The speaker in the poem is a lovelorn Mower who sings about his passion and the frustrations it causes. He begins by saying that his mind was “once the true survey” of the meadows that he mows, and that his hope was once reflected by the “greenness of the grass.” Then Juliana came along, and just as the mower cuts down the grass, he says, she cuts down his “thoughts and me.” Juliana has distracted the Mower, who watches his fields grow “more luxuriant still and fine” to the point that flowers begin to spring up amongst the blades of grass.
The Mower addresses the meadows angrily, asking how they can grow so well when the Mower, their old faithful friend, lies “trodden under feet." The Mower then threatens to take revenge on the meadows by cutting them all down so they “Will in one common ruin fall.” In the final stanza, after making this threat, the Mower tells the meadows that they shall now become the “heraldry…With which I shall adorn my tomb.”
This poem is the fourth, and final, entry in Marvell’s Mower Series. “The Mower’s Song” is Marvell’s variation on the Dirge form, which is a traditional mournful lament for the dead. Hence, Marvell’s fourth poem in the Mower Series contains images of winter, and the Mower’s relationship to the meadows explores his downfall and imagined entombment as a consequence of his unrequited love for Juliana.
In “The Mower’s Song,” Marvell employs familiar tropes of pastoral poetry, in particular the strong affiliations between the speaker’s mood and his natural environment. The poem is divided into five stanzas, each composed of three rhyming couplets of iambic tetrameter. The final couplet of each stanza is a refrain, which repeats the same two lines with some slight modifications.
The connection between the Mower and nature is strikingly evident in the first stanza, in which the Mower remembers a time when his mind perfectly reflected the beauty and greenness of the grass he mows. The speaker states that his “mind was once the true survey / Of all these meadows fresh and gay,” and that in the “greenness of the grass," the Mower's mind once saw its own “hopes as in a glass.” The speaker constructs the elaborate metaphor of a natural mirror that perfectly reflects his mental disposition.
This is an image of harmony and accord between the Mower and his meadows, but the poem goes on to slowly destabilize this harmony through a series of images depicting discord. Marvell emphasizes this process through the repetition of the couplet that concludes each stanza – “When Juliana came, and she / What I do to the grass, does to my thoughts and me.”
The first time the poem suggests the Mower’s growing alienation from his meadows is in stanza two, when the Mower claims that while he pines away with sorrow, he watches the meadows grow more “luxuriant” and “fine.” His emotional condition is marred by decay and ruin, but the Mower expresses sadness at the fact that his meadows can still grow flowers and became increasingly vibrant while he suffers. This situation is a total reversal of the harmony that the Mower recalls in stanza one.
In stanza three, the Mower goes on to bitterly accuse the meadows of forgoing the fellowship they once shared. He calls them “unthankful” for celebrating in “gaudy May-games” while the Mower lies "trodden under feet.” The image of the Mower's emotions being trodden under Juliana’s feet places him in a position akin to the blades of grass that he trims and treads upon. While the Mower asserts that the harmony between his mind and the meadows has disappeared, in another perspective, he is now in the same position that the meadows have always occupied beneath his scythe.
The Mower continues to express his anger and threatens to take revenge upon the meadows for betraying him. In stanza four, he claims that he will ruthlessly cut down every flower and blade of grass he encounters, razing the meadows' beauty so they will resemble the Mower's own downtrodden condition. He concludes the poem with a lament for the meadows that were once “Companions of [his] thoughts more green,” but which he shall now chop down. This image suggests that the Mower is forcing the meadows to reflect his own mind, since it is not occurring naturally.
Now the greenery of nature will be forced to mourn the Mower’s death, as he imagines the grass regrowing and becoming the heraldry for his tomb. However, the poem suggests that the Mower's desire for Juliana has slowly driven him into violent madness, as evidenced by his desire for revenge against the meadows and the apocalyptic sensibility that leads him further and further away from peaceful harmony with nature.