by Jerome Lim Jit How
University of York / University of Cambridge
Rightly, critics have been unwilling to interpret Andrew Marvell’s “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun” ( 1971c) along T. S. Eliot’s narrow lines: as merely an elegiac unfolding of “a slight affair, the feeling of a girl for her pet” (1975, 168). “Faun” scholarship in the 1990s was marked by a slew of allegorical readings: Evelyn Hinz and John Teunissen dismissively remarked that “the death of a pet is not a subject for high tragedy,” arguing that the fawn is a surrogate for the nymph’s lost infant (1978, 410); elsewhere, the fawn has been read as Christ (Bradbrook and Lloyd-Thomas 1940); the nymph’s virginity (Reeves and Seymour-Smith 1969); and Charles I (Sandstroem 1990). In recent years criticism has taken a more measured approach, with Anne Elizabeth Carson, who, in agreement with Lois Potter, posits that the pathos of “Faun” reconstitutes the “scene in the context of a postwar, post-regicidal climate” (Carson 2005, 541) without necessarily substituting king for fawn. Ecocritical readings of Marvell, such as Robert Watson’s “Shades of Green in Marvell’s Lyrics” (2006) and Jeffery Theis’ Writing the Forest in Early Modern England (2009) have been proactive in demonstrating how the pastoral forests and gardens of Marvell’s poems incubate a confluence of theological and political concerns, which “draws and comments on epistemological pressures in the culture” (Watson 2006, 124). As Daniel Beaver argues in his monograph on pre-Civil War hunting, “the ideologically charged conflicts of forest politics, often expressed through the carcasses of killed deer … clearly informed the political transformations of the early 1640s” (2008, 14), the forest in “Faun” where the “wanton Troopers” (line 1) shoot the nymph’s fawn is often read as a site in which Civil War politics and pastoral pathos intertwine.
This essay seeks to build upon existing ecocritical readings of Marvell and “Faun” in reading nature as epistemological sites of pressure. It attempts to contribute to the existing conversation by redirecting critical focus from the pastoral forest onto the titular fawn, in order to trace the shifting epistemological and ethical status of animals and humans in Marvell’s affective lyric within its historical context. This direction I adopt from Donna Haraway, who, reacting against Claude Lévi-Strauss’ assertion that “animals are good to think with” (Lévi-Strauss 1962, 89), argues that animals are not “an alibi for other themes … they are not here just to think with,” but are “here to live with,” as companions (Haraway 2003, 5). That is, this essay will, rather than read the poem’s pathos as stemming from thinking about the fawn as metaphorical vector for human contexts such as the Civil War, pay close attention to how the fawn is presented as companion through the lens of Marvell’s nymph, and analyze the resulting epistemological and ethical complications against early modern ideologies. Watson reads in Marvell’s lyrics a recognition that:
the mind-body dualism is neither a truth nor a falsehood, but a dilemma faced by human beings irresolvably, to be toyed with, and enjoyed in its multiplicity, perhaps, but not to be treated as a scientific project, only as an aesthetic field of absorption. (2006, 134)
Along the same lines, I will argue that Marvell’s “Faun” exhibits an aesthetic field in which identities become fluid: across genre, species and gender boundaries. In Animal Stories, Susan McHugh remarks that companion animal narratives deal “with the intensely affective, multifarious, and lateral connections people share with animals” (2011, 13). This notion of affective companionship, I contend, is the central concern which Marvell’s poem pivots upon. Reading Judith Butler’s theory of grievable lives and Donna Haraway’s theory of companion species alongside the 17th-century theological, legal and literary contexts of Marvell’s poem, I demonstrate the nymph’s lyric elevation of the fawn as a significant, grievable being which resists incorporation into the sacrificial logic of animals, a sentiment rendered believable through the sympathetic perspective of the nymph’s grief. This, alongside Marvell’s purposive juxtaposition between the fawn and human figures present in the poem, set amongst the multivalent pastoral landscape, brings to the forefront a shared kinship with animals which is rooted in Marvell’s philosophical concerns of Platonist love and the soul’s extended nature, and an Ecclesiastical vision of a postlapsarian world.
It is perhaps productive to begin by investigating the generic complications of “Faun” to explore how Marvell sets up the relationship between human and animal. The title, as A. D. Cousins notes, locates the poem in the Renaissance tradition of the female complaint where “a female figure … bemoans a wrong committed against her,” often by a man (2013, 148–9). This calls to mind the related tradition of the animal complaint, such as the poems found in George Gascoigne’s The Noble Arte of Venerie or Hunting (1575). Gascoigne’s “The Hare, to the Hunter” begins:
Are mindes of men, become so voyde of sense
That they can joye to hurte a harmlesse thing?
A sillie beast, which cannot make defence? (lines 1–3)
Gascoigne’s hare’s admonishment of “murdering men” (line 30) parallels Marvell’s nymph’s admonishment of the “Ungentle men,” in which she casts the dying fawn as defenseless: “Thou ne’er didst alive / Them any harm” (1971c, lines 3–5). But unlike the eloquent anthropomorphic hare in “Hare,” in “Faun” it is the nymph that is the primary lyric complainant on behalf of her wronged pet. While Cousins gestures toward classical precursors of poems focused on pet deaths, such as Lesbia’s sparrow in Catullus II and Corinna’s parrot in Ovid’s Amores II.6, he admits that they are “both voiced by men involved with the women for whom they write.” He invokes Skelton’s Phyllyp Sparowe, but notes the presence of a speaking “male persona,” whereas “only the girl speaks” in “Faun” (2013, 149). Certainly, “Faun” exhibits a knitwork of oppositional threads rooted in parallel genres. Firstly, the defenseless fawn set against the murderous men is redolent of the animal complaint, but it is not the animal that speaks. Corollary to this, the wanton troopers’ cruelty, set against subsistence hunting where “nothing may we use in vain” (line 15), gestures toward political commentary through the trope of illegal deer poaching. Such a trope Theis identifies in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor, where Robert Shallow laments that Sir John Falstaff has “beaten my men, kill’d my deer” (2001, 53). But in Marvell’s poem the troopers’ motives (or even political affiliation) is never mentioned. Furthermore, the nymph, set against her ex-lover “Unconstant Sylvio” (line 25), calls to mind the female complaint, but it is the fawn that is the primary victim here.
Across these generic boundaries, the central conceit, where one party is wronged by another, remains constant—it is their identities that shift across gender and species. Returning to Gascoigne’s “Hare,” Mihoko Suzuki, in reading the hare’s thanking of his “maker” for “makyng me, a Beast and not a Man” (1575, lines 5–6), argues that this transvaluation of “Beast” and “Man” is the basis from which Gascoigne mounts an indictment of animal cruelty (2015, 230). Laurie Shannon notes through n-gram analysis that “between 1500 and 1800, we see the displacement of ‘animal’s’ closest cousin, ‘beast,’ and a meteoric rise in usage for ‘animal,’ their charted courses crossing in about 1675” (2013, 7), just past the compositional period of “Faun.” Significantly, in The Rehearsal Transpros’d, Marvell briefly examines the difference between “Man” and “Beast”—a terminological distinction he makes in lines 16 and 17 of “Faun.” Rebutting the anti-Platonist Samuel Parker, who wrote that “Man is divided from the Beast, and his Reason separated from the inferiour and bruitish appetites,” in Rehearsal Marvell comments that man carries “the brute a pick a pack” (2003, 229)—man too is capable of brutality, and this categorical distinction cannot be made so easily. Yet it is important to note that Marvell is arguing for their co-existence rather than equivalence; he still maintains reason as the basis for this distinction. Earlier in Rehearsal, Marvell remarks that “For though [Parker] found it not, till it was too late in the Cause; yet he felt it all along (which is the understanding of Brutes) in the Effect” (2003, 146). That is, brutes, lacking reason, only understand empirical effect and not cause.
As Erica Fudge remarks in her study of the early modern animal-human distinction in Brutal Reasoning, in the dominant Cartesian paradigm of the time “animals’ lack of language [was] used to prove lack of reason” (2006, 172). This may provide an insight into understanding why Marvell’s fawn, unlike Gascoigne’s hare, cannot speak for itself. Yet the perspective of the nymph provides a familiar psychological standpoint from which the reader is drawn into the poem’s epistemological maneuvering. The first eight lines of “Faun” set up sympathy for the fawn through the nymph’s plaintive outburst. Sidney Gottlieb notes the progression of grief in its diction: the brutal scene is initially presented in a detached monosyllabic manner, but later in the stanza, the accusatory “Thy murder” is used (1999, 276). The plosive quality of “They cannot thrive / To kill thee” (lines 3–5), together with the liberal use of enjambment and irregular end-stopping, creates a dramatic rhythm of unrestrained emotion, and the repeated negations “neer … nor … never … nor” (lines 4–8) signal a psychological refusal to come to terms, even as she claims to forgive the troopers (line 8). Despite the prevailing Cartesian paradigm of animals as soulless, and thus inferior, here the nymph’s outburst elevates the fawn to what Judith Butler terms as a “grievable life”—a life deemed significant enough to be “properly mourned”—which is a status that equalizes man and animal (Weil 2012, 145). This first segment is not mere exposition of grievance, but sets up the primary relation of nymph to fawn as one of companionship rather than utility. Its emotional texture creates a rhetorical pathos which invites the empathy of the reader. In this way, Marvell’s establishment of the dying fawn as proper object of mourning sets up the subsequent invective against the brutish killing of animals.
In the first book of the influential theological text De Civitate Dei, Augustine of Hippo asserts that God’s commandment “Thou shalt not kill” should not apply to “irrational animals … since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses” (Steel 2011, 127). While hunting and blood sports were prevalent in this period (Leibs 2004, 61), many influential early modern figures argued against animal cruelty, using this theological basis of “just appointment” to argue against unnecessary slaughter. In Thomas More’s Utopia, which depicts an idealized republic, the Utopians avoid needless slaughter of animals (“nullum animal mactant”) because it is God’s mercy (“diuinam clementiam”) that grants them life (1895, 293). Sir Matthew Hale, renown barrister and Member of Parliament alongside Marvell, wrote that man’s God-given dominion over creatures is governed by “a law of justice, prudence and moderation” (1805, 275). Indeed, Watson traces in the period from the 1640s to 1670—when “Faun” was composed—a series of parliamentary legislation against practices of animal cruelty: restricting bear and bull baiting, horse racing, cockfighting, dog matches and “other Meetings of like Nature.” This, he argues, was driven by Protestantism and its recognition of kinship and vision of a “lost Paradise of harmonious coexistence” (2014, 1112–1115).
Marvell identified as Protestant in his writings (Kelliher 2008), and this religious and legislative duty towards animals is invoked in the lengthy first stanza of “Faun,” which D. C. Allen describes as a “an opening phase of a liturgy” (1956, 98). Right after her grief-stricken outburst, the nymph calls upon Heaven in her “simple Pray’rs” (line 9). Her initial refusal to assign blame (“nor will” [line 8]) transforms into accusatory resolve (“I will” [line 11]); the nymph is adamant that the fawn “cannot dye so” (line 13). What follows is reminiscent of a hortatory sermon:
…………… Heavens King
Keeps register of every thing:
And nothing may we use in vain.
Ev’n Beasts must be with justice slain;
Else Men are made their Deodands. (lines 13–17)
Commentators have made much of the nymph’s curious shift from simple to liturgical language. Frank Kermode questions her knowledge of the term “deodands” (1967, xxv), while Daniel Jaeckle argues that the nymph is mere puppet for Marvell’s social commentary (2003, 146–148). But by focusing solely on the nymph herself, these commentators miss the larger picture: that a judicial defense of the fawn’s right to live, as victim of sin, has occurred. A deodand is, in English law, “a possession which, having caused the death of a human being, was forfeited to the Crown to be applied to pious uses” (Marvell 1971c). Deodands were also mentioned by Marvell in Rehearsal, as he questions “should there not as well be Deodands for Reputation” (2003, 237). Animals such as horses would often become deodands (Pervukhin 2005, 238). In this light, the nymph’s surprising utterance that “Men are made their Deodands” ironically inverts this practice, by demoting humans to mere forfeited property, and elevating slain beasts as wronged victims.
Marvell’s unusual invocation of common law as vector of interaction between human and animal gestures towards an ecological relationship where animals are not merely symbolic objects, but provide utility and companionship, governed by real-world laws. In Conrad Gesner’s 16th-century Historiae Animalium, animals are distinguished in terms of human sovereignty, “submitted and vassalaged to Empire, authority, and government” (Shannon 2013, 33). This inversion of the scala naturae, a central idea in early modern zoology (Thomas 1991, 60) and Platonist thought, is surprising because it is claimed as sanctioned by “Heaven’s King” (line 13). Furthermore, the invocation of royal forfeiture, originating in the Middle Ages, is odd in the tumultuous Civil War context. Yet, the nymph’s deliberate casting of God as monarch makes it clear who receives the deodand: deo dandum means “to be given to God,” and the Crown is mere intermediary. It is the omnipotent God, rather than man, that carries the right to judge. At the end of the first stanza the nymph ruefully declares that “There is not such another in / The World, to offer for their Sin” (lines 23–24), which evokes the Passion in its sacrificial language, and also alludes to the classical myth of Iphigenia, who was sacrificed by her father King Agamemnon as penance for slaying Artemis’ sacred deer. Read against the concept of a deodand, Iphigenia becomes significant: a human was sacrificed because an animal under divine ownership was slain. But in Marvell’s theological context, humans had the right to do so. Karl Steel begins his study of animals in the Middle Ages with a reading of The Revelation of the Monk of Eynsham, where the 12th-century monk Adam condemns King Henry II for “the ‘sin’ of executing poachers,” which seem to be “well within his royal prerogative[e].” His reasoning being that animals ought to be slain by natural law, and therefore “anyone who executed a poacher apparently valued animal life as much as or more than human life”—a sin because man is made in the image of God (Steel 2011, 1).
The ambiguity of “such another,” read against the deodand of the earlier line, leaves it unclear if it refers to human or animal. Indeed, Donna Haraway writes that “every living being except Man can be killed but not murdered. To make Man merely killable is the height of moral outrage.” Only certain lives, such as animals and murderers, are made “killable” based on “sacrificial logic,” such as hunting rituals and penal codes, and to do so to humans is to make them “lose their humanity” (Haraway 2008, 78–82). Yet the nymph’s accusation of “Thy murder” (line 11) paints the fawn as victim and troopers as sinners which are arguably portrayed as more “killable” than the fawn. The image of the troopers “wash[ing] their guilty hands” in the fawn’s “warm life-blood” (lines 18–19) is reminiscent of Pontius Pilate in Matthew 27:24 (King James Version). Here Marvell might be alluding to another practice: Margaret Cavendish, in an epistle, records that ladies would wash their hands in a hunted deer’s blood, “supposing it will make them white” (1655, 110–111), but in a perversion of this custom, the troopers’ hands are indelibly stained “in such a Purple Grain” (line 22) that marks them as guilty. The motif of hand-washing extends to stanza five, where the fawn is depicted as white, particularly in comparison to human hands. The consonance of /w/ provides rhythm to the insistent imagery: the growing fawn “wax’d more white and sweet” (line 58) than the nymph’s milk-and-sugar-coated fingers (lines 55–56), and merely three lines later its foot is described as “soft and white” (lines 60–61). This is immediately followed by a rhymed hypophora, as the nymph asks “shall I say [whiter] then my hand?” before emphatically answering “NAY any Ladies of the Land” (lines 61–62). Read in context, her innocent question mocks the sacrificial logic of ladies who whiten their hands with deer blood, by asserting the fawn’s unobtainable whiteness.
While the equation of sinners to beasts is not unheard of—Oliver Cromwell declared that no “difference there is betwixt [sinner] and a beast” (1868, 240)—Marvell’s implicit portrayal of the sinning troopers as sub-beast is a bold gesture that co-opts prevailing legislative and theological arguments against animal cruelty. The fawn’s unique and almost-sanctified status is a hyperbolic sentiment only rendered believable through the framework of the nymph’s melancholia. This calls to mind Marvell’s “Mourning” ( 2007), an enigmatic short poem portraying the weeping subject Clora, whose source of grief is speculated upon. The poem’s final lines “But sure as oft as Women weep, / It is to be suppos’d they grieve” (lines 35–6) are often read as cynical (Delany 1972, 35–36), but they point towards a pathologization of female grief as performatively excessive. In her study of the trope of female mourning in early modern drama, Katharine Goodland notes that female mourning is often associated with justice, pointing to King John and Richard III as examples (2006, 155). But making the subject of justified grief the fawn—a rather “killable” being in the early modern context—is seemingly excessive. Here Cora Diamond’s reading of Coetzee’s The Lives of Animals as portraying a wounded woman haunted by what humans do to animals provides an interesting parallel. Costello’s referencing of the Holocaust has been read by critics like Amy Gutmann as a problematic argument, because it “ignores the differences in moral significance between killing human beings and killing animals.” Yet, Diamond reads Coetzee’s deployment of contentious language not as part of a didactic argument, but as a complex way to articulate woundedness as “a profound disturbance of the soul,” which “expresses a mode of understanding of the kind of animal we are, and indeed of the moral life of this kind of animal”—an acknowledgement of “sheer animal vulnerability” in our corporeality (2003, 10–22). Recall Watson’s reading of Marvell as presenting human dilemmas within an aesthetic field of absorption rather than make propositions for one side or the other. In the same way, the nymph’s turn to hyperbole to express her grief is perhaps a way to express the socially foreclosed crisis of feeling of, in Eliot’s words “a girl for her pet,” through an aesthetic field which attempts to index this profound, inexpressible disturbance.
This hyperbolic elevation of the fawn culminates in the stanzas set within the nymph’s paradisal garden of roses and lilies (lines 71–92)—flowers that, as Phoebe Spinrad remarks, “represent the Petrarchan ideal of female beauty” (1982, 56). The white fawn is camouflaged among “the flaxen Lillies shade” (line 81); “its pure virgin Limbs” sensuously “fold / In whitest sheets of Lillies cold” (lines 89–90). Marvell takes a natural observation—that fawns feed on roses—and clothes it in the language of affection:
Upon the roses it would feed
Until its lips ev’xn seemed to bleed
And then to me ‘twould boldly trip,
And print those Roses on my Lip. (lines 83–86)
The abundance of plosives in these rhyming lines continually bring together the lips when read aloud, in a prosodic reflection of the fawn’s kiss. Its kiss raises the question of animal as subject of love. Lynn Turner, in an essay titled “When Species Kiss” which investigates the figure of the interspecies kiss in Haraway and Hélène Cixous, among others, writes that “the kiss solicits an undecidability into the divisions between subjects and species once thought to be decisive” (2010, 60). Turning back to the poem, earlier the nymph declares her love for the fawn:
… How could I less
Than love it? O I cannot be
Unkind, t’ a Beast that loveth me (lines 44–46)
Could this declaration be read as romantic? Undeniably, amorous relations with animals were viewed as immoral in the period, for it “turns man into a very beast” (Thomas 1991, 39). Prior to the seventeenth century, the definition of “Beast” explicitly included humans (OED n1b), and in the poem its biblical impersonality signposts a controversial universality. But perhaps this complication is intentional; recall the Protestant vision of a lost paradise mentioned earlier. Matthew Augustine, in his “Faun” reading, makes an interesting comparison to Stanley Fish’s famous commentary on Paradise Lost, contending that the reader is seduced by the Marvell’s rhetoric “into heterodoxy and transgression” (Augustine 2008, 271), a sentiment echoed by Watson’s reading of Marvell’s gardens in “The Garden” and the “Mower” poems, writing that “the self-regarding reflex of the mind is always already bringing the fallen world back in” (2006, 119).
Yet “Faun” also seems to push back against such a transgressive reading of fawn as romantic lover. “With sweetest milk, and sugar, first / I it at mine own fingers nurst” (lines 55–56) conveys an innocent, almost maternal kind of love. Elsewhere, Graham Parry notes that “the combination of roses and lilies was the familiar heraldry of King Charles and Queen Henrietta Maria,” and points to Ben Jonson’s Love’s Triumph through Callipolis, which ends with a scene of intertwined roses and lilies that “flourish through the Crowne,” as further evidence of an allusion to the death of Charles I (1993, 245). Read in this light, the allusion to Charles and Maria would call to mind the “Platonic love cult” of the court during their reign, where ladies were exalted “as saints, before whom they knelt in solemn adoration extolling their ladies’ beauty, chastity, and love” (Sensabaugh 1940, 458). Scholars have read “Platonist tendencies” in Marvell’s work stemming from his time at Cambridge (Legouis 1965, 4), and more significantly, Marvell’s remark of humans carrying the brute pick a pack was in direct response to Parker’s “censure of the Platonick Philosophy” (2003, 229). The categorical instabilities within the aesthetic field of “Faun,” across species, gender, and genre boundaries perhaps evince the Platonic ideal of a correspondence of forms. But the lady figure so exalted by the Platonist court is in the poem replaced by fawn: an odd maneuver if read through a strict Platonist lens, which holds the hierarchy of the scala naturae to be immutable.
Interestingly, Diane McColley remarks in her ecological reading of Marvell that in “The Garden,” “innate ideas of ‘kinds’ or species [in the mind] are presented not as a hierarchical scale of Platonic forms … but as an ‘ocean’ of fluid understandings … receptive, productive, and fully entertained by its kinship with ‘each kind’” (2017, #). And this calls to mind a section in the Rehearsal, located shortly after his comment of carrying the brute, where Marvell contemplates the notion of shifting identities alongside John Donne’s satirical The Progresse of the Soule, as a parallel analogy to “all those Books that have appeared in so many several shapes against me.” Marvell traces the transmigration of the soul in Donne’s piece up the scala naturae from plant to bird to fish to mammal to ape, and finally “After this Soul had passed thorow so many Brutes, … its last receptacle was in the humane nature, and it housed it self in a female Conception” (2003, 253–55). For Marvell the soul was able to transcend categorical and corporeal boundaries, and this concept arose in “The Definition of Love” where he writes about the “extended Soul” (1971a, line 10). Nigel Smith offers a pertinent point in his reading of this poem, where he briefly traces the philosophical debates that surrounded the concept of a soul’s extension. Remarking that Henry More, a prominent Cambridge Platonist, vigorously supported such a concept, he argues for a climate of influence in which Marvell’s drew on such ideas to suggest in the poem “that, unconfined by his body, [the speaker’s] soul reaches out to the object of its desire,” employing an “Aristotelian mode of definition to define love: definition by difference” (Smith 2010, 109–110).
This philosophical idea of defining love by difference emerges as the fawn is juxtaposed against “Unconstant Sylvio” the Huntsman (line 25). Signposted by “unconstant,” Sylvio is the expected masculine subject of romantic love in the generic female complaint. His presence domesticates the fawn into a gift “Ty’d in this silver Chain and Bell” (line 28), an objectified plaything for his lover. But significantly, much of the poem is dedicated to the fawn, whereas Sylvio appears in only twenty lines. And unlike the fawn, his appearance is never described. Marvell complicates their identities in an enigmatic sequence:
Said He, look how your Huntsman here
Hath taught a Faun to hunt his Dear.
But Sylvio soon had me beguil’d.
This waxed tame, while he grew wild,
And quite regardless of my Smart,
Left me his Faun, but took his Heart. (lines 31–36)
The puns of “Dear” with “deer” and “Heart” with “hart” establishes the fawn’s dualistic identity as love’s subject, and this linguistic instability also extends to Sylvio. As John Coolidge observes, “your Huntsman” may indicate either his possession by the nymph, or that she is his prey (1980, 15). Strikingly, Sylvio’s identity is constructed in relation to the animal: he is described as growing “wild” in comparison to the “tame” fawn. But importantly, in the period “wild” and “tame” also served as a legal distinction of ownership. A wild animal could not serve as a deodand, as “no property was possible in animals which were wild (ferae naturae) unless they had been killed or tamed” (Thomas 1991, 56). Sylvio’s wildness, read against the first meaning, reflects his fleeting love, unable to be possessed by the nymph. Suzuki notes that “Hunting animals as a metaphor for men pursuing women has been a commonplace in English Renaissance literature” (2015, 231), and with the second meaning, the fawn, taught to “hunt” the nymph, becomes a sort of ungendered doppelgänger to Sylvio—their intertwined identities echoing the image of the animal riding pick a pack aboard the human.
At the stanza’s end, the now-directly-addressed fawn has firmly displaced Sylvio as recipient of the nymph’s love, here being defined by comparative difference and marked by the insistent capitalization in “thy Love,” which in the nymph’s eyes is “far more better then / The love of false and cruel men” (lines 53–54). It is the innocent, almost-Platonic form of love reciprocated by the fawn which triumphs, as the fawn is elevated to the status of companion over Sylvio. Relevantly, Haraway writes of “the prehensions that constitute us as companion species,” that “To be in love means to be worldly, to be in connection with significant otherness and signifying others” (2008, 97). The concept of “becoming with” as a practice of “becoming worldly” underpins Haraway’s theory of companion species: a materialist action that allow us to be “drawn into the multispecies knots that [animals] are tied into and that they retie by their reciprocal action” (2008, 3, 35). Recall the nymph’s declaration of love in “Faun”: “I cannot be / Unkind, t’ a Beast that loveth me” (lines 45–46). Reciprocity thus becomes the basis from which Haraway urges a movement beyond the complexities of species boundaries towards relations of kinship and interdependence.
In this way Marvell skillfully muddles the categorical dichotomy of “tame” and “wild,” and this is reflected in the landscape of the nymph’s “overgrown” garden (line 72), described as “a little wilderness” (line 74). The subject of domestication also arises in Marvell’s “The Picture of little T. C. in a Prospect of Flowers,” where the “Nimph … tames / The Wilder flow’rs … But only with the Roses playes” (1971d, lines 1–6), and “The Mower against Gardens,” where “Man … grafts upon the Wild the Tame” (1971b, lines 20–24). Returning to the idea of a garden paradise, Keith Thomas notes that theologically the wildness of animals was a postlapsarian condition; in the Garden of Eden all animals were tame (1991, 17). The overgrown garden hence intimates a certain corruption. As Jim Swan puts it in his reading of the Mower poems, “Marvell’s pastoral vision becomes almost always ironic, the vision of a natural harmony inevitably lost or destroyed” (1976, 194). Indeed, despite the fawn’s lyric elevation in the garden scene, the awkward intrusion of “bleed” and “cold” (lines 84, 90) in the garden scene underscores its animalistic demise. It is at the poem’s tragic completion that the nymph’s hyperbolic rhetoric reaches its climax. The poem comes full circle as it returns to the grieving present, with the nymph’s vehement epizeuxis of “O help! O help!” (line 93) punctuating her garden idyll. Recalling the Platonic court exaltations, the dying fawn is compared to a “Saint” (line 94), and as the language tends toward pastoral elegy there is an increasing juxtaposition of Christian and classical diction: “holy Frankincense” (line 98) and “milk-white Lambs” (line 108) appear alongside “Diana’s shrine” and “Elizium” (lines 104–107). The arboreal references to “Gumme,” “Balsome,” and the “Heliades” (lines 96–99), which were mythical sisters turned into trees that weep “Amber Tears” (line 100), foreshadow the poem’s Niobe-esque ending. In addition, they call to mind the myth of Cyparissus, who was turned into a cypress tree over his grief for the death of his pet stag. The combined effect, drawing upon multiple traditions of epicedium, is overtly hagiographical, and reveals the nymph to be more learned than she appears to be at the start—a subtle demonstration of shifting identity.
The fawn’s tears also call to mind the trope of the weeping deer, depicted in in Shakespeare’s As You Like It (Berry 2001, 175), and more relatedly, Cavendish’s animal complaint “The Hunting of the Stag,” where the wounded stag is described as “Shedding some Teares at his owne Funerall” (Suzuki 231). But as earlier outlined, unlike the animal complaint where the animal speaks, here the fawn is passive participant in its own mourning: it is the nymph that “Will but bespeak thy Grave, and dye” (line 110). The nymph is incorporated into the funerary monument as the fawn is laid at her feet (lines 111–119). And unlike Cyparissus and the Heliades, the nymph’s monument is resolutely artificial, produced by the “Engraver[‘s] Art” (line 114), which even in “purest Alabaster” cannot replicate the fawn’s whiteness (line 120–122). This opposition between the natural and the man-made, centered upon the figure of the statue, is redolent of the ending of Marvell’s “The Mower against Gardens,” which reads:
And Fauns and Faryes do the Meadows till,
More by their presence then their skill.
Their Statues polish’d by some ancient hand,
May to adorn the Gardens stand:
But howso’ere the Figures do excel,
The Gods themselves with us do dwell. (1971b, lines 35–40)
The final line evokes a mythical georgic paradise in which pagan gods, fawns, and faeries dwell amongst humans. Read alongside “Faun,” the statues that adorn the pastoral landscape serve as insufficient reminder of such an innocent world: the “fair Elizium” the nymph invokes and wishes to follow the fawn into (line 107). Along these lines, Brendan Prawdzik reads in the tearing figures and green enclosures of Marvell an Ecclesiastean skepticism—a text which he demonstrates runs through the Rehearsal and his garden poems—which holds that the postlapsarian human intellect “perceives nature imperfectly” (2015, 214). The nymph’s acknowledgement of her shared mortality with the fawn (line 110) is significant when read against Ecclesiastes 3:19–20: “For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts… so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast” (Ecclesiastes 3:19–20). “Faun” is a poem which through its aesthetic field of shifting identities reacts against human exceptionalism, inscribing the preeminence of nature’s innocence over corrupted humans in a climate of political instability through its emotional pathos. On this point I find it apt to conclude with an extract from the Rehearsal, where Marvell speaks of the Ecclesiastical Wisdom … after the Deluge:
In all things that are insensible there is nevertheless a natural force always operating to expel and reject whatsoever is contrary to their subsistence. And the sensible but brutish creatures heard together as if it were in counsel against their common inconveniences, and imbolden’d by their multitude, rebell even against Man their Lord and Master (2003, 331–332).
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