Soul’s Story: The Use of Conceit in Marvell’s “On a Drop of Dew”

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Poetry is a craft of near-paradox. Poets often say that they aim to encase the abstract within the concrete, describe without adjectives or adverbs, and expound upon concepts with the utmost concision. To meet these formidable challenges, they keep several important literary devices at their disposal, one of which is the conceit. Commonly defined as an elaborately extended metaphor, the conceit often allows poets to capture complicated ideas through comparison with images closer to readers’ everyday experiences. If the concept that the poet wishes to illustrate comes from the theological or philosophical fields, figurative language like the conceit can rescue the poet from didacticism as well as opacity. “On a Drop of Dew,” a short…show more content…
Even in the second half of the poem, Marvell constructs every description of the soul to correspond with images of the dewdrop, thus rooting his story in the concrete and avoiding the overuse of abstract, sermon-like diction. In writing that the soul “[d]oes, in its pure and circling thoughts, express/The greater heaven in an heaven less” (25 – 26), Marvell plays on the word “circling” to recall his earlier description of the way the drop contains a piece of the sky in its round bead. This clever manipulation of words and images reinforces the concept of the soul’s retreat from the body as it attempts to avoid the corrupting influences of the flesh and to reestablish communion with the heavens. Further observations about the soul in the second half continually hearken back to parallel observations about the dewdrop. Declaring the soul “[d]ark beneath, but bright above:/Here disdaining, there in love,” Marvell connects the dark urges of the sinful body with the darkness of the flower petal beneath the dewdrop, the glories of heaven with the brightness of refracted sky-light (31 – 32). By anchoring every description in the concrete, Marvell removes much of the mystery surrounding the concept of the soul and replaces it with a graceful portrayal of yearning.
Marvell’s conceit involves several subordinate metaphors that help him relate

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