Most of Andrew Marvell’s poetry was not published during his lifetime, due to political controversy and the popular tradition of manuscript circulation. Poets in 17th century England often refused to print and publish their work as sign of social exclusivity, or to avoid unfounded rumors and steer clear of legal persecution. In Marvell's case, the lack of official publication has made it difficult for scholars and historians to ascertain the authorship of some of his poems. The first Folio edition of Andrew Marvell’s poetry was not published until 1681, three years after his death. It was based on a collection of papers held by his wife, Mary, but Marvell himself never officially approved their publication.
Nearly 100 years later, a more thorough collection of Marvell's poetry and prose was published. Its content came from manuscripts belonging to the descendants of William Popple, Marvell's nephew and close friend. The Popple manuscript and Mary Marvell's collection are the major sources for all subsequent printed anthologies of Marvell’s work.
Marvell is often associated with the 17th century school of English metaphysical poets, which also includes John Donne, George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Robert Southwell and Richard Crashaw, among others. Scholars and historians define these writers' style by their elaborate and often outlandish metaphorical constructs, or “conceits,” such as Marvell’s extended poetic comparison of the human soul to a drop of dew. In some cases, conservative critics have accused the metaphysical poets of bad taste, impropriety, and sacrilege for using images of bodily desire, physical pleasure, and sensuality to convey theological or sacred themes.
Marvell was also known as a charged political writer, and many of his poems – such as "An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return to England" – illustrate his strong belief in Republican government and principles that opposed absolute monarchy.
Marvell’s poetry was not fully appreciated until the 20th century, when T.S. Eliot renewed critical interest in his work. Eliot published essays about the metaphysical poets, Marvell in particular, arguing for a renewed appreciation of their highly intellectual style. Eliot praised Marvell's elaborate poetic techniques, which he believed earlier generations of critics had wrongfully dismissed.