Context

Andrew Marvell - 1621 to 1678 - is one of the most intriguing figures in English literature. He was a poet, a politician and – some say – a spy.

Early life

Marvell was born in Yorkshire in 1621 and was educated in Hull and Cambridge. He entered Trinity College Cambridge when he was just 13 years old. This may sound strange today, but it was not an unusual age to start university in the 17th century.

Mystery

After leaving Cambridge in 1641 he disappears from the records for six years. Some believe he travelled abroad as a tutor to a young gentleman, others that he was spying for the government.

Tutor

Marvell spent most of the 1650s working as a tutor. He did this initially in Yorkshire for the daughter of a retired general who had fought for Oliver Cromwell - the Puritan leader who defeated Charles I during the English Civil War.

Marvell returned to London in 1653, here he became the tutor of one of Cromwell’s wards. It was possibly during this period - though some scholars think it was as early as 1646 - that Marvell wrote To His Coy Mistress.

Politician

On 14 May 1660, Charles II was formally restored to his kingdoms and proclaimed King of Great Britain and Ireland. Throughout the 1650s, Marvell had been associated with the anti-Royalist cause, yet now he served in the new restoration government as MP for Hull.

It was a time of great political turmoil. Marvell - sometimes publically and sometimes through anonymous pamphlets - satirised both Charles’ court and parliament.

As an MP, he made diplomatic journeys to Holland, Russia, Sweden and Denmark.

Death and legacy

In 1678, Marvell died of a fever. It was rumoured at the time that he had been poisoned by Jesuits – one of the many groups he had lampooned.

Today Marvell is considered one of the greatest poets of the 17th century, yet a fraction of his sharp political satire and lyric verse was published in his lifetime.

A collection of his work did not appear until 1681, three years after his death.

The use of 'conceits'

Writing about various themes - including love - through the use of elaborate conceits was associated with the Metaphysical poets of the 17th century.

A conceit is a figure of speech where two vastly different objects are likened together with the help of similes or metaphors. A conceit develops a comparison which is exceedingly unlikely and often surprising.