Posted: 14th February 2021
Though famed more widely during his lifetime for his work as a politician, Andrew Marvell is now widely regarded as one of the greatest Metaphysical poets. Though not born in Hull, Marvell moved to the city at a young age following his father’s appointment to Hull’s Holy Trinity Church. Educated at Hull Grammar School, in the very building where this statuette is now displayed, Marvell later attended Trinity College Cambridge before eventually serving as the MP for Hull from 1659 until his death in 1678.
In addition to being a prominent politician and poet, Marvell is also considered to have been a brilliant satirist and wrote anonymous (at the time) prose satires which criticised both the monarchy and Roman Catholicism. Many of these satires were published during his lifetime. Further to this, during his lifetime Marvell also worked as a tutor, secretary, and diplomat. Marvell’s extensive list of professions suggests that he was not only an extremely talented metaphysical poet, but also possessed a range of other skills which allowed him to become an influential figure in early modern Britain.
Marvell probably never married. However, following his death, his housekeeper (Mary Palmer, though she named herself Mary Marvell in the preface to Miscellaneous Poems) stepped forward as his widow. This is generally accepted to have been a deceit in order to protect Marvell’s estate from creditors, as no evidence of a marriage between the poet and Mary Palmer exists in any surviving record. This decision not to marry, coupled with how sexuality is presented in some of Marvell’s poetry, has contributed to the speculation that Marvell may have existed outside of the heteronormative and used poetry to explore a queer identity.
Though some of Marvell’s poems, such as ‘To His Coy Mistress’ explore the themes of heterosexual love and sexuality, is it difficult to ignore allusions to queer identities and homosexual love in some of his other works. For example, one of Marvell’s most famous poems, ‘The Garden’, has often been used when considering a queer reading of Marvell’s works. In ‘The Garden’, Marvell imagines the moments in which Adam exists alone, before Eve and through this explores sexual identity before the creation of Eve and the heteronormative couple. Adam exists alone in the Garden, though he does not exist without sexuality and desire. These desires are referred to through the allegory of, often phallic, plants. The presentation of Adam as ‘in paradise alone’ and ‘without a mate’ may be read as an indication of existence outside the heteronormative; that Marvell may have, like Adam, existed happy and fulfilled outside of the heteronormative.
Marvell is by no means unique in his exploration of queer identities through metaphysical poetry. By nature, metaphysical poetry is concerned with the theme of identity and other notable metaphysical poets such as John Donne have also been discussed through the lens of queer theory. However, Marvell is unique as a prominent and influential 17th century figure from Hull who expressed queer identities through his poetry.
Written by University of Hull student Kelly McRae.
I am a postgraduate student of history and literature currently studying with the University of Hull. My research takes an interdisciplinary approach to exploring how the medieval is represented within early modern texts. Currently, my research focuses on representations of kingship in the ‘other realm’. My secondary research interests lie in the works of Shakespeare who, like Marvell, presented queer identities through poetry. Despite my research interests lying outside of queer studies, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I was grateful for the opportunity to explore the themes of poetry and identity in relation to the Hull Museums’ collections.
Tell Us What You Think
We’d love to know what you thought about our From the Stores blogs. Your responses will help inform our decision-making around programming of future works, both digital and in-person. Please help by completing our short survey Click here to Complete Survey
This guest blog is in partnership with –