There are two voices in this poem: the anonymous speaker, and Damon himself. The speaker opens the poem by introducing Damon the Mower, who is singing about his love for Juliana. The surrounding setting reflects aspects of Damon's lovelorn state – the day is fair like Juliana’s eyes, but the heat also scorches Damon “like his am’rous care.” His scythe is sharp like his sorrow, and his hopes are withered like the grass.
Damon then begins to sing his song, remarking upon the “unusual heats” that have made the grasshoppers and frogs seek shade. Only the snake remains in the sun, and “now glitters in its second skin.” Damon describes the heat as too intense to result from only the sun and the stars. Because this heat burns both the fields and the mower, makes dogs mad, and causes the sun itself to be hotter than it should, it can only be coming from “Juliana’s scorching beams.”
Damon wonders where he might pass the day and his “hot desires,” looking to escape into a “cool cave” or a fountain. He finds no respite, and laments that the only moisture comes from his tears, and the only “cold” emanates from Juliana’s icy breast. Damon makes a rhetorical plea to the absent Juliana, wondering why she remains ungrateful to him even though he has plied her with gifts. He has given her a snake whose teeth and sting have been removed, chameleons that change color, and leaves of oak dipped in honeydew.
Damon then breaks from his lament to construct an image of himself as the powerful Mower: he is known through “all the meadows” he he mows and shines equally in the morning dew, the afternoon sun, and the evening shade. Damon then comments that he is superior to the shepherds that tend to their flocks, claiming that his scythe covers more ground than their sheep, and comparing the hay he shears to the mythical golden fleece. Even the “deathless faeries” value Damon’s song and dance around him in admiration. Damon next wonders if he might have continued to be happy and content had he not fallen in love with Juliana. Now, he spends his days laboring, feeling the additional burden of a lover’s pain. Even though he cuts down the grass, his “grief is where it was.” When his blade dulls, he stops to sharpen it along with his woes.
At this point in the poem, Damon falls silent and the speaker returns, describing Damon going about his work. As Damon cuts the hay, the edge of his scythe “by careless chance” cuts into his “own ankle” and Damon falls down upon the grass: “By his own scythe, the mower mown.” Lying wounded upon the ground, Damon speaks again. He says that his “hurts are slight” compared to the wounds he has suffered from unrequited love. Two curative plants – “shepherd’s purse” and “clown’s-all-heal” – will help him staunch his physical wounds and recover from the accident. However, Damon laments that “no cure is found” for the wounds inflicted by Juliana’s eyes. Only Death can end this hurt, since Death is also a Mower.
‘Damon the Mower’ is the second of Marvell’s four Mower Poems, and it tells the tale of a Mower, now named Damon, facing the intense heat of a summer day. The poem is composed of eleven stanzas, each of which contains four rhymed couplets of iambic tetrameter.
Marvell draws a close parallel between Damon’s emotional temperament and the surrounding heat, which he establishes through a series of comparisons between the physical environment and Damon’s lovelorn state. Damon's love for Juliana scorches him like the sun scorches the earth, his sorrow’s sharpness is comparable to his scythe, and his hopes are withered like the dead grass he cuts. The speaker thus provides an outline, or frame, for the scene, which Damon then fills with his own song. Damon begins by commenting on the heat’s unnatural intensity, marked by the retreat of the animals and insects that typically surround him during his work. The image of the snake, which has shed its skin and now glitters in the sun, suggests that Damon the Mower is a second incarnation of the Mower figure, now emerging in a slightly different form than Marvell’s first Mower poem.
Damon’s tone is sad and plaintive as he imagines the ways in which the abnormal heat is transforming his environment. He recognizes that the intensity of the weather cannot simply be due to the fire of the sun or the stars. It is clear to Damon that the passionate burning he feels both outside and within himself is the result of Juliana’s “scorching beams,” which represent his beloved’s gaze. As the Mower, Marvell links Damon closely to his natural environment and his agrarian work.
However, Damon's infatuation with Juliana has disturbed this otherwise ideal relationship, and Damon feels that he must now retreat from his working environment. His desire to find a “cool cave” or a “gelid fountain” is a classical poetic trope known as a locus amoenus, or “pleasant place” of comfort and shaded security. Damon cannot find a place of such comfort, though, because he carries the scorching heat of passion with him wherever he goes. He laments the power that Juliana, the “fair shepherdess,” exerts over him, despite his attempts to win her favor with gifts such as “oak leaves tipped with honey dew” that reinforce his status as a masterful worker of nature.
After this lament, Damon’s tone shifts to a more heroic self-construction as the champion Mower. He defines himself as a powerful agrarian, renowned for all the fields he mows from sunup to sundown. The constant moisture upon his skin – the morning dew, the afternoon sweat, and the evening shade – recalls and rectifies Damon’s earlier complaint that “No moisture but my tears do rest.” These images assert Damon's role as the competent Mower and serve as a means of grounding his identity and guarding against the disarming effects of Juliana’s gaze.
Damon goes on to affirm his superiority over the shepherds, who are traditional figures of praise in pastoral poetry. Damon insists that his connection to Nature is superior to that of the shepherds', because his scythe brings him closer to the earth and the “richness” of its hay. Moreover, Damon informs his audience that mythical faeries dance around him when he sings, thereby confirming his symbolic status as an agrarian hero of the natural world.
Despite these assertions, however, Damon remains troubled by his love for Juliana. He attempts to throw himself into his work with confidence, but realizes that he may never feel the happiness he once did. As his scythe cuts down the grass, its blade grows dull, but when he pauses to sharpen it, he finds that his woes grow sharper as well. The unrequited passion distracts Damon from his task, and in a moment of “careless chance,” the blade cuts into his ankle. This image defines the absolute limit of the poem’s many connections between Damon and his environment – now his body has literally become the grass that he cuts, and he tumbles to the ground, “the mower mown.” Yet Damon asserts that these physical wounds will heal with the help of medicinal plants. The poem concludes with the assertion that only Death shall bring an end to Damon's deepest suffering, which ties Damon’s role as the Mower to the mythical figure who is the Mower, or Reaper, of all life.