Summary and Analysis of The Definition of Love by Marvell: 2022

About the Poet:

Well-known for being one of the first renowned English metaphysical poets of his time, Andrew Marvell was also a satirist and politician. Born on the 31st of March 1621 in Yorkshire to the clergyman of the Church of England, he completed his Bachelors at Trinity College, Cambridge. Having traveled through continental Europe, he seemed to have mastered four languages that included French, Italian and Spanish. Marvell’s poems vary from the romantic lore of “to His Coy Mistress”, to the empowering political address in “An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland”, to the overwhelming tale of the aristocratic household in “Upon Appleton House” and “Garden”. Marvell was known for his sly use of words disguised in his poems to denote his ideals and views in the metaphysical nature.

Introduction to the poem:

The poem revolves around the theme of two lovers separately from each other by the whims of fate. Andrew Marvell writes about the dark realities of certain love stories where in spite of all the disturbances that fate creates, there is still a ray of hope fluttering in the hearts of the two lovers. The poem shows the adversities the two lovers face before their love comes to a conclusion.

Setting of The Definition of Love:

Andrew Marvell speaks of fate as a powerful individual whose duty is to keep the lovers in physical separation, just like “distant poles” that can never come together. Fate makes it a point to always keep the two lovebirds apart, as if their union would take away the powers that fate practices. It creates impossible environments to make the agony of their separation felt.

Poetic Devices in The Definition of Love:

Line 6: “Could show me so divine a thing”
Line 12: “And always crowds itself betwixt.”
Line 13: “For fate with jealous eyes”
Line 14: “Two perfect lovers, nor lets them close”
Line 19: “Though love’s whole world on us doth wheel”
Line 25: “As lines, so loves oblique may well”
Line 2: “As’tis for object strange ad high”
Line 25: “As lines, so loves oblique may well”
Personification/ Metaphor:
Every line in the poem is a personification or a metaphor due to Andrew Marvell’s metaphysical poetry. Lines such as “But fate does iron wedges drive” and “Unless the giddy heaven fall” are some examples of the metaphors and personifications mentioned in the poem, especially where Fate is personified in each stanza.

Style of The Definition of Love:

My love is of a birth as rare (A)
As ‘tis for object strange and high; (B)
It was begotten by Despair (A)
Upon Impossibility. (C)

Summary of The Definition of Love:

The poem is all based on the twisted game that fate plays on two distant lovers who struggle to make their ends meet. Marvell speaks of fate being a powerful creator to the lives of many lost lovers and narrates its powers to be duplicated after it separates the united couple. The dark truth about destiny being in the hands of the creator is very bluntly depicted by Marvell in his poetic metaphysical world. He describes hope to be a weak catalyst to in the favor of the lovers but is no match for the power that fate has upon them. The jealous nature of fate forbids the lovers to unite and like two transverse lines, these two lovers are destined to never meet and stay in union only in their respective minds.

Critical Analysis of The Definition of Love:

Andrew Marvell metaphysically describes his poem to be an ode to the lost love story of two lovers whose coalition is left incomplete in the hands of fate. Marvell reflects the unfortunate possibilities of any love story through the means of this poem. He points out that although there is a handful of hope within the fists of any two lovers, there will never be a reunion of their hearts if fate is against them. Like transverse lines, they never meet, as if their union would take away the power from the hands of fate. The element of reality reflects throughout this poem where through unfortunate events, reality persists.

Central Idea of The Definition of Love:

The poem is based on the dissociation of two lovers who have been kept awaiting their union in the hands of fate, which Marvell believes to be the definition of love. Their unification would appear to reflect as fate losing its powers, which the reason why it keeps the lovers as far away from each other as possible. Marvell talks of fate to distance both lovers as two opposing poles that shall never meet. It creates their destiny as that or transverse lines that are “but ours so truly parallel, though infinite, can never meet.”

Tone of The Definition of Love:

The poem begins with Marvell describing the couple to have a love as rare as ever, with “despair upon impossibility” as their constant condition. Although hope is said to “but vainly flap its tinsel wing” in favor of their love, Fate is always ready the drive it away with its “iron wedges”. Like transverse lines, the lives of these two lovers never meets but instead only seems to run parallel throughout.


The metaphysical poem by Marvell deals with the reality of two lovers lost in the hands of fate. The unfortunate intricacies that lead to their separation are described in metaphors in the given poem. Not only does fate destroy every chance of their union, but also crushes the meek wings of hope that flutter in the couple’s favor. In the end, the couple blindly go on as transverse lines that run parallel but never intersect. Although they stay united in their minds, their physical beings never meet, thus defining Marvell’s definition of love- a mark of separation.
Contributor: Deeksha Honawar

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