The Definition of Love – Summary

The poem ‘The Definition of Love’  is a metaphysical poem written by Andrew Marvell. The poem explores the nature of the poet’s love for his beloved. The poet sees this love as perfect and thus unattainable. The poet begins the poem by introducing his readers to the parents of this love. According to the poet, this love is of rare birth. It is the offspring of the union of Despair and Impossibility. Only resolute Despair could have produced such divine love. Hope would be completely futile in the case of such love because it can never be realised.

In the next lines, the poet claims that the poet’s and his beloved’s separation is due to Fate’s animosity. Perfect lovers are always scorned by fate, and they are never reunited. The power and authority of Fate will be severely weakened by a marriage between two ideal lovers. Fate has separated these two lovers as far apart as the North and South Poles are from each other. Even though they are the pivot in which the entire world of love revolves, these lovers will never be able to come together.

The poet claims that love can only be realised if the revolving spheres collide and the world is ripped apart by some violent convulsion. The whole world must be projected or compressed into a plane in order to get these lovers together. Only oblique lines can cross in all geometrical angles, and only guilty or adulterous lovers can find their passion fulfilled. The poet’s love and his beloved’s love, on the other hand, are like parallel lines that can never touch, even though they are stretched to infinity. Thus, the poet’s and his beloved’s love is merely a meeting of minds, never taking the form of a physical union. This love may be defined as “the conjunction of the mind”, and opposition of the stars.”

Analysis of The Definition of Love

Marvell’s “The Definition of Love” is a great masterpiece in which he employs a variety of puns, double meanings, conceit, and paradoxes with the greatness and versatility befitting a metaphysical poet. This poem exemplifies Marvell’s ability to unleash the power of thinking, demonstrating his brilliance in conceiving unimaginable concepts. The poem is about a pair of lovers who will never be united because the lovers are kept apart by the “iron wedges” of Fate. There is no hope that they could be together because hope is personified as a “feeble” creature that “vainly flapped its tinsel wing”. Such is the impossibility of the unification of the lovers that even Fate herself will be destroyed if they are united. Their souls are facing one another and are “fixed”, they are like poles being placed apart but yet they are considered whole. Even as “Love’s whole world” does circulate, they can never embrace, this is done so that their love will be perfect according to the wills of the heavens. Marvell ingeniously describes that in order to unite them both, the earth itself will have to be flattened by an iron bar, and they will still be separated. Their love is similar like “oblique” lines, though parallel and “infinite”, they can never be connected. It is with this great ability that Marvell merges puns, paradoxes, ambiguities and the imagination with his indwelling quality of wit to produce a great poem transcending the senses. 

Similarly, his ability to conceive images like the oblique and parallel lines that symbolically represent the lovers are the powers of his observation that merge the objects of the external world with the internal world of Marvell’s metaphysical world. 

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Theme, Imagery and Metaphysical Conceits in the Poem

The poem, The Definition of Love by Andrew Marvell describes the character of the poet’s love for his beloved. This love, says the poet, is perfect and therefore unattainable. This love is divine, but for that very reason hopeless. Perfect love of this kind is most unwelcome to Fate who therefore never permits the union of perfect lovers. This kind of perfect love can mean only a spiritual union but never a physical one. This love is “the conjunction of the mind and opposition of the stars.”

The poem contains a number of metaphysical conceits, which can be best defined by the lines like “begotten by Despair upon Impossibility”. The idea here is that the poet’s love is unattainable, but in order to express this idea, the poet personifies Despair and Impossibility and imagines that his love was produced by their union.

There is another use of conceit in the poem. And this is more fantastic conceit than that of the previously discussed. The poet says: “His love can be achieved only if three conditions are fulfilled: first, the spinning planets must collapse; second, the earth should be torn asunder by some fresh convulsion; and third, the whole world should be projected or flattened into a planet. As these three conditions are impossible to fulfil, the lovers cannot be united.

Yet another conceit occurs in the stanza in which the poet compares the loves between him and his beloved to the parallel lines which can never meet. Only oblique lines meet in all geometrical angles, and in the same way, only the passion of guilt or adulterous lovers can be satisfied. The two closing lines of the poem also contain a metaphysical conceit.

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