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O do not run too fast, for I will but bespeak thy grave, and die

– Andrew Marvell in The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Fawn

Is the Nymph addressing the fawn here, saying "I will bear witness to your grave and die along with you"? I feel like there's a few subtleties in this line I'm missing (the "but" in there for eg.), it'd be great to have them explained.

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In short, the narrator is saying

You (the little deer) have just died and gone to paradise. I know you are playing there and ready to run off to your eternal enjoyment -- but hold on a moment -- don't run too far ahead of me: just let me order your grave to honor you, then I'll die as well and join you in the afterlife.

This is possibly confusing for a couple of reasons (outside normal poetic license and archaic language). In particular, "to bespeak thy grave" is to "order a grave for you"; that is "purchase your plot and commission your tombstone or monument".

The following stanza makes this a bit clearer:

First my unhappy statue shall

Be cut in marble, and withal

Let it be weeping too; but there

Th’ engraver sure his art may spare,

For I so truly thee bemoan

That I shall weep though I be stone;

Until my tears, still dropping, wear

My breast, themselves engraving there.

There at my feet shalt thou be laid,

Of purest alabaster made;

For I would have thine image be

White as I can, though not as thee.

That is, "I'm going to order a monument to be placed over your grave; it will be a statue of me, weeping, and standing over your body, carved in alabaster, dead at my feet; but neither my image's tears nor your image's whiteness will do justice to the real thing (my sadness or your purity)."

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    A good answer, apart from “gone to heaven”. The poet in fact says: "Now my sweet fawn is vanish’d to/ Whither the swans and turtles go,/ In fair Elysium to endure/ With milk-white lambs and ermines pure." Elysium is part of the (pagan) underworld. Animals are not (I think) admitted to (the Christian) heaven.
    – fdb
    Aug 20, 2014 at 13:11
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    In high poetry, Elysium is a common metaphor for Heaven, as it is here. You know the author doesn't mean the pagan concept (which, btw, was not restricted to animals) because If they were distinct (one paradise for humans, another for animals), it would not be possible for the narrator to join the fawn in the afterlife. (Not to mention that expressing a sincere belief in a pagan concept would be considered heresy in a very Christian era.)
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 20, 2014 at 13:23
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    This poem is full of overtly pagan imagery. In the line just before these one the poet mentions "Diana's shrine".
    – fdb
    Aug 20, 2014 at 13:26
  • Yes, pagan imagery: metaphor.
    – Dan Bron
    Aug 20, 2014 at 13:26
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    IMHO it doesn't matter whether or not the author meant the pagan Elysium literally - for a layman summary like this, "heaven" is a good enough word to use to mean "afterlife place where good beings supposedly go". It doesn't have to exclusively refer to Christian heaven and be subject to its restrictions. Thanks for the answer @DanBron, I'll accept it now.
    – Sundar R
    Aug 20, 2014 at 14:06

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