"How happy might I still have mowed, Had not Love here his thistles sowed"
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Andrew Marvell makes interesting use of pathetic fallacy in his works, particularly in “Damon the Mower.”
The Poetry Foundation notes that "Andrew Marvell is surely the single most compelling embodiment of the change that came over English society and letters in the course of the 17th century. In an era that makes a better claim than most upon the familiar term transitional, Marvell wrote a varied array of exquisite lyrics that blend Cavalier grace with Metaphysical wit and complexity."
literarydevices.net defines pathetic fallacy as 'a literary device that attributes human qualities and emotions to inanimate objects of nature. The word pathetic in the term is not used in the derogatory sense of being miserable; rather, it stands for “imparting emotions to something else.”'
The poem opens with the Speaker commenting on Damon's love for Juliana (p. 981 ll. 1-2). The following lines let the reader know that pathetic fallacy is forthcoming – “While everything did seem to paint / The scene more fit for his complaint” (p. 981 ll. 3-4) – Damon's unrequited love for Juliana is reflected in the weather around him. Her “fair eyes” are compared to the nice day, and it is “scorching” like Damon’s love. Instead of the sun reflecting the positive emotions of love – being warm and nice, it reflects the pain of love – it is “scorching”, just like Juliana is burning Damon with her indifference.
Later, Damon says that the heat “burns the fields and mower both” (981 ll. 20), directly connecting his inner feelings to his outer surroundings. But he takes it one step further, adding: “Not July causeth these extremes / But Juliana’s scorching beams” (p. 981 ll. 23-24). Damon’s connection with Juliana is so powerful that it is changing his environment. Later in the poem, Damon talks about how his inner turmoil is reflected in his work with nature – “How happy might I still have mowed, Had not Love here his thistles sowed” (p. 982 65 -66), which rounds out the pathetic fallacy that has been written up until this point. Marvell choosing to use pathetic fallacy not only situates “Damon the Mower” within the pastoral tradition, but it also strengthens the idea that humans and nature are intertwined and that you cannot separate them. But Marvell upsets the pastoral tradition by attributing passionate and desperate feelings to nature, instead of placing Damon in an idealized and romanticized version of nature, which was how pastorals were originally written. "Embodiment of change," indeed!
Co-Founder and Executive Editor, A Beautiful Life Magazine and Books