The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell: Summary and Analysis

The poem 'The Definition of Love' by Andrew Marvell depicts the Platonic idea of Love as an unfulfilled longing. When the poem commences the speaker is somewhat confused by the discovery of his love being so rare and strange and yet so extraordinary that it just causes despair in the speaker and the possibility of getting the love is almost null.

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)

The speaker does not leave his small ray of hope though the hopelessness in terms of achieving his desired love is very high.

In the stanza three, the poetic persona assumes if there is hope then the love is real and he knows he will fall in love very easily. Fate is compared with the gap between the stars, that are almost similar in size and light, and same formally, but yet distant from each other. However, he knows that the difference of hierarchy is determined to keep them apart. In the stanza four, he also feels that this situation or fate as he calls it had reasons for being so inflexible to the potential of their love. Because if they decided to go against 'fate' the women would have her reputation tarnished by being with someone below her class. Moreover, it would be a scrape to her family in the eyes of society, something she could not allow to happen. This decision made by the fate in the fifth stanza, makes it crystal clear that the two lovers would never be together. They would have to keep cool and not forget their place, because if they did, they would not be able to control themselves and they would for sure become lovers, so a safe distance must be kept. In the stanza six, the speaker as a lover realizes that unless a miracle occurs and the way the world is ran changes, they would have space to bloom, but there is little chance this happens. He compares their relationship as two infinite lines that can form a circle but cannot intersect. So, the speaker is angry with the fate for being so cruel to them.

The separation of the lovers is fatal, and fate places the lovers at distant poles, that is why they always feel to be more together even when there's not an inch gap between them physically. The minds remain ever unsatisfied, because the nature of love is to extend it more to the extreme and beyond; it is ever `begotten upon impossibility', meaning that it doesn't know how to be expressed in the countenance of infinity and perfection.

But no matter what, their love will continue to exist forever in their minds and nobody can stop them from being united in their minds. Finally, the optimistic speaker concludes that their potential love will always be a bond between him and her.

Marvell’s The Definition of Love is a metaphysical poem as it uses the elaborate metaphors for the comparison of the love between them. The concept of platonic love is also one of the important issues that this poem talks about.  The speaker says that utter ‘despair’ and ‘impossibility’ have given birth to his love that is why his love is dark and unattainable. The speaker projects the Fate as an ‘iron wedge’ which bars the two uniting lovers as their union is a threat to the power of Fate. Fate is personified as She and for the speaker the Fate is a dictator with a ‘jealous eye’. The use of symbols like ‘iron wedge’ and a ‘decree of steel’ shows the power of fate over the life of human beings and the poet silently accepts the truth of destiny though he goes to many extent to reprimand Fate against the lives of the lovers.

Comparing their love with the lines and two opposite polar is an absolutely beautiful conceit. Though these two parallel lines do not meet with each other, they travel to infinity perfectly. They stay together forever and ever though the physical union is not possible. And with the use of polar conceit the poet is sure that the love of the speaker is never going to be success in terms of physical union. Here the poet gives priority to the togetherness and spirituality of love rather than the physicality of love.

The poem is composed of eight stanzas having four lines in each stanza of iambic tetrameter in a pattern of abab, cdcd. The language of mathematics and cosmology is used by Marvell in this poem.

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