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date: 21 May 2019

Abstract and Keywords

This enigmatic complaint has been studied in terms of a number of registers: political and ecocritical, relating to the English Civil War and its devastation of the countryside; Ovidian, relating to the Nymph’s desire to be metamorphosed into part of the natural world as a way of monumentalizing and assimilating her grief; ecclesiastical, relating to traditional images of the English Church as a hortus conclusus; and many others. This chapter briefly surveys these various strangs of meaning and then considers an understudied seventeenth-century context that helps tie them together: vitalist materialist thought, which posited an empathic relationship among humans, elements of nature, and even objects like stones, which we now are likely to consider inanimate. Recent vitalist materialist theorists like Bruno Latour and Jane Bennett interpret earlier vitalist ideas as a reaction against Descartes and his violent separation of the human from the non-human, which ruled out the potential for sub-human entities to feel emotion. But long before Descartes, vitalism flourished in England, thanks to Galenic and Paracelsian medicine, the Hermetic Books and Kabbala, and various other sources. In light of vitalist thinking in England at mid-century, Marvell’s poem can be read as a project for keeping the connections between humans and the natural world alive even amidst the wrenching changes alluded to in the poem.

Keywords: ecocriticism, Invisible College, John Milton, Marvell, new materialism, Robert Boyle, science and literature, vitalism

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