The Poetry of Andrew Marvell

Contributor: Melissa Kowalski. Lesson ID: 11621

In many places, there is no freedom of speech; people can be arrested and killed for speaking against the government. That's why Marvell kept his poetry secret. Write a modern political poem yourself!


Literary Studies

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!


If you were a poet, would you prefer to have your poetry published during your lifetime or posthumously (after your death)? Maybe it depends on what you wrote!

Andrew Marvell portrait

Image by Godfrey Kneller, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

While many poets spend much of their life getting their poetry published, Andrew Marvell, the seventeenth-century British poet, did not.

In fact, an anthology of his poetry was not published until three years after his death. Marvell preferred to keep most of his verses secret because he lived during a time of great political upheaval in England, and many of his poems mocked and lampooned the politicians and statesmen of his era. If these verses had offended anyone in power, he could have easily lost his life, as did fellow poet Sir Walter Raleigh just three years before Marvell's birth.

Marvell was born during the reign of King James I, the cousin of Queen Elizabeth I, who died in 1603.

James I was succeeded by his son, King Charles I, who became involved in a civil war in the 1640s. The opposition, known as the Roundheads, wanted to abolish the monarchy and create a Parliamentarian-only government. While a Parliament had existed for centuries prior to the Civil War, monarchs were not bound to uphold the decisions made by the Parliament, and still held the majority of governmental power.

The supporters of the monarchy, known as the Cavaliers, wanted to continue the rule of the king. King Charles I was captured and executed by the opposition in 1649, but the war did not end officially until 1651. The leader of the Roundheads, Sir Oliver Cromwell, a former member of Parliament, was given the title of Lord Protector, and became the new head of the government. Cromwell led England until his death in 1658, when he was succeeded by his son, Richard, who ruled until 1661, when the British monarchy was finally restored to power.

It was during Richard Cromwell's rule that Andrew Marvell was first elected to Parliament, a seat that he continued to hold during the Restoration, when Charles I's son, Charles II, was restored to the throne as the rightful ruler and monarch of England.

To find out more about the background and results of the English Civil War, watch The English Civil War in Five Minutes. OK, six and a half by John Dever (below). As you watch, write down any major events the presenter mentions so you can use those notes later in this lesson:


To learn more about Andrew Marvell's life and his ability to navigate the tumultuous political climate of his era, read "Andrew Marvell" from the Academy of American Poets. As you read, answer the following questions on a separate sheet of paper. When you have finished reading, discuss your responses with your parent or teacher:

  • How old was Marvell when his first poem was published?
  • Why did Marvell have to abandon his pursuit of a master's degree?
  • How did Marvell avoid fighting in the English Civil War?
  • In what decade do scholars believe Marvell composed his more important poems?
  • How did Marvell save the life of his fellow British poet, John Milton, who wrote "Paradise Lost"?
  • Who posed as Marvell's wife when publishing Marvell's works posthumously?

What, if anything, did you find surprising about Andrew Marvell's life? Do you think you would have wanted to live during this era? Why or why not? Discuss your thoughts with your parent or teacher.

Now that you have learned about Marvell's life, move on to the Got It? section to read two of Marvell's poems, "An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell's Return from Ireland," and "To His Coy Mistress."

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