissus, who loves, then kills, her own deer. Sylvanus is Cyparissus's lover, and Marvell's inconstant lover named Sylvio. Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene, Book I, also follows the tradition, describing the murder of a deer by a character named Sylvanus. In addition Marvell echoes Renaissance Continental drama and pastoral poetry. He adopted a format of 11 verse paragraphs, indicated by line indention; those paragraphs vary from four to 20 lines in length.
Some critics view the poem as divided into four sections corresponding to speech modes; antithesis, repetition, allegory, and epigraph. Critics have judged the poem an aesthetic failure, because of its mixing of genres and voices. They have also viewed it as questioning not only the pastoral form, but also the value of the contemplative life. The latter is a contradiction for Marvell who seems to value highly contemplation in other poems, such as "The Garden."
Psychoanalytic critics view "The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn" as a lover-scorned tale, and they find interesting the nymph's apparent substitution of the fawn as a lover after Sylvio's betrayal. After expressing 24 lines of regret over the loss of the fawn, killed by "wanton troopers," the nymph explains that "Unconstant Sylvio" had given her the fawn prior to her discovery of his "counterfeit" nature. The fawn wore a "silver chain and bell," the silver symbolizing the supposed value of Sylvio's feelings for the nymph. Marvell uses a pun on the term deer as the nymph recalls that Sylvio said, "'Look how your huntsman here / Hath taught a fawn to hunt his dear.'" The hunt becomes an important thematic. Sylvio's later betrayal invokes the image of an opportunist hunting a naive female; it also echoes the earlier description of the fawn's shooting death by "wanton troopers riding by."
Recalling the pleasant gift giving, the nymph notes that Sylvio "Quite regardless of my smart, / Left me his fawn, but took his heart," with Marvell again including wordplay on the term hart. Because the nymph's nature prevents her treating others unkindly, she cannot recognize cruelty in Sylvio. Later Marvell references "swans and turtles," meaning turtledoves, "milk-white lambs" and "alabaster," the compounding white imagery symbolizing the nymph's innocence.
The nymph concludes by noting that she will soon die, ostensibly of a broken heart. She requests that an engraver create her image in marble, but not engrave tears, for she "shall weep though I be stone," supplying the tears, which will drop on her breast and engrave themselves there. She then requests that Sylvio be laid at her feet, carved from alabaster. Marvell concludes with paradox, writing in the nymph's voice, "for I would have thine image be / White as I can, though not as thee." The nymph fantasizes that Sylvio remains
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as pure and innocent as her fawn, creating a false image in order to satisfy her desire.
Some critics view the nymph and fawn as one and the same, the nymph's sacrifice and eventual death in the name of love similar to those of the fawn. Feminist critics note the violence inflicted on the nymph and the fawn by men. They both represent innocence, as the nymph notes the fawn is whiter than she, and the male world of experience kills them. Imagery of the fawn in a garden calls to mind the original Garden of Eden, and Marvell may suggest that as every individual gains knowledge or wisdom, he or she moves closer to death.
Additional interpretations include political and religious meaning in the poem. "Wanton troopers" reflects a new term, trooper, which appeared first in the English language in 1640 in reference to soldiers of the Scottish Covenanting Army that invaded England to support Presbyterianism. The fawn could be seen as the English church doomed to death by civil war, or as England itself when life under a monarchy is destroyed by Cromwell's new order. Charles I himself may be the fawn, its death mirroring Charles's execution. His death was treated delicately by Marvell even in a poem written as a salute to the new leader of England, his "A Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland." The fawn's dying "calmly as a saint" brings to mind lines from the ode about Charles: "He nothing common did, or mean, / . . . But bowed his comely head / Down, as upon a bed," submitting to the executioner's axe. Others view the fawn as Christ, the line in which it feeds "Among the beds of lilies" echoing such imagery from The Song of Solomon.
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