Andrew Marvell – “Upon Appleton House” (ctd.)

From the garden the poet goes to the surrounding meadows, but the shadows of the war reach there, too. It begins innocently enough, with the people compared to grasshoppers (echoing the biblical Book of Numbers) and to the Israelites walking through the Red Sea, but soon the tone becomes darker when one of the mowers kills accidentally a “rail” (land rail, a field bird) and looking regretfully at the bloodied scythe sees in it the premonition of his own death. But there is no time for mourning, because one of the women following the mowers (like the camp followers of the army) snatches the bird to eat it later and again recalls the Bible, where the Israelites were fed by God with quails and manna, and they are fed by rails and dew. The mowed field is now compared to a battlefield, strewn with hay instead of bodies, where workers collecting hay and putting it in haycocks are compared to the pillagers. The mowers and other field workers play and dance like soldiers after the won battle, but again death images appear when the haycocks are compared to pyramids or prehistoric barrows. But the scene changes more quickly than in any theatre – now the meadow is empty like tabula rasa or unpainted canvas. On this flat on which the Levellers could model themselves (a group of the Levellers, or the Diggers, have just taken over one of the fields belonging to Fairfax in an early attempt at turning the private property into the communal) now the villagers graze their cattle. The cows moving through the meadow seem like fleas under the magnifying glass. And once the grazing is over, an estate at Denton, several miles up the river, opens the cataract and floods the whole meadow, which becomes this topsy-turvy worlds: boats can sail over bridges, fishes jump over the stables and horses kick at leeches, which according to the popular superstition were born of horses’ hairs that fell into the water.

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