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Thursday, 20 September 2012

Andrew Marvell: The Picture of little T. C. in a Prospect of Flowers


Tulip: Balthasar van der Ast, 1620s, gouache, 313 x 202 mm (Institut Néerlandais, Paris)

See with what simplicity
This Nimph begins her golden daies!
In the green Grass she loves to lie,
And there with her fair Aspect tames
The Wilder flow'rs, and gives them names:
But only with the Roses playes;
                  And them does tell
What Colour best becomes them, and what Smell.

Who can foretel for what high cause
This Darling of the Gods was born!
Yet this is She whose chaster Laws
The wanton Love shall one day fear,
And, under her command severe,
See his Bow broke and Ensigns torn.
                  Happy, who can
Appease this virtuous Enemy of Man!

O then let me in time compound,
And parly with those conquering Eyes;
Ere they have try'd their force to wound,
Ere, with their glancing wheels, they drive
In Triumph over Hearts that strive,
And them that yield but more despise.
                  Let me be laid,
Where I may see thy Glories from some Shade.

Mean time, whilst every verdant thing
It self does at thy Beauty charm,
Reform the errours of the Spring;
Make that the Tulips may have share
Of sweetness, seeing they are fair;
And Roses of their thorns disarm:
                  But most procure
That Violets may a longer Age endure.

But O young beauty of the Woods,
Whom Nature courts with fruits and flow'rs,
Gather the Flow'rs, but spare the Buds;
Lest Flora angry at thy crime,
To kill her Infants in their prime,
Do quickly make th' Example Yours;
                  And, ere we see,
Nip in the blossome all our hopes and Thee.

Andrew Marvell (1621-1678): The Picture of little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
, from Miscellaneous Poems, 1681


TC said...

Barbara Everett, perhaps the best of Marvell critics, has a marvelous line about this intriguing work of Marvellian lyric ekphrasis.

"'The Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers' is nearly as long, as a title, as the poem it announces and rather grander than the little girl to whom the poem devotes itself; but the child has large hopes fixed on her, and perhaps also large ideas of her own dignity, which the poet kindly undermines."

It's been speculated that the initials "T. C." stand for Theophila (or Theophilia) Cornewell (or Cornewall), small daughter to a family Marvell knew; this particular young girl's older sister had died in childhood ("nipped in the bud"), so that the mock-serious or avuncular advice afforded her at the end of the poem can be seen as something other than entirely unserious, and the poem as perhaps something more than mere playful toying with Petrarchan conventions. Then too, there is Marvell's Puritan resistance to the formal gardening practises of the time, in specific, as he represents it in "The Mower Against Gardens", the readiness of overweening, "Luxurious Man" to employ artificial (contra natural) practises involving grafts and hybrids: "He grafts upon the Wild the Tame". In that poem, the idea of "taming", "playing" with, meddling in or overruling Nature, comes under stern rebuke.

We know from the latter poem that Marvell was aware of, and critical of, the tulip mania of the 1630s, when a single exotic bulb put up for sale in Holland drew a price of 5500 florins (for the same price one could acquire 550 sheep). Indeed Marvell uses the phenomenon of the Tulip Craze to insert a witty play upon his own name.

With strange perfumes he did the Roses taint,
And Flow'rs themselves were taught to paint.
The Tulip, white, did for complexion seek;
And learn'd to interline its cheek:
Its Onion root they then so high did hold,
That one was for a Meadow sold.
Another World was searched, through Oceans new,
To find the *Marvel of Peru*.

When in the present poem little T. C. is advised, in the mock-admonitory tone of a doting uncle, in the contemporary arts of unnatural gardening, one is left in no doubt this is mock instruction, however gently asserted. In the end, though, notwithstanding the poet's tender warning, it is apparent the headstrong nymph's artifices and interferences with Nature are already threatening to catch up with her.

Reviewing the latest Marvell bio in The Guardian, Charles Nicholl, one of the most sensitive of modern writers upon the literary milieu of the English Seventeenth Century, wrote: "In the early 1650s [Marvell] was tutoring the daughter of the parliamentary general Lord Thomas Fairfax at his Yorkshire country retreat, Nun Appleton. Here, amid the 'wild and fragrant innocence' of the Fairfax estates, he composed the pastoral Mower poems, and also the curious 'Picture of Little TC in a Prospect of Flowers'. Its discreetly eroticised images of the eight-year-old Theophila Cornwell – 'this nymph . . . in the green grass', whose eyes will soon 'triumph over hearts' – put one in mind of Lewis Carroll and Alice".

Charles Nicholl on Marvell: The Chameleon (The Guardian, 5 November 2010)

Susan Kay Anderson said...

Day's Eye

Anything but dull
ness anything

of a flower
you see it?
the state of two letters
dull word

this poem
does not end
in a gesture

Susan Kay Anderson said...


I'm a flower
cut from the garden
thank god!
Camas boyfriend
naupaka he and she
Anthurium obake man
thank flowers
don't fuck with them
or their sister
trees bees honey


Wooden Boy said...

"And there with her fair aspect tames/The Wilder flow'rs, and gives them names"

Holding all things about in her in the scope of her child's power, naming and owning: adamic authority; the rule of beauty.

Charles Nicholl is right about those "discretely eroticised images"; the "command severe" attributed to little T.C. makes this all the more unnerving.

"Happy, who can/Appease this virtuous Enemy of Man!"

What is it in himself that Marvell has her refuse? What has to be hid away in "...some shade"?

Every time you post something from Marvell here, TC, I have to rearrange the pictures in my head.

An odd, near peerless poet, this one.

TC said...

Those surrealistic-pinwheel out-of-control "glancing eyes" that careen over the cowering inert form of the blinded, apologetic parlaying poet -- we imagine him speaking from a crouched or even supine position, mired in a roadside ditch, spattered with mud from her unforgiving wheels -- definitely transform her into a hyper-powerful comic version of the Petrarchan Desired Ideal.

Marvell has that wonderful trick of cutting things down to size by impossibly inflating them.

The tonal command here, to my degraded ear, is delicate, precise and perfect.

Wooden Boy said...

"Marvell has that wonderful trick of cutting things down to size by impossibly inflating them."

That's the heart of it here.

The music of this piece is wonderful.