The speaker in the poem is a Mower addressing the glowworms surrounding him on a summer night. He begins by invoking the glowworms as “living lamps” who provide light to the nightingale while she sings. Then, the Mower compares the glowworms to “country comets” whose appearance does not forecast an alarming event, such as war or the death of a prince. Instead, the glowworms simply predict the fall of the grass that will come. The speaker then praises the glowworms for offering light that helps lost Mowers find their way. The poem concludes with the speaker lamenting that the glowworms actually “waste” their “courteous light,” because Juliana, the Mower’s beloved, has caused him to completely “displace” his mind and now he can never again find his way home.
This is the third of Marvell’s four “Mower” poems and is set in a field on a fall evening. The only speaker in the poem is a Mower, who surveys the fields as the sun goes down and addresses the glowworms that begin to light up the night. The poem is divided into four stanzas. Each stanza is composed of four lines of iambic tetrameter in an alternating rhyme scheme of ABAB, CDCD, and so forth.
The poem begins with the Mower calling the glowworms “living lamps,” an image that connects natural light to artificial light. In Marvell's time, the word “lamps” referred to man-made torches or lanterns that held burning candles. The fact that these “lamps” occur in Nature, however, gives them elevated status, suggesting that the light from these living beings attains a level of perfection that human artifice and ingenuity cannot yet reproduce on its own.
The Mower deepens the association between the natural and the artificial in the next stanza when he calls the glowworms “country comets.” During the Renaissance, as in the classical world, comets were widely understood to foretell weighty events, ranging from natural disasters to political upheaval. In Marvell's poem, however, the speaker calls up these associations only to subordinate them to the glowworms' lovely simplicity. They are bucolic “comets” whose shining presence suggests nothing more than the simple “grass’ fall,” which refers to the inevitable cycles of Nature such as day and night, the four seasons, and the eventual decay of all life.
The speaker continues to praise the glowworms by recognizing their grounding influence as lights that mark the way for Mowers who get lost in the fields at night. However, the Mower’s phrase “foolish fires” is ambiguous. It may refer to the phosphorescent lights that appear near marshes, or it may refer to the fires of passion that characterize unrequited love. The image thus enfolds the natural environment with the emotions of the Mower, and we begin to see a suggestion of the Mower’s alienation from the glowworms and the natural world at large.
In the final stanza, Marvell makes this alienation explicit when the Mower tells the glowworms that their “courteous lights” are wasted on him. No matter how brightly the glowworms shine, they can never light a clear path that would take Mower back to his ideal condition of happiness in the fields, which is his natural environment and home.