The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn

The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn is one of the pastoral poems that were written by Andrew Marvel. It is written in a form of dramatic monologuing that is interactively spoken by the nymph who laments for the cruel death of her fawn. This poem was written in its historical context where there were devastation and pain. The pain was caused by the English Civil War. It is clear from the onset of this poem, that, either, the civil war was still going on or it had just been completed. This is depicted when the poet talks about “The wanton troopers” who were the soldiers from one of the armies. These soldiers are ‘wanton’ because of the damages and needless deaths which they have caused to the civil population as the writer notes in lines one through two “…riding by have shot my fawn, and it will die” (Marvel 1). It is this killing of fawn which becomes the metonymic aspect of this poem that represents grief emanating from the needless destruction caused by the military.

More significantly, nymph, as depicted in the poem, represents an actual girl that the writer Marvel knew and whose pet deer was killed by the soldiers. In doing so, Marvel has come up with a pastoral setting of the poem that dramatizes the situation of nymph especially through protesting the violence being caused by the soldiers. It is in this regard that this essay discusses the dangers of military training on civilian life as depicted in the poem.

Andrew Marvel’s poem is a puzzling work that is unclear in its purpose as it denotes poet’s tendency of presenting ambiguous symbols and unresolved conflict within the work. However, in this particular poem, it represents the innocent symbolized by the fawn and an outcry against the injustices of men (soldiers) and patriarchy as being lamented by the nymph. From the beginning of the poem and throughout, there is the present description of the fawn’s murder through a symmetrical structure that offers immediate and tangible grief of the poem. But the strange thing about this grief is that the military soldiers, who were to protect the interest of the civilians, were the ones who started killing them. This is depicted in the line three when the nymph shows some rebellion against the “ungentle” and “unconstant” heart of men who killed fawn (Marvel 1). Though this poem is labeled as a complaint, it brings out a concern about the military that causes death and loss of the citizens. The poem also calls for changes.

Generally, it can be agreed that The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn is a pastoral complaint of how the idealized world has become the “wanton troopers” who even threaten to destroy it together with the civil population in it. This is clearly depicted in the sequence in which events have been imaged to have occurred in the poem as illustrated by the poet. In the episode III, lines 1-24, the “wanton troopers” shoot the fawn that lies bleeding to death before nymph as she continuously questions the nature of such men (soldiers) and the heinousness of their acts. For instance, in the line three it is said, “Ungentle men! They cannot thrive who killed thee. Thou ne’er didst alive” (Marvel 1). Nymph makes out this prayer “But, if my simple prayer may yet prevail with heaven to forget”, and it is a show of lamentation that the civilian were undergoing through devastating actions of the military during the civil war.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, wanton when applied interactively to action implies “lawless or violent” (The Oxford English Dictionary). It is this act of violence and unrestraint in the beginning of the poem that nymphs portrays men (soldiers) who are driven by no reason to kill an innocent as, “alas, nor cloud/Thy death yet do them any good” (Marvel 5-6). The “lilies without roses” within the poem indicate how the world of men is one that is more violent and full of injury but not for sexual lure. When Marvel states that “I’m sure I never wished them ill, nor do I fall all this, nor will” (7-8), he presents nymphs as being sympathetic or forgiving. This is an aspect of juxtaposition that denotes an intention of claiming that murderous men (soldiers) at the first stanza have committed a crime they cannot be forgiven of while on the other hand denying any feeling of ill will. In essence, it is a depiction of the cruelty of the act of soldiers inflicted “wounds” on the civilian population. This is the act of which even if they try to forget would not be so easy.

In the contemporary setting, this poem seems to idealize the manner in which the current military training and actions threaten the civilians’ life. Even though the 1977 Protocol on ‘the protection of victims of international armed conflict’ establishes protection against civilian population, most innocent people are still either killed or injured. According to Article 51, “the civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations” (ICRC 1).  It means that any innocent civilian should be the object of the attack and any act or threats of violence are to be allowed among the civilians. This is the point from which nymph’s complaint can be viewed. “Even beast must be with justice slain” (Marvel line 16). It is this kind of injustice that nymphs believe that the one could not even be punished by the world but rather by the heaven because it was against the civil rights. “There is not such another in the world to offer for their sin” (Marvel line 24-25).

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On the other hand, by nymphs rhetorically marking Sylvio as “unconstant” in her introduction, the poem establishes the transformative manner in which military training normally affects how those people find difficulty in transition from military to civilian life. Nymph’s explanation of Sylvio’s false behavior is more of sarcastic, uncharacteristic and self-depreciating. It is even cynical especially by connecting Sylvio’s gift with his future betrayal. Her reprisal of her relationship with Sylvio, even though brief, it is important in the understanding of lack of a conspicuous passion and emotion associated with military men.

For instance, Sylvio gives the fawn as a gift to nymphs but says that “huntsman here Hath taught a fawn to hunt his dear” (Marvel line32). The fawn is described in the poem as a wild much like Sylvio and the troopers soon become tamed and “light of foot and heart” (Marvel line 42). Later, the fawn begins to embody the nymph thereby indirectly forcing her to love it, “It seemed to bless… itself in me… unkind t’ a beast that loveth me” (Marvel lines 36-43). However, the relationship between the nymph and the fawn is a show of nymph’s rebellion which has allowed her to take action against the “love of false and cruel men” (Marvel line 54). This in turn transforms the fawn from the wild hunter it was to the innocent and sensual creature.

However, the above transformation is different especially based on the contemporary military training that soldiers undergo. Instead of the military training allowing soldiers to find ease in transiting from military to civilian life, unlike the fawn, returning officers are not soft and sensual. More significantly, military training only makes them to become more wild hunters who are cruel in their actions. It is notable that military service is not only difficult, but demanding and dangerous as well. However, men and women who have undergone military training and served as armed forces normally find it challenging when returning to civilian life. In the research conducted by Pew Research Center which surveyed 1,853 of returning soldiers, 56% veterans said that they had ease in readjusting to civilian life wile 44% were experiencing difficulties (Morin 1). However, the reason behind this difference was that those officers who had graduated from college before military training had easy time to readjust to their post-military life than the enlisted officers who had high school graduates (Morin 1). I therefore propose that in order to solve this problem of post-military life, there is a need to ensure that all the enlisted personnel have proper education with good management skills and capabilities.

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Significantly, on the concern raised in the poem about the violence against civilian, military training should be devised in a manner that tames the armed forces to become soft to the civilian population while engaging in war. There should be congruency between military training and justice or civil rights as was demonstrated by the relationship between the nymph and the fawn. This can be achieved if the military training clearly enables soldiers to understand the principle distinction between the civilians and the combatants and moreover articulates the legal obligation of combats. In doing so, the soldiers will be able to have the ability to recognize civilians and civilian objects especially during the war or conflict.


In conclusion, even though, Andrew Marvel’s poem The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn incorporates ambiguous symbols that denote unresolved conflict in cry for justice, it helps in understanding the importance of good military training. It is noted that without essential military training, the armed officers will continue to harm the world which they are suppose to protect and even affect their change while returning to civilian life. As nymph’s action, military training should tame armed forces to be soft to the civilians even during the war times.

Works Cited

International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Protection of the civilian population. 2012. Web. Retrieved 6 May, 2013

Marvell, Andrew. “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn”.  The Norton Anthology of English Literature the Sixteenth Century; the Early Seventeenth Century . By Stephen Greenblatt and M. H. Abrams. New York: W.W. Norton, 2006. 1700-702. Print.

Morin, Rich. The Difficult Transition from Military to Civilian Life. 8 December, 2011. Web. Retrieved 6 May, 2013

“Wanton.” Oxford English Dictionary. 2013. n. pag. Oxford English Dictionary. Web. Retrieved 6 May, 2013

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