The Character of Holland

Original Text: 
Andrew Marvell, Miscellaneous Poems, ed. Mary Marvell (1681); facs. edn. (Scolar Press, 1969). PR 3546 A11681A Robarts Library
2As but th' off-scouring of the British sand;
3And so much earth as was contributed
4By English pilots when they heav'd the lead;
6Of shipwrack'd cockle and the mussel-shell;
7This indigested vomit of the sea
8Fell to the Dutch by just propriety.
9Glad then, as miners that have found the ore,
10They with mad labour fish'd the land to shore;
11And div'd as desperately for each piece
12Of earth, as if't had been of ambergris;
13Collecting anxiously small loads of clay,
14Less than what building swallows bear away;
15Or than those pills which sordid beetles roll,
16Transfusing into them their dunghill soul.
17How did they rivet, with gigantic piles,
18Thorough the centre their new-catched miles;
19And to the stake a struggling country bound,
20Where barking waves still bait the forced ground;
21Building their watry Babel far more high
22To reach the sea, than those to scale the sky.
23Yet still his claim the injur'd ocean laid,
24And oft at leap-frog ore their steeples play'd:
25As if on purpose it on land had come
27A daily deluge over them does boil;
29The fish oft-times the burgher dispossest,
30And sat not as a meat but as a guest;
31And oft the Tritons and the sea-nymphs saw
33Or as they over the new level rang'd
34For pickled herring, pickled heeren chang'd.
35Nature, it seem'd, asham'd of her mistake,
36Would throw their land away at duck and drake.


1] Although first published as a whole in Miscellaneous Poems (1681), lines 1-100 are to be found in the Harleian Miscellany, V, 613 (1665); Margoliouth suggests that it was written early in 1653. Back to Line
5] alluvion: formation of new land by the water's action. Back to Line
26] Mare Liberum: the title of a book by Grotius (1609), refuting the Portuguese claim to private possession of Eastern waters. Back to Line
28] Level-coyl: a game in which the losing player is unseated and succeeded by another player. Back to Line
32] Cabillau: cod-fish (French cabillaud). Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
N. J. Endicott
RPO Edition: 
2RP 1.467.