Anthony J. Funari
I am currently a doctoral student at Lehigh University and in May will have finished my dissertation, entitled Challenging the Scientific Mind: The Poetic Resistance to Bacon’s Grand Instauration. My thesis examines the poetry of John Donne, Andrew Marvell, and John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, as a site from which is launched a meaningful critique of Francis Bacon’s scientific program. My research interests include depictions of the natural in seventeenth-century poetry and prose, the rise of the city in Jacobean drama, and ecofeminist criticism.
This article examines the relevance that Francis Bacon’s call for humanity to engage in a (re)productive relationship with Nature has for Andrew Marvell’s “The Mower’s Song.” Rather than viewing Damon’s realization of his isolation from the meadows as solely due to his emerging sexual feeling for Juliana, this article complicates the Mower’s plight by arguing that Damon experiences a tropological shift in how he characterizes Nature. While in “Damon, the Mower” sexuality appears alien to the natural world, Damon comes to recognize Nature as a sexual entity through his depiction of the grass’s growth as “luxuriant” and the meadows as a participant in a May-game festivity. The transition that Damon experience parallels that which Bacon demands for the sciences. For Bacon, the restoration of humanity’s Edenic mastery begins with treating Nature as any woman subject to masculine domination. However, in perceiving Nature through Bacon’s terms, Marvell’s protagonist does not discover a path to back Paradise but reenacts the Fall. On this basis, Marvell problematizes the tropological foundation on which Bacon rests the new science.
“Companions of My Thoughts More Green”: Damon’s Baconian Sexing of Nature In his essay “Of Youth and Age,” Bacon expresses anxiety over the youthful mind, which he finds to be impetuous, prone to flights of fancy, and possessing a vitality that must be checked: “And yet the invention of young men is more lively than that of old, and imaginations stream into their minds better, and as it were more divinely. Natures that have much heat, and great and violent desires and perturbations, are not ripe for action till they have passed the meridian of their years.” i The danger of the young mind, for Bacon, lies in its susceptibility to the imagination, which provokes the intellect into rashly latching onto its initial thoughts as opposed to subjecting them to sober scrutiny. Bacon appears much concerned over this period in one’s intellectual development: though energetic, without the proper guidance and temperance, the youthful mind may fail to act productively. The intellect in this early stage will move hastily, supposing too much from its preliminary impressions: Young men, in conduct and [management] of actions, embrace more than they can hold; stir more than they can quiet; fly to the end, without consideration of the means and degrees; pursue some few principles which they have chanced upon absurdly…and, that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them; like an unready horse that will neither stop nor turn.ii Here the quintessential aspects of the young mind, as Bacon portrays it, are the lack of order in its thought processes and sense of egotism in its disregard for contrary evidence. Yet, as readers of Bacon’s Essays are aware, the essays themselves do not offer an unequivocal stance on a topic but rather demonstrate Bacon’s own unstructured mental explorations. Bacon goes as far as to contradict his opening assessment of the young mind; in citing Joel 2.28 (“Your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”), Bacon posits the notion that the youthful mind itself should be privileged in its being closer to God than the old. Consequently, the mature mind is corrupted through its trafficking in the world of human thought: “And...
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