Surprised by Death, or How Andrew Marvell’s Mower Confronts Death in Arcadia
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Death’s crude statement: “Et in Arcadia ego,” does not spring surprise on us, as it is a recognizable pastoral convention. But for the naïve and innocent inhabitant of any type of literary Arcadia this is a moment of wonder. Surprised by Death, the coarse Mower of Andrew Marvell’s pastoral poems struggles with the unfamiliar. Unaware of the world of urbane manners and unschooled in the ars moriendi, he translates the new, puzzling and painful experience into the familiar concepts of his everyday labours. His mind displaced, he looks for the confirmation of his identity in the mirror of his scythe, and when the latter accidentally cuts into his own ankle, the moment of ostensibly naïve anagnorisis of the natural man turns into the revelation of the conventional symbol. “Death, thou art a mower too,” concludes the clown in a way that may sound simple-minded, but at the same time, has an obvious, though on his part unconscious, reference to a well-known cultural myth. The aim of this paper is to trace the ways Marvellian pastoral personae cope with the wonder of Death by digesting the unfamiliar into the conventional and the aesthetic.
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