What constitutes a Marvellian allusion, and how can we distinguish between that which alludes and that which echoes in Marvell’s richly intertextual verse? This would seem to be a fundamental set of questions to answer when reading a poet noted for “the extraordinary extent of his allusiveness.”1 But the fact that Marvell scholars can write about unconscious allusions to his poetry, which may be a contradiction in terms, or that scholarship continues to collapse allusion and echo into one catchall category of supercharged intertextual possibility, suggests the need for renewed attention to these questions.2 James Loxley’s fine article, “Echoes as Evidence in the Poetry of Andrew Marvell,” attends to some of them. And yet, more work remains to be done. This article differs from Loxley’s approach in two respects, broadly corresponding to what we might call analytical temperament and methodology. Loxley writes about not wishing to introduce “unwarranted scholarly fastidiousness in the face of the Marvellian echo.”3 Such fastidiousness, it seems to me, is precisely what Marvellian intertextuality requires; it is precisely what the allusion, partly representative of the “refinement, reduction, and minute exactness of [Marvell’s] poetry,” demands.4 To supply it, this essay does not emphasize the external circumstances (“various textual and social matrices”) to which Loxley often looks to evaluate resemblances.5 Instead, the essay derives its definitions of allusion and echo, and the evaluative criteria necessary for discriminating between them, from the formal workings of Marvell’s echoes and allusions themselves.

The essay begins with echo because its somewhat sprawling disorderliness will throw the precision of Marvell’s allusions into greater relief. There seems no better place to start than with John Hollander’s influential The Figure of Echo, where he offers these clarifying remarks about echoing: “in contrast with literary allusion, echo is a metaphor of, and for, alluding, and does not depend on conscious intention.”6 The contrast between allusion and echo is not always observed in Marvell scholarship: “the suggestion that Marvell’s poetry ‘echoes’ the works of others is a familiar one, too, and the fragmentary resemblances between his poems and their possible sources are often described interchangeably both as echoes and as allusions.”7 Distinguishing between echoes and allusions matters for two reasons. The first involves the practical matter of dating poems, and the second entails the different kinds of textual engagement these intertextual categories signal. Total permeability between echoes and allusions makes the practice of intertextually dating poems impossible: where does the unconscious echo end and the deliberate allusion begin?8 Of course, those who wish to throw over the notion of authorial intent as an organizing principle of allusion will not be bothered by this permeability. Marvell scholarship (in general) has not taken this approach, and its wisdom will be apparent below during a consideration of allusion and intention.

The second motivation for distinguishing between allusion and echo has to do with how each works. With allusions, the dynamic between revelation and concealment can have a directly proportional relationship (obscurity, high; meaningfulness, high) or an inversely proportional relationship (obscurity, low; meaningfulness, high).9 The obscurity of the allusion conceals the intensely meaningful engagement between the allusion and the text to which it alludes. Or the deceptively straightforward verbal parallels upon which the allusion forms cannot express the depth and complexity of the textual encounter: an easygoing veneer of similitude does not adequately represent the labors (for author, reader) of forging connections and the significance of the connections once forged. With echoes, the dynamic between revelation and concealment is directly proportional (obscurity, low; meaningfulness, low): the echoes are more obvious, but their engagement with the source of the echo is less meaningful, less full of the richness of “allusive implication.”10 The meaning of an echo is often exhausted at the moment of its recognition; allusions require more work, and they repay it. Or, to put that another way, the echo requires work that it does not repay with a challenging, significant, and variously complex relation between texts. For example, Loxley describes the echo as “involuntary” and as constituting “blank, alienated repetitions.”11 In a later essay, he expands on this definition. The “causal forces” of echo “are best described as grammatical or linguistic; others arise from the demands of poetic language and form in particular, and from the not at all coincidental molding force, operative in all aspects of the writing process, of genre.”12 Such confluences are never “inert or non-negotiable,”13 but they can be, in Loxley’s memorable descriptor, involuntary. Echoes can consist of a verbal reflex to particular formal and narrative stimuli. In this scenario, they have all the consciousness and intentionality of an instinctual response.

This is not an attempt to denigrate the echo by presenting it as automatic and uninteresting. And yet, while I believe the conscious echo exists, I cannot demonstrate its existence through the methods employed here. That is, the consciousness of the echo does not exist in the formal workings of echoes but independently from the text, in Loxley’s “social matrices,” and from historical data concerning reading habits, coteries, etc. Moreover, echoes can be more interesting than mere repetition, and they can also introduce difference between the echoing text and the source of the echo; the manipulation of such difference, as we will see, constitutes one of the defining features of allusion. Whereas allusions alter the language of the source as a means of instituting difference, echoes rely on context for difference, since a too great alteration in language would defeat the low obscurity of the echo. For instance, in one of the examples that follows, a verbal echo obtains between a polemical context and one that praises the heavenly rewards of virginity. The two contexts are different, and they may even be discontinuous, but I do not doubt some irony could be derived from their difference (with no small measure of ingenuity). In this way, echoes possess some capacity for registering distinctions between echoing text and source, but the capability arises from contextual—as opposed to verbal—difference.

Two possible echoes of Lycidas in The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part (1673) and A Short Historical Essay, Touching General Councils, Creeds, and Impositions in Matters of Religion (1676) conform to the previous description of echoing. In these echoes, the dynamic between revelation and concealment is directly proportional. The echoes do not contain a depth of meaning and that can be measured by the number of times a reference (echo or allusion) requires a reader to move back and forth between texts. After initial recognition of the echo, the movement will not be very frequent or it will be unfruitful: echoes are, by definition, unresolved, merely petering out without any answer; they are their own answer. The questions they raise about the source text, the attitudes they suggest, the connections they intimate are left unanswered, undeveloped, or unfastened. In the examples below, stylistic and narrative differences subtend every verbal parallel. And yet no overarching purpose (such as irony) assimilates and makes sense of the differences. Finally, the echoes employ language and imagery that recall Ezekiel 34 and John 10, two texts to which Lycidas is also indebted. It becomes quite difficult to claim allusion by disentangling these sources from each other and clearly identifying where a borrowing from one source occurs.

That Marvell should echo Lycidas, a poem to which he frequently alludes, comes as no surprise. Marvell was intimately familiar with Milton’s elegy, as Nicholas von Maltzahn has shown.14 Indeed, it may be this familiarity that produces the echoes; he knows the poem so well, has internalized it to such a degree, that Lycidas appears in places Marvell does not intend.15 The two examples below aim to demonstrate the profitability of reading echoes in relation to other echoes. While Loxley rightly concludes that many echoes do not an allusion make, that should not discourage the resolution of intertextual questions through comparative means.16 A particular reference cannot jump from one intertextual category to another simply because of addition. But the appropriateness of an intertextual category (i.e., is something an allusion or an echo?) can be corroborated through comparison.

The first echo of Lycidas occurs in The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part. In that tract, Marvell bemoans those who “by evil arts may have crept into the Church, thorow the Belfry or at the Windows.”17 In particular, he decries the lack of remediation available to remove such hirelings:

Yet then if our great Pastors should but exercise the Wisdom of common Shepheards, by parting with one to stop the infection of the whole Flock, when his rottenness grew notorious; or if our Clergy would but use the instinct of other Creatures, and chase the blown Deer out of their Heard; such mischiefs might quickly be remedied.18

Milton’s Lycidas denounces false shepherds who “for their bellies sake,/Creep and intrude, and climb into the fold” (114–15):

Blind mouthes! that scarce themselves know how to hold
A Sheep-hook, or have learn’d ought els the least
That to the faithfull Herdmans art belongs!
What recks it them? What need they? They are sped;
And when they list, their lean and flashy songs
Grate on their scrannel Pipes of wretched straw,
The hungry Sheep look up, and are not fed,
But swoln with wind, and the rank mist they draw,
Rot inwardly, and foul contagion spread:
Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine at the door,
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more. (119–31)19

The resemblance that first connected Marvell’s prose and Milton’s poem in my mind was the use of “creep” (Milton, “creep”; Marvell, “crept”). Marvell takes the verb a little less seriously than Milton, and he emphasizes the desperation of the creepers to enter the church at all costs, even if it is through the belfry (a difficult climb) or at the windows (possibly breaking them). Marvell’s creepers make an entrance where there is not one, and they are somewhat ridiculous in doing so. Milton’s creepers insinuate themselves into the fold with stealth (they are guilty of trespassing, Marvell’s of breaking and entering). The comic desperation of Marvell’s clerics differs from the covert operations of Milton’s.

Further differences between texts appear in the pun Marvell makes while excoriating episcopal inability to remove incompetent priests: “But since that circumspection has been devolved into the single oversight of the later Bishops, it cannot be otherwise, but some one or other may <sometimes> escape into the Church, who were much fitter to be shut out of Doors.”20 In “oversight” and “circumspection,” Marvell puns on the Greek word for bishop, “ἐπίσκοπος” (“overseer”). This is similar to Milton’s famous pun in “Blind mouthes.” In contrast with Milton, Marvell does not pun on the Latin “pastor.” Since a pun on “ἐπίσκοπος” was hardly uncommon, Marvell need not have Milton in mind.21 The puns also differ stylistically. Milton accuses the clerics of blindness outright; Marvell mocks their pretensions to sight. Where Marvell is lithe, subtle, and ironic, Milton is brash, strident, apocalyptic: Marvell’s scalpel does different work than Milton’s sledgehammer.

Marvell also applies the verbal parallels differently. As the reader compares the wind that swells Milton’s sheep with the “blown Deer” of Marvell’s herd, he constructs a rather tenuous parallel between swelling in one poem and blowing in the other. While the bad shepherds in Lycidas are ignorant of the “Herdmans art,” Marvell’s prelates practice evil arts. The “rottenness” that Marvell’s shepherds exhibit corresponds to the sheep who “Rot inwardly” in Lycidas. Though both worry about a spreading infection (“contagion” and “infection of the whole Flock”), in Milton the sheep get sick because of negligent shepherds; in Marvell, it is the shepherds themselves who are ill. The terms of Milton’s poem drift, rather uncomplicatedly and somewhat imprecisely, towards the vilification of Marvell’s clerics. Because of this imprecision, and the bilious rhetoric accompanying it, one wonders about the extent to which Marvell is in control at this moment, a quality that many of his allusions possess. Lacking this control, Marvellian intertextuality does not proceed by means of the subtle intricacies of its piquant irony or wicked wit.22

Finally, Marvell and Milton imagine the consequences of these negligent shepherds as destructive to the church. For both, the result of this pestilence, and clerical inability to find a cure, is schism. And yet they are schisms of different sorts. The “grim Woolf with privy paw” represents Roman Catholics who greedily gobble up the Protestant sheep under the care of a negligent shepherd. The schism breaks inwards in Marvell: “and for want of separating from one obnoxious, do contribute to the causes of separation, justifying so far that Schism which they condemn.”23 Milton frightens with the bogey of Roman Catholicism, and Marvell scares with the prospect of dissent and independency. That seems like more of a shared tactic, utilized by many engaged in religious controversy (reform or else), than a unique confluence.

My inclination to treat these textual parallels as echoes instead of allusions receives support from an echo of Lycidas in A Short Historical Essay. It is this later echo that raises the question of whether what we witness in The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part is an unconscious reflex instigated by a prodigious memory of, and long devotion to, Lycidas. During the course of his historical survey of episcopacy, Marvell arrives at the reign of Theodosius the Great (379–395 C.E.). In particular, he observes the internecine conflict that arose among the episcopal ranks because of the Emperor’s leniency towards the bishops:

I shall not further vex the History, or the Reader, in recounting the particulars; taking no delight neither my self in so uncomfortable relations, or to reflect beyond what is necessary upon the Wolfishness of those which then seemed, and ought to have been, the Christian Pastors, but went on scattering their Flocks, if not devouring; and the Shepherds smiting one another.24

In these sentences, Marvell conflates Ezekiel 34, John 10, and the St. Peter verse paragraph. He takes the detail of “scattering their Flocks” from Ezekiel 34:5 passim and John 10:12: “But he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep” (KJV). No comparable scattering occurs in Lycidas. Pastors who turn into devourers receive the famous appellation “Blind mouthes!” in Lycidas, but Ezekiel 34:10 observes a similar irony: “for I will deliver my flock from their [shepherds’] mouth, that they may not be meat for them.” Lycidas cannot represent a unique source for Marvell’s scattered flocks and devouring pastors. “Shepherds smiting one another,” though, presents a different case:

Besides what the grim Woolf with privy paw
Daily devours apace, and nothing sed,
But that two-handed engine at the door,
Stands ready to smite once, and smite no more. (128–31)

The famously enigmatic “two-handed engine” that smites is not the same as “Shepherds smiting one another.” But neither Ezekiel 34 nor John 10 contains comparable language. The divergence in subject of “smite” and “smiting” suggests that Marvell is not thinking very clearly about Lycidas, but that the poem may nevertheless inform—in even a subconscious way—his depiction of bad shepherds. This type of echo has such a tenuous relation to intentionality that it requires the negotiation of an individual’s unconscious. The echo may very well be the product of accident, but accident does not make Lycidas disappear. From this premise, one can extrapolate to Stephen Hinds’s position that no echo is ever “inert or non-negotiable.”25 Accident is just another form of intertextuality and not its terminus ad quem.

For example, at the conclusion of the paragraph that contains the echoes of Lycidas, Marvell includes part of a letter Gregory Nazianzen wrote on the character of bishops: “For their obstinate Contentions and Ambition are unexpressible” (“nec ullis quidem verbis explicari queunt”).26 Marvell’s “unexpressible” certainly captures Nazianzen’s Latin. It does compress it slightly, leaving “ullis verbis” implicit. Perhaps Marvell found “nec explicari queunt” in no need of addition. Or perhaps there is another reason that leads us back—along the inroads of Marvell’s mind—to Lycidas. At the conclusion of Milton’s elegy, Edward King hears the “unexpressive nuptiall Song” (176). If a rationale exists for associating Edward King’s listening to Revelation 14:4 with Nazianzen’s unflattering comments about bishops, it is beyond me. No principle guides the conjoining of the two texts. Pressing the echo for a meaning greater than its mere occurrence wrings blood from a stone. The incidence of “unexpressible” seems random or the product of associational thinking of which Marvell may not be aware. Later in A Short Historical Essay, Marvell imagines what a world without episcopacy would be like: “but the good that must have thence risen to the Christian Magistrate, and the Church, then and ever after, would have been inexpressible.”27 “Inexpressible” and “unexpressible” are synonyms, and yet “unexpressible” becomes “inexpressible” when it no longer occurs in close proximity to echoes of Lycidas.28 A sense of contingency and perhaps even randomness characterizes this echo; it seems the opposite of allusive premeditation. Allusions require readers to put them together in a certain way, but they often encode that structure (and a map for readers) in the alterations they perform on the source text; each alteration is an argument about how to interpret and assemble the allusion. Echoes, in the minimal ways they engage with the source text, do not have this capacity. The echo here seems especially fragile and dependent on being put together in just the right way (hence, what I am calling its contingency).

Finally, in a poet known for compression, it is significant that the echoes in both The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part and A Short Historical Essay are spread out within the individual paragraphs in which they occur.29 In The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part, five sentences intervene between “crept” and the rest of the echo; in A Short Historical Essay, five sentences again separate “smiting” and “unexpressible.” The suspension of the echo over so many sentences gives it the opposite effect achieved by Marvell’s stunningly capacious, compact, and yet brisk allusion in “A Dialogue, Between the Resolved Soul, and Created Pleasure”: “Thou shalt know each hidden cause;/And see the future time:/Try what depth the centre draws;/And then to heaven climb” (69–72).30 As this nimble “quatrain ranges from Aristotelian metaphysics to contemporary physics, from clairvoyance to universal knowledge,” it illustrates the lethargy with which the diffuse echoes plod.31

The echoes of Lycidas in The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part and A Short Historical Essay have illustrated several important qualities of Marvellian echoes: namely, that their relation to the source text is at best superficial and at worst incoherent (the “unexpressive Nuptiall song” and Nazianzen’s “unexpressible”); that the differences they introduce between the source text and the alluding text exhibit no clear rationale; that the echoes’ incoherence may reflect formally in their scattered organization; and that the reason behind the occurrence of an echo may be one of contingency (i.e., with no apparent forethought). Moreover, I have also sought to show the utility of interpreting echoes in relation to other echoes as a way of confirming their status as such.

In comparison with the messiness of anatomizing Marvell’s echoes, defining his allusions represents a more straightforward endeavor, both for the relative integrity of the category and the stringent criteria his allusions demand. A sense of the intricacy and consistency of Marvell’s allusions emerges in how scholars often emphasize their capacity for transforming the source to which they allude. In The Poems of Andrew Marvell, for instance, Nigel Smith employs language denoting change, transformation, and innovation to describe Marvell’s allusions. Three times, the allusions represent “transpositions”; they are twice “reworkings” of previous texts; and, finally, they might invert, mutate, or adapt a source.32 In other accounts of Marvellian intertextuality, Marvell’s penchant for a kind of allusive alchemy emerges as a theme. For Allan Pritchard, Marvell possesses a unique “capacity not only to assimilate but also to transform.”33 Paul Davis also offers the verb “transform” as expressive of Marvellian allusions, referring to them as a “transformative mode of rewriting.”34 The transmuting allusions that Ian C. Parker perceives in Marvell’s poetry belong in the company of transformative modes of rewriting: “one of the intriguing features of Andrew Marvell’s poetic composition process is the manner in which he appropriated words, phrases, images, and themes from other writers and transmuted them in poems that are in some sense distinctively ‘Marvellian.’”35 The transmutation that Parker regards as unique to Marvell’s intertextual method corresponds to the metaphor Joad Raymond employs to delineate a “more capacious account of intertextuality” in Marvell’s verse. For Raymond, the valves that control blood circulation effectively “describe the flux of print culture into a poem [‘Horatian Ode’] that remakes what it receives and separates itself from the system in which it operates.”36 Marvell’s allusions both transform and remake. That remaking signals the conclusion of a painstaking and comprehensive intertextual process. It would not be possible for the intertext to be remade were the allusion not meticulously realized. When Andrew Shifflett refers to the “verbal, formal, and philosophical similarities” that connect Marvell’s “On Mr Milton’s Paradise Lost” to Jonson’s “To my chosen Friend, The learned Translator of Lucan, Thomas May, Esquire,” not one of those indices of similarity is surprising or superfluous.37 Marvell’s allusions labor—with exacting precision—to accomplish the transformation of source materials.

Here are the attributes that allow them to do so. Marvellian allusions exhibit some or all of the following qualities: indirectness, so that differentiating the allusion from quotation and other forms of explicit reference is possible;38 similitude (not sameness) with another work (verbal, thematic, aural, formal, etc.) that motivates the proposal of allusivity; denaturalization and/or adaptation of the source text to the alluding text, but not to the point of unrecognizability;39 ironic contrast between the alluding text and the object of allusion;40 criticism of the source text, where “critical” can denote censoriousness but also explication and interpretation;41 and meaningfulness, so that the mere recognition of the allusion never exhausts its meaning.42 Though I have presented these attributes in a certain order, that does not mean they ever proceed in such a prescriptive way. Marvell might begin with similitude and happen upon ironic contrast; or he might start with criticism and denature the source text to obscure his allusion. The chronology of the attributes matters less than recognizing how they interact with each other: that is, how some attributes activate others (e.g., criticism and ironic contrast), how some exist in constant tension with others (e.g., indirectness and similitude), and how Marvell negotiates that tension or sees in it a possibility.

The last allusive principle requires elaboration. Meaningfulness describes an effect achieved by the other attributes; it does not exist independently from them. Carmela Perri summarizes meaningfulness well: “Contemplation of the linked texts may activate further meaning patterns between them, or the marked text may evoke properties of texts other than itself (‘intra-textual patterns’), any of which affect the significance (‘modify’) of the alluding text.”43 Marvell’s allusions possess a capacity for ramification; that capacity is what meaningfulness names.

In all these attributes of allusion Marvell remains, in a phrase Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp apply to Dante, “in control of the implications of his allusions.”44 Would we expect anything else from a poet “so mistrustful of detection that he would not share a drink with a man in whose hands he would not trust his life”?45 The tendency towards intertextual circumscription, in paired poems such as “Hortus” and “The Garden,” must reflect a fantasy of allusive control.46 One’s own poem reacts more predictably and more manageably with one’s own poems; other poems carry with them associations, contexts, and reception history that could endanger the integrity of the allusion. Self-allusion dramatically illustrates Marvell’s solicitude about authorial control and the extent to which his allusions go in safeguarding it. As a result, theories of intertextuality that deny authorial intention entirely, posit that it is the reader who constructs allusions, argue that texts allude and authors only find allusions already present therein,47 or, finally, treat allusion as a merely useful heuristic48 have a limited applicability to Marvell’s work.

For example, in The Rhetoric of Imitation, Gian Biagio Conte offers these reflections on intentionality:

If one concentrates on the text rather than on the author, on the relation between texts (intertextuality) rather than on imitation, then one will be less likely to fall into the common philological trap of seeing all textual resemblances as produced by the intentionality of a literary subject whose only desire is to emulate. The philologist who seeks at all costs to read intention into imitation will inevitably fall into a psychological reconstruction of motive, whether it is homage, admiring compliment, parody, or the attempt to improve upon the original.49

Why does a concentration on authorial intent reduce the author to only an imitator, one who wishes to pay homage to, compliment, parody, or better an original? Marvell does all of these and more. But his allusions also frequently engage the original with a critical skepticism that subordinates the sentimentality Conte associates with mere aemulatio. Marvell can objectify and therefore obviate what lies on the other side of the critic’s “psychological reconstruction of motive.”50

Other theories of intertextuality cede an illimitable power to the reader. For example, Lowell Edmunds endeavors to make the reader “the locus of intertextuality.”51 The “reader” represents a problematic category for Marvell. If the circulation of verse during his lifetime offers any guide for Marvell’s preoccupation with readers, then they preoccupied him very little, and he composed the majority of his verse with one reader in mind.52 An expectation of readerly interpretation must minimally influence the composition of Marvell’s allusions, at least in so far as many of the poems are concerned. The distance between an author’s intention and a reader’s ability to perceive that intention—a space intertextuality makes theoretically viable and whose possibilities it negotiates with readers authoring allusions—has been foreclosed by Marvell’s author-reader. This is partly what accounts for the extent to which Marvell’s allusions manifest authorial control.

Nonetheless, I do not wish to banish intertextuality from Marvell scholarship. In fact, Edmunds’s theory of intertextuality illuminates something about the temporal dynamics of Marvell’s allusions. Edmunds observes that “scholarship on Roman poetry … keeps intertextuality in a one-way relation of later T1 to earlier T2 (T1 quotes T2). But this relation is reversible.”53 Marvell does not so much reverse the relationship between T1 and T2 as he discovers allusions in the earlier text of which the author was not cognizant. In “Upon Appleton House” (1651), the speaker retreats into the Nun Appleton woods where “The oak leaves me embroider all …/And ivy, with familiar trails,/Me licks, and clasps, and curls, and hales./Under this antic cope I move/Like some great prelate of the grove” (74.587–92). The phrase “antic cope” alludes to John Milton’s fifth anti-prelatical tract, An Apology against a Pamphlet (1642). Milton defends a prayer not contained in the service book against his opponent who “dislikes it, and I therefore like it the better. It was theatricall, he sayes. And yet it consisted most of Scripture language: it had no Rubrick to be sung in an antick Coape upon the Stage of a High Altar. It was big-mouth’d he says; no marvell.”54 On the one hand, Marvell’s adoption of Milton’s “antick Coape” works as a straightforward allusion. Milton inveighs against Laudianism, Upon Appleton House may do the same,55 and “antick Coape” provides Marvell the opportunity to channel anti-Laudian energies. Initially, perhaps “no marvell” increased Marvell’s interest in the passage. On the other hand, though, the context in which Marvell invokes Milton’s “antick Coape” is rich with temporal involution in the form of clairvoyance and mystic insight: “Out of these scattered sibyl’s leaves/Strange prophecies my fancy weaves” (73.577–8); and “Thrice happy he who, not mistook,/Hath read in Nature’s mystic book” (73.583–4). As Marvell activates an allusion to himself, he places An Apology (1642) into a prophetic relation with “Upon Appleton House.”56 Marvell exerts such authorial control that he makes the text allude regardless of the author’s intentions, thereby confirming one tenet (texts alluding) of intertextuality by breaking another (texts alluding sounding the death knell for authorial intent).

Now, having said quite a lot in the abstract about Marvell’s allusions, let me try to make good on these theoretical reflections with a detailed example of how his allusions work. The following example illustrates the intensity with which Marvell engages his source text; it shows that scholarship can recover the logic behind the alterations he makes to the source; it reveals what Marvell uncovers in his source and makes visible; and, finally, the example’s criticism of the source places this intertextual relationship far from mere emulation.

In “A Dialogue, Between the Resolved Soul, and Created Pleasure,” Pleasure’s first speech after the intervention of the Chorus states,

All this fair, and soft, and sweet,
Which scatt’ringly doth shine,
Shall within one beauty meet,
And she be only thine. (51–4)

These lines contain, as von Maltzhan notes, an allusion to Abraham Cowley’s poem “The Soule,” published in 1647 in The Mistresse.57 The particular lines that are the object of Marvell’s allusive attention are the following:

If all things that in Nature are
Either soft, or sweet, or faire,
Bee not in Thee so’Epitomiz’d,
That naught material’s not compriz’d;
May I as worthlesse seeme to Thee
As all, but Thou, appeares to Mee.58

In “All this fair, and soft, and sweet,” Marvell alludes to Cowley’s “soft, or sweet, or faire.” This verbal similitude forms the basis for the allusion. And yet similitude does not become sameness, for Marvell introduces two changes that incorporate indirectness into the allusion: Marvell’s poem switches the order of Cowley’s adjectives and links them with “and” instead of “or.” Allusion as criticism (“or” to “and”) and allusion as denaturalization/adaptation (the sequence of adjectives) also govern these alterations. “And” does not jar with “all” the way “or” does in “The Soule”; “and” is additive—inexhaustibly so—instead of introducing discrete alternatives. Marvell improves upon the conjunctive logic of his original. But the change hardly seems competitive or petty. Indeed, the alteration offers something to its source text: clarification. This is Marvell’s poetry of criticism transposed into an allusive key, and by “critical” we should understand astutely improving upon and not enviously outdoing.59 The poet in Marvell cannot help but improve a poem, and allusion is one way of effecting that betterment.

Marvell’s re-sequencing of Cowley’s adjectives adapts “The Soule” to the particular poetic context of “A Dialogue.” In Marvell’s poem, Pleasure’s first temptation seeks to entice Soul through the sense of taste and the second temptation through touch. In fact, the second temptation even uses the word “soft”: “On these downy pillows lie,/Whose soft plumes will thither fly” (19–20). While the fourth temptation focuses on sight, it urges a self-directed visual allure: “But since none deserves that grace,/In this crystal view thy face” (33–34). The “fair” in “All this fair, and soft, and sweet” does not as flagrantly duplicate enticements through which Pleasure has already tried to induce Soul. Self-fairness has been tried, but not the fairness of an external object. “Soft” would obviously recall the temptation of touch; “sweet” might clearly reiterate the temptation to taste, even though the sweetness mentioned in line fifty-one means something like pleasing.60 But “fair,” since Pleasure acknowledges the inability of external visual stimuli to attract Soul, does not as readily repeat. While “fair” avoids mere repetition, that is not to say some repetitiveness is not a welcome feature of lines fifty-one to fifty-four. The temptation of amorous delight consolidates previous temptations, and hence the use of words such as “fair,” “soft,” and “sweet” that recall those temptations. It makes sense that this heightened tempting follows the Chorus’s admonition regarding “new charges” (49).

We have now seen two alterations that Marvell makes to “The Soule” (“or” to “and” and the sequence of adjectives), and what qualities of the Marvellian allusion they signify. The next allusive attributes do not result from alterations Marvell performs but from his decision to bring “A Dialogue” into close allusive relation with “The Soule.” Ironic contrast results from a comparison of what Soul and Cowley’s speaker value, and how they measure things soft and fair and sweet. Moreover, the contrast also admits allusion as criticism, for it draws attention to the extremely materialistic position Cowley’s speaker occupies.

In Cowley’s poem, the speaker embraces what Marvell’s Soul rejects. For example, the speaker in “The Soule” assures that no knowledge but that of the beloved is sufficient: “If my Understanding doe/Seeke any Knowledge but of You.” Such a statement compares with Soul’s several comments (lines 17–18, 23–24, 35–36) about the complete sufficiency of heaven, of resting only in things divine. Marvell’s poem translates the “You” of Cowley’s “The Soule” into the Christian God. In a similar vein, Cowley’s poem disowns one of the most fundamental principles guiding the decisions of Marvell’s Soul. At the conclusion of “The Soule,” the speaker promises, “And if (for I a curse will give,/Such as shall force thee to beleive)/My Soule bee not entirely Thine,/May thy deare Body ner’e bee Mine.”61 At this logic, Marvell’s Soul would no doubt be horrified. Not only does the speaker in “The Soule” barter between the material and spiritual realms, but he regards an exchange between them as an even trade. This is precisely the concession to materiality that Soul in “A Dialogue” everywhere resists. A deep irony informs Marvell’s allusions to Cowley’s “The Soule.” How could it not, for that poem rates the soul at far too low a value.

Considering the basic philosophical differences in outlook between these two poems, it should not come as a surprise that the speaker of “The Soule” embraces the fair, soft, and sweet beauty that Soul in “A Dialogue” finds repulsive. Moreover, a subtle divergence in how each poem measures that which is soft, sweet, and fair in relation to the beloved (“The Soule”) and “one beauty” (“A Dialogue”) further substantiates just how far apart the outlooks of these poems remain. Pleasure avers that everything fair, soft, and sweet will be collected into one beauty. The speaker in “The Soule,” by contrast, contends that no fairness, softness, or sweetness exist independently of the beloved: “If all things that in Nature are/Either soft, or sweet, or faire,/Bee not in Thee so’Epitomiz’d,/That naught material’s not compriz’d.” The beloved is the epitome of all things soft, sweet, and fair. In a surprising twist, this leads the speaker to declare “That naught material’s not compriz’d”: namely, that not any material (soft, sweet, or fair) is not so comprised (i.e., derived from the softness, sweetness, and fairness of the beloved). Later in the poem, the speaker argues “that all faire Species bee/Hyeroglyphick markes of Thee.”62 No fairness exists but that of the beloved; subsequent examples represent antitypes of an original type. Cowley’s typology of fair, soft, and sweet compliments the beloved extravagantly. It goes beyond the combination of these qualities into “one beauty” in “A Dialogue.” We might expect Pleasure to adopt this viewpoint. And yet, it is one so besotted that its prospects of gaining a foothold with Soul are simply implausible. Marvell, by opting for a less extreme commitment to things soft, sweet, and fair than contained in Cowley’s poem, both illustrates and condemns. He illustrates the extreme material investments of the speaker in “The Soule.” Since Pleasure eschews that valorization of beauty because it could have no hope of tempting this redoubtable Soul, Marvell implicitly censures its debauchery. What the speaker of “The Soule” says about the derivation of things soft, sweet, and fair is so outrageous that Marvell must clean it up: an action that reifies what it remedies. Probably Marvell found the lines in Cowley provocative and perhaps enraging. That is a good enough starting-off point for any allusion.

From that point, Marvell builds an allusion that does not rely only on verbal parallels. Indeed, as this essay has argued, verbal parallels are a precarious basis on which to build a case for allusion; allusions do not always disclose themselves through them.63 While the allusion to “The Soule” employs verbal parallels, it does not rest in them; if it did, it would most likely fall into the category of echo.64 Indirectness, denaturalization/adaptation, and allusive criticism apply to how Marvell switches the order of Cowley’s adjectives and links them with “and” instead of “or.” Ironic contrast informs the derivation and treatment of things soft, fair, and sweet in the two poems. The allusion as criticism appears in how “A Dialogue” urges us to notice things about “The Soule”: namely, its extreme material investments. This is one of the most interesting features of Marvell’s allusions, and we saw the reductio ad absurdum of this quality in “no marvell.” His allusions respond to the source text in such a way that they illuminate something about it. A creative generosity informs this approach to allusivity. His allusions are critical. Marvell does not simply take from the source text in the course of alluding: he also gives something back. The echo takes (what could it give but adulation or irony?). The allusion both takes and gives.

Finally, meaningfulness manifests in how every alteration of “The Soule” or difference with it opens onto a broader plane of interpretive possibility. Similitude becomes indirectness (“or” to “and”) and then allusive criticism (bettering Cowley’s poem). Indirectness (resequencing of the adjectives) turns into adaptation. The adaptation shows how Marvell prepares Cowley’s line for inclusion in “A Dialogue,” and it also reveals the intense scrutiny to which he subjects his own poem (i.e., orchestrating Pleasure’s temptations to avoid repetition). And the differences between the poems—what the speakers embrace and how they measure things fair and soft and sweet—serve as the basis for ironic contrast and allusive criticism. As Marvell’s allusion shuttles between allusive attributes (one activating another), as it causes the reader to identify the differences between texts, the allusion possesses a kind of coruscating energy. Its ramifications ramify; one allusive attribute erupts into the next. This is no inert echo. The energy of Marvell’s allusions should give scholarship one more reason to pause when equating the highly controlled, meticulously deployed, and intricately designed Marvellian allusion with the less-developed echo.


  1. Paul Davis, “Marvell and the Literary Past,” in The Cambridge Companion to Andrew Marvell, ed. Derek Hirst and Steven N. Zwicker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 26. [^]
  2. For unconscious allusion, see Nicholas McDowell, Poetry and Allegiance in the English Civil Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 255. The confusion of echo and allusion will be apparent in subsequent paragraphs. There is some disagreement on whether an unconscious allusion is possible. For rejection of the idea, see Carmela Perri, “On Alluding,” Poetics 7 (1978): 300; for its allowance, see William Irwin, “What Is an Allusion?,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 59 (2001): 291. [^]
  3. James Loxley, “Echoes as Evidence in the Poetry of Andrew Marvell,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 52 (2012): 173. [^]
  4. Rosalie L. Colie, “My Ecchoing Song”: Andrew Marvell’s Poetry of Criticism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), 305. [^]
  5. Loxley, “Echoes as Evidence,” 173. [^]
  6. John Hollander, The Figure of Echo: A Mode of Allusion in Milton and After (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1981), 64. [^]
  7. James Loxley, “The Social Modes of Marvell’s Poetry,” in The Cambridge Companion to Andrew Marvell, ed. Derek Hirst and Steven N. Zwicker (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 19. For lack of distinction, see also Victoria Moul, “The Date of Marvell’s Hortus,” The Seventeenth Century 34 (2019): 336. [^]
  8. This seems to me the impetus behind Hirst and Zwicker’s discussion of “evidence” versus “coincidence.” Derek Hirst and Steven N. Zwicker, Andrew Marvell, Orphan of the Hurricane (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 175. It is also necessary to distinguish between allusion and echo as new intertexts are suggested for Marvell’s poetry. Victoria Moul claims a general neglect of “contemporary neo-Latin poetry” in the search for Marvellian intertexts. “Andrew Marvell and Payne Fisher,” The Review of English Studies 68 (2017): 548. [^]
  9. I am using “revelation and concealment” in a slightly different sense than Hinds, where “revelation” means recognition instead of depths of meaning. See Stephen Hinds, Allusion and Intertext: Dynamics of Appropriation in Roman Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 23. [^]
  10. James H. Coombs, “Allusion Defined and Explained,” Poetics 13 (1984): 477. [^]
  11. Loxley, “The Social Modes,” 21. [^]
  12. Loxley, “Echoes as Evidence,” 169. [^]
  13. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext, 47. [^]
  14. Nicholas von Maltzahn, “Death by Drowning: Marvell’s Lycidas,” Milton Studies 48 (2008): 38–52. [^]
  15. Marvell memorized whole prose works by Milton, so it may be possible he memorized the poem. Andrew Marvell, Poems and Letters, ed. H.M. Margoliouth, 3rd ed. rev. Pierre Legouis, with the collaboration of E.E. Duncan Jones, 2 vols. (Oxford, 1971), 2:306. Qtd. in Andrew Marvell, The Prose Works of Andrew Marvell, ed. Annabel Patterson, Martin Dzelzainis, N.H. Keeble, and Nicholas von Maltzahn (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 1.208. Due to the closure of libraries and limited lending policies as a result of COVID-19, I am reliant here on a quotation of a quotation. [^]
  16. Loxley, “Echoes as Evidence,” 168. [^]
  17. Marvell, The Prose Works, 1.239. Neither the editors of The Prose Works nor D.I.B. Smith observes Lycidas as a possible intertext for The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part. The editors of The Prose Works do not observe Lycidas as a possible intertext for A Short Historical Essay. See D.I.B. Smith, The Rehearsal Transpros’d and The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971), 163–64. [^]
  18. Marvell, The Prose Works, 1.240. [^]
  19. Quotations of Lycidas are from John Milton, John Milton: Complete Shorter Poems, ed. Stella Revard (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009). Line numbers will appear in parentheses. [^]
  20. Marvell, The Prose Works, 1.239–40. [^]
  21. Marvell puns on presbyter and episcopos elsewhere in The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part and Mr. Smirke (The Prose Works, 1.405, 2.102). [^]
  22. See Marvell, The Prose Works, 1.224, 1.237, 2.440. [^]
  23. Marvell, The Prose Works, 1.240. [^]
  24. Marvell, The Prose Works, 2.158. [^]
  25. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext, 47. [^]
  26. Marvell, The Prose Works, 2.159. [^]
  27. Marvell, The Prose Works, 2.170. [^]
  28. Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “unexpressible” (adj. and n.), accessed 30 June 2020, www-oed-com.proxy.lib.siu.edu. [^]
  29. For Legouis, in his poetic compositions Marvell either “gives free rein to his fancy, or he concentrates, tightens, orders, aiming at a single effect.” The concentration reflects what Brand calls the poet’s “signature concision.” See also the discussion of a tendency towards compression in the relation between the English of “The Garden” and the Latin of “Hortus.” Pierre Legouis, Andrew Marvell: Poet, Puritan, Patriot (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), 65. Clinton Allen Brand, “An Echo Beyond the Mexique Bay: Andrew Marvell, Thomas Gage, and the Lord Fairfax,” Discoveries: South-Central Renaissance Conference News and Notes 17 (2000): 3. See also John M. Potter, “Another Porker in the Garden of Epicurus: Marvell’s ‘Hortus’ and ‘The Garden,’” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 11 (1971): 144. [^]
  30. All quotations of Marvell’s poetry are from The Poems of Andrew Marvell, ed. Nigel Smith (Harlow: Longman, 2007). Line numbers (and stanza numbers where appropriate) will appear in parentheses. [^]
  31. Donald M. Friedman, Marvell’s Pastoral Art (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1970), 80. [^]
  32. For transposition, see Marvell, The Poems of Andrew Marvell, 49n, 63n, 241n; for reworking, see 115n, 155n; for inversion, mutation, and adaptation, see 58n, 69n, 412n. [^]
  33. Allan Pritchard, “‘The Garden’: A Restoration Poem?,” Studies in English Literature, 1500–1900 23 (1983): 383. [^]
  34. Davis, “Marvell and the Literary Past,” 40. [^]
  35. Ian C. Parker, “Marvell, Nathaniel Whiting, and Cowley,” Notes and Queries 57 (2010): 59. [^]
  36. Joad Raymond, “‘Small Portals’: Marvell’s Horatian Ode, Print Culture, and Literary History,” in Texts and Readers in the Age of Marvell, ed. Christopher D’Addario and Matthew C. Augustine (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2018), 50–1. [^]
  37. Andrew Shifflett, “‘By Lucan Driv’n About’: A Jonsonian Marvell’s Lucanic Milton,” Renaissance Quarterly 49 (1996): 805. The notion of formal elements constituting an allusion contrasts with Michael Leddy, “Limits of Allusion,” The British Journal of Aesthetics 32 (1992): 114. [^]
  38. Certain allusions employ what Hinds refers to as “reflexive annotation.” See Allusion and Intertext, 1: the allusions identify themselves as such through the incorporation of a phrase that invokes the tradition they engage. In The Rehearsal Transpros’d (1672) and The Rehearsal Transpros’d: The Second Part, phrases such as “He put me in minde of” (1.122), “(he knows the story)” (1.200), and “one has told us” (1.223) signal an allusion. These examples indicate that obliquity and indirection are not always definitive of Marvell’s allusions. For a rejection of the idea of private allusions, see Martin Dzelzainis, “‘A Greater Errour in Chronology’: Issues of Dating in Marvell,” in The Oxford Handbook of Andrew Marvell, ed. Martin Dzelzainis and Edward Holberton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 322. For a discussion of Marvell’s indirectness and the role allusion plays in reinforcing it, see Colie,“My Ecchoing Song,” 250. [^]
  39. See Paul Lennon, “Ludic Language: The Case of the Punning Echoic Allusion,” Brno Studies in English 37 (2011): 81. [^]
  40. See Reuben A. Brower’s discussion of “allusive irony” in the work of Dryden. Alexander Pope: The Poetry of Allusion (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1959; repr. 1968), 8. [^]
  41. My use of this term is indebted to Colie’s formulation of Marvell’s poetry of criticism. See Colie, “My Ecchoing Song,” 4. [^]
  42. One can exhaust the meaning of an allusion, but recognition does not do so. As William Irwin observes, allusion entails more than the substitution of a referent. William Irwin, “Against Intertextuality,” Philosophy and Literature 28 (2004): 227–42. [^]
  43. Perri, “On Alluding,” 296. [^]
  44. Rachel Jacoff and Jeffrey T. Schnapp, The Poetry of Allusion: Virgil and Ovid in Dante’s Commedia (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991), 14. [^]
  45. Raymond, “‘Small Portals,’” 34. [^]
  46. Examples of self-allusion in Marvell’s prose can be found in The Rehearsal Transpros’d, An Account of the Growth of Popery, and Remarks upon a Late Disingenuous Discourse. See The Prose Works, 1.175, 2.258, 2.418–19. [^]
  47. Boris Kayachev, Allusion and Allegory: Studies in the Ciris (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2016), 16. [^]
  48. Hinds, Allusion and Intertext, 50. [^]
  49. Gian Biagio Conte, The Rhetoric of Imitation: Genre and Poetic Memory in Virgil and Other Latin Poets, trans. Charles Segal (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1986), 27. [^]
  50. Cf. Colie’s praise for Marvell’s admirable detachment. Colie, “My Ecchoing Song,” 4. [^]
  51. Lowell Edmunds, Intertextuality and the Reading of Roman Poetry (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001), 159. [^]
  52. See Dzelzainis, “‘A Greater Errour in Chronology,’” 325. [^]
  53. Edmunds, Intertextuality, 160. [^]
  54. John Milton, An Apology against a Pamphlet, in The Complete Prose Works of John Milton, ed. Don M. Wolfe (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953), 1.930. [^]
  55. See my Early Modern Asceticism: Religion, Literature, and Austerity in the English Renaissance (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 98–121. [^]
  56. It seems unlikely that Milton intends “no marvell” as an allusion to Marvell. It is not impossible, since the date of Marvell and Milton’s first meeting is unknown. See Nicholas von Maltzahn, “Marvell and Patronage,” in The Oxford Handbook of Andrew Marvell, ed. Martin Dzelzainis and Edward Holberton (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019), 47. [^]
  57. See Nicholas von Maltzahn, An Andrew Marvell Chronology (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005), 6. [^]
  58. Abraham Cowley, The Mistresse (London, 1647), 24. [^]
  59. Cf. Colie, “My Ecchoing Song,” 6. [^]
  60. Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. “sweet” (adj., 5), accessed 30 June 2020, www-oed-com.proxy.lib.siu.edu. [^]
  61. Cowley, The Mistresse, 26. [^]
  62. Cowley, The Mistresse, 25. [^]
  63. For a contemporary understanding of purely verbal allusion as superficial, see Wing/M1597 Joseph Mede, Diatribae (London, 1642), 109. [^]
  64. This seems to me a useful admonition for the scholars who claim that “A Dialogue” alludes to Paradise Lost and/or Paradise Regained on the basis of verbal parallels. See, for example, J.B. Leishman, The Art of Marvell’s Poetry (London: Hutchinson & CO, 1966), 31; Harold E. Toliver, Marvell’s Ironic Vision (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965), 69. For more recent articulations of this argument, see Smith, The Poems of Andrew Marvell, 35n and Stephen Bardle, The Literary Underground in the 1660s: Andrew Marvell, George Wither, Ralph Wallis, and the World of Restoration Satire and Pamphleteering (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 150–51. [^]

Competing Interests

The author has no competing interests to declare.


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