The Definition of Love

The Definition of Love

By Andrew Marvell

My Love is of a birth as rare
As ’tis for object strange and high:
It was begotten by despair
Upon Impossibility.

Magnanimous Despair alone
Could show me so divine a thing,
Where feeble Hope could ne’r have flown
But vainly flapt its Tinsel Wing.

And yet I quickly might arrive
Where my extended Soul is fixt,
But Fate does Iron wedges drive,
And alwaies crowds it self betwixt.

For Fate with jealous Eye does see
Two perfect Loves; nor lets them close:
Their union would her ruine be,
And her Tyrannick pow’er depose.

And therefore her Decrees of Steel
Us as the distant Poles have plac’d,
(Though Love’s whole World on us doth wheel)
Not by themselves to be embrac’d.

Unless the giddy Heaven fall,
And Earth some new Convulsion tear;
And, us to joyn, the World should all
Be cramp’d into a Planisphere.

As Lines so Loves oblique may well
Themselves in every Angle greet:
But ours so truly Parallel,
Though infinite can never meet.

Therefore the Love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debarrs,
Is the Conjunction of the Mind,
And Opposition of the Stars.

Summary of The Definition of Love

  • Popularity of “The Definition of Love”: Published posthumously, this beautiful poem “The Definition of Love” by Andrew Marvell, a popular metaphysical poet, is a wonderful poem on account of the delineation of the theme of love. The poem first appeared in 1681 in his collection, Miscellaneous Poems. The poem beautifully presents the poet’s conceptual idea of love and how it has kept the poet in its shackles by conspiring with Fate and Despair. The popularity of the poem lies in this definitional conundrum that Marvell has made when defining love.
  • “The Definition of Love” As a Representative of Love: The speaker of the poem, who happens to be the poet himself, defines love, saying that it is a rare feeling and that its parents are Despair and Impossibility. Personifying both negative emotions, the speaker goes on to say that Despair has proven generous in that even Hope has never entered this place. Showing Hope as a person, the speaker continues that even if he has tried to achieve it, Fate has thought it otherwise for him as it is jealous of love. Therefore, this could be ruinous for him. In fact, even if Heaven and World go with him to show how love could be defined, the lines of the love of the poet go in a parallel direction, and they are never destined to meet. Actually, it is in his stars that he would never be able to find love that binds him with his beloved, whom he does not name in the poem.
  • Major Themes in “The Definition of Love”: Unrequited love, despair, an impossibility in love, and an extreme passion for love are some of the major themes of this poem. Although it seems that Andrew Marvell has tried his best to define love, it is clear from his argument of presenting love and its attendant passions as personifications that the poet wants to show how he is not fated to achieve love, yet he thinks that it is real love. He even personifies his soul. Fate, as a tyrant, has turned his love into two wheels never fated to meet due to being on different poles or two lines that go parallel to each other and never meet. This shows how he argues about the impossibility of love in metaphysical terms and extreme passion that is actually “the Conjunction of the Mind” and yet it is “Opposition of the Stars” that he and his beloved are not slated to meet or love each other.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in The Definition of Love

Andrew Marvell used various literary devices to beautify this poem. Some of the major literary devices in this poem are as follows.

  1. Allusion: It means to use references from society, history, or culture to stress the main idea. The poet used the allusion of such as Heaven, Palinsphere, and Stars.
  2. Alliteration: It shows the use of initial consonants in two or more successive words, such as /f/ in “For Fate.”
  3. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /i/ in “As ’tis for object strange and high” and the sound of /i/ and /o/ in “Could show me so divine a thing.”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /t / and /l/ in “Two perfect Loves; nor lets them close” and the sound of /l/ in “As Lines so Loves oblique may well.”
  5. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Andrew Marvell used imagery in this poem, such as “Unless the giddy Heaven fall”, “Themselves in every Angle greet” and “But Fate so enviously debars”
  6. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The poet used the metaphor of a child for love.
  7. Personification: It means to attribute human emotions to inanimate objects. The poet has used the personifications such as Despair, Impossibility, Soul, and even Fate.
  8. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as the eye, love, Heaven, and earth to show the passion of love.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Definition of Love

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows good use of formal, poetic, and melodic diction.
  2. End Rhyme: It means to use verses having matching end words. Andrew Marvell shows the use of end rhymes, such as rare/despair and high/impossibility.
  3. Quatrain: It is a Persian stanza having four verses. The poem shows the use of a quatrain in all stanzas.
  4. Rhyme Scheme: Each of the quatrain in the poem shows a rhyme scheme of ABAB until the end of the poem.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are eight stanzas, with each having four verses.
  6. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The sonnet shows a highly complex, despairing, and intellectual tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when talking about unrequited love.

Therefore the Love which us doth bind,
But Fate so enviously debarrs,
Is the Conjunction of the Mind,
And Opposition of the Stars.