Civil wars are conflicts that usually exist between the masses and the rulers of a particular country or land. They arise due to unhappiness that exists within, due to which people rise up in revolt. Written about the British civil wars that broke out during the second half of the 17th century, this poem, by Andrew Marvell, speaks of the views of the groups of people that revolted against the administrators of Britain of that time, most likely the revolting middle-class.
As is characteristic of metaphysical poets and poetry, he uses a wide variety of poetic devices like apostrophes and conceits to put forward his views in a strong and convincing manner. In the poem, using an extended metaphor/conceit of a garden, he compares the people of Britain to flowers of a garden. The poem has rhyme scheme in which every two lines rhyme with each other[a1]. In the first two lines, he shows the reader how the people of Britain were different in terms of society and culture[a2].
However, this did not prevent them from functioning well together, as a unit, similar to the way that flowers of different colors look beautiful together in a garden. He compares the manner in which flowers are displayed in a garden to army soldiers at parade. [a3] In the next two lines, he speaks of the growing strength of each of the divisions of people, and perhaps, their plotting of an uprising. He says they grow similar to the way in which flowers grow, when in bloom[a4].
These people, like the colorful flowers, are part of a larger picture – Britain, just like the flowers are all part of the garden. However, they are oppressed and are not given the free-will to express their thoughts and feelings and they are helpless before the “vigilant patrol” of England. They pretend to show support to the dominant power by holding out flags of support, which are compared to the leaves attached to the stalks of flowers. The support that they display is false and in truth, they are only giving themselves time to scheme against them.
Furthermore, he compares the deep-seated desire of the people to revolt to a bee that is trapped inside a flower. This bee does not stir, unless provoked and, if provoked, the bee “runs through you”. I think what he is trying to say is that the people all had pent up anger and hatred that needed to be let out and when the people were provoked, they revolted with full vigor force and were determined to be victorious. In the second half of the poem, the poet speaks of the beauty of Britain.
He expresses his love for Britain and compares her to paradise planted by heaven. The “happy Isle” that he refers to is Britain, which is surrounded by the “four seas. ” He says that Britain was created by god for its inhabitants to live in peace and harmony. However, his vision was not fully accomplished. To further this point, he uses an apostrophe and refers to the Scriptures. He asks what poisoned fruit the people had eaten to deserve this revolution and turmoil[a5]. The poet does not want to see Britain go to “waste” due to the carelessness of its people.
He wants to be administered by people that are worthy and capable. He wants to turn back time and return to the past. He longs for times of peace and longs for the harmonious Britain that existed before the war. He longs for the times during which people bore roses and not arms in their hands. He concludes the poem with a question to make a lasting impression on the reader and asks whether it would be possible for Britain to ever re-attain the greatness that it had and which has been lost, according to the poet. [a6]