two andys


See how he nak’d and fierce does stand,
Cuffing the thunder with one hand,
While with the other he does lock,
And grapple, with the stubborn rock:
From which he with each wave rebounds,
Torn into flames, and ragg’d with wounds,
And all he says, a lover dressed
In his own blood does relish best.

This is the only banneret
That ever Love created yet:
Who though, by the malignant stars,
Forcèd to live in storms and wars,
Yet dying leaves a perfume here,
And music within every ear:
And he in story only rules,
In a field sable a lover gules.

These closing stanzas of Andrew Marvell’s “The Unfortunate Lover” are among the most beautiful and chilling in English poetry. As the anonymous lover thrashes through his furious death and transformation into a gorgeous, grotesque work of art (In a field sable a lover gules might be paraphrased as “On a black field, a red lover”), Marvell too transforms his perception, from empathy and engagement into something like connoisseurship. I’ve come to think of “The Unfortunate Lover,” alongside a handful of other Marvell poems, as recasting in elegantly rhymed and discordant words Andy Warhol’s “Death and Disaster” paintings: those astonishing orange, pink, blue, red, and lavender canvases of suicides, car crashes, race riots, and electric chairs. In a field sable a lover gules even suggests a fancy alternative designation for, say, Deaths on Red (1962) or Red Disaster (1963), and Marvell’s invocations of Death (“Yet dying leaves a perfume here”) and Disaster (“malignant stars”) suggest the series title itself.

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