THE TORTOISE IN ANDREW MARVELL’s “Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax” (1652) is a highly perplexing metaphor that appears twice, framing the poem’s ninety-seven octosyllabic stanzas.1 The initial suggestion that “Beasts [. . .] Birds [. . .] [and] Tortoises” (11–13) inhabit spaces best suited to their anatomies creates a lacuna in the poem, which some scholars have interpreted as a critique of Appleton House.2 Is the Fairfacian dwelling, standing in Brobdingnagian scale against the backdrop of the tortoise shell, unbefitting of its owner, Marvell’s patron, Lord General Thomas Fairfax (1612–1671)? Or does the poet revere the scale and proportion of Appleton House and praise it axiomatically, through a theory of architecture articulated in the maxim: “Their Bodies measure out their Place” (16)? I argue the latter case and propose that the shared geometries of architecture and anatomy converge in the source of the tortoise metaphor: Vitruvius’s De architectura (ca. 15 BCE).
South Central Review
Goldblatt, Dylan, "The Vitruvian Source of Marvell’s Tortoise in “Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax"" (2019). Faculty Publications. 4580.