6 August 2010

Andrew Marvell and Kingston upon Hull, East Yorkshire

'The former Hull Grammar School with an impressive statue of old boy Andrew Marvell (1621-78), the metaphysical poet, in front.

An old plaque on the north-facing wall records that William Wilberforce also attended the school, which is now The Hands on History Museum.

A closer view of the Andrew Marvell statue.

Immediately below the statue is a brief note of the man's perceived qualities: 'Andrew Marvell[.] An incorruptible patriot, a wise statesman, and a zealous and energetic representative of this his native town in Parliament from 1658 to 1678. Born 1620 [sic], died 1678.'

At the base of the statue are the first four lines of probably the most famous poem of Marvell's, which I include below in full. It was in another grammar school - High Pavement, Bestwood Estate, Nottingham, that I first encountered it. I remember it well, as I was taught by the late eccentric Bill Gray, who always made a point of wearing odd socks, insisted that the world is round, and usually smelled of nicotine and stale beer. Bill it was who taught us that this is a carpe diem poem, and his interpretation of the whole thing was very blunt: 'Gerr 'em off! Drop 'em!' Ah, the benefits of a bourgeois education.

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

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