To His Coy Mistress
Image of Woman in a Poem to His Coy Mistress
During the 17th century, women were seen as an object rather than a human being and men had many desires for women. For example, women were expected to keep her dignity, wait for courtship, and marry a suitable suitor before succumbing to the flesh’s pleasures. In the poem “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, the author portrays the male of the seventeenth century’s impatience and anger, ready to convince his lady to take advantage of her youthful beauty. The speaker utilizes visual imagery to convey his tone and intention by using point of view in an attempt to demonstrate his love and in a voice that is as urgent as it is both compelling and sensual, to lure his mistress to carnal delights.
Marvell portrays his poem by convincing his love towards his lady through the use of visual imagery.It states “And your quaint honour turn to dust, and into ashes all my lust”. This evidence indicates that Marvell is referring to his lady’s honour turning to dust and then into ashes. This contributes to the poem by showing the love he has towards his lady and that they should be together because they won’t be young forever and should take advantage of it while they can and that should show their love for one another, because one day, it may be too late. It also states “Now therefore, while the youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew and while thy willing soul transpires at every pore with instant fires”. This evidence conveys that the lady soul breathes out in ‘instant flames’ of enthusiasm and passion for love through her beautiful skin. The author now wants his mistress to give in to her desire as she can still respond before time takes her toll. Marvell declares his core argument for his lover that she must decide to have sex with him and to make use of the time together wisely.
In conclusion, Marvell tries to make himself seem reasonable by saying that he is going to wait for his woman, but ultimately he just looks at her as an object and wants her to live up to his lustful desires and have sex with him. The woman’s concern for her appearance, her vanity, is the device that the author is attempting to use to threaten her with the passage of time. His first flattery of her beauty is abstract, without any description.He expresses this through the use of visual imagery to express his tone and purpose in an attempt to demonstrate his desire and love to his lady.
The Portrayal of Women in to His Coy Mistress and Damon the Mower, Two Poems by Andrew Marvell
A woman’s agency is not something that is given lightly by the male authors who dominate the poetry we’ve read thus far in class. The portrayed women are individualized solely by the male’s attempt to court her; she is defined by the complaints against her and ultimately characterized as a difficult and pain-causing creature. In two poems by Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress” and “Damon the Mower,” both narrators hold distinctly different approaches to the object of their desire. This raises questions regarding the difference of women in Marvell’s poems—are the women characteristically different in the poems because they themselves are distinct individuals, or are the men simply employing different techniques to reach a common goal? Considerations of these questions suggest that the agency of women in Marvell’s poetry is limited by the landscape that he constructs them against—for example, the emphasis to the addressee in “To His Coy Mistress” is primarily on the inevitability of her beauty’s decline whilst the woman in “Damon the Mower” reigns as the unconquerable beauty of a landscape he cannot architect. Thus, although each poem features beauty as the woman’s primary appeal, varying levels in the women’s agency appears due to the difference in approach that each speaker takes in his address.
There is a striking contrast in tone between Marvell’s poems. “To His Coy Mistress” practices a restrained, educated tone to impress the speaker’s physical desire for the woman. We understand his desire to be predominantly physical because of the arguments he employs: he focuses on her current beauty and hints ominously at its imminent decline to weaken her moral resolve against him: “Thy beauty shall no more be found/Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound/My echoing song” (lines 25-27). By appealing to her vanity, the speaker is simultaneously reasserting his dominance as a male and inviting her to accept him as worthy of her attentions. During this time, courtship was an opportunity for a woman to prove her chastity, regardless of the intentions of the man. The presence of the “courtier” voice used by the speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” represents his desires as socially acceptable even as he attempts to coax the object of his desires into socially inacceptable actions.
While the speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” cultivates the confident courtier’s approach, Marvell invokes the pastoral in “Damon the Mower” to portray a much more sincere attraction. “Like her fair eyes the day was fair/But scorching like his am’rous care” (lines 5-6) The repetition of the word “fair” invites a double reading, because of the two distinct definitions the word imposes on the trifecta of Juliana, the day, and Damon. While fair most obviously implies that both the girl and the day are lovely, the latent suggestion is that the natural forces of her beauty and his desire are in conflict; as natural as it is for her to be beautiful, so too is it for him to love and want her.
Unlike the tone in “To His Coy Mistress,” “Damon the Mower” suspends its dignity in professions of love in spite of the pain of rejection. “Sharp like his scythe his sorry was/And withered like his hopes the grass” (lines 7-8). Likening his pain to his mowing tool suggests that Damon anticipates pain as a way of cultivating his love for Juliana in the same way that he cultivates the land—both his love and the grass grow heedless of her rejection and his scythe. Further, although his hopes may be shrunken and pitiful compared to what they were at the onset, “sharp like his scythe” reminds us that grass is always growing, thus, so too is his desire for Juliana. In this respect then, her role in cutting him down is as necessary as it is for him to cut the grass; her rejections are somehow maintaining his earnest desire for her in the same way that his job maintains the boundless grass.
The role of women rejecting men in Marvell’s poems introduces a determination to women’s agency that frustrates the speakers in different ways; the rejections of both women are not surprising, but it is the difference in the man’s temperament that dictates the trajectory of his desire from that initial rejection. The man in “To His Coy Mistress” utilizes his ability to articulate her feminine attractions that have caught his attention in a way that criticizes her rejection of him as a waste of herself—“For, Lady, you deserve this state/Nor would I love at lower rate/But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” (lines 19-22). Here, he declares that if it were up to him, she should never lose her present attraction and beauty, but he feels obligated to remind her that as appealing as he finds her now, even if he wanted to, Time would ensure that eventually, even he wouldn’t be able to find a physically redeeming quality in her. In doing this, however, the speaker assumes that she feels obligated to her beauty before her morals, an insinuation that is not present in “Damon the Mower.”
While both speakers in Marvell’s poems construct their desirous verses around the beauty of the woman, the superficiality of their attraction actually portrays the women as having agencies distinct from the men’s design on them. For example, although both women in the poems are rejecting the men, their manner in doing so reflects differing priorities. “And you should, if you please, refuse/Till the conversion of the Jews (lines 9-10). The addressee in “To His Coy Mistress” is clearly emphasizing her desire to remain virtuous despite his advances to her. Although he attempts to withhold granting her agency by writing on his responses to her rejections, which are never explicitly described, the continuous stream of arguments he uses implies a steadfast determination on her part to repeatedly deny him even as he rebounds with reasons she should accept him. Further, the speaker’s single-minded focus on her beauty rejects the notion that he is attracted to her on any other grounds, which causes his argument to escalate in ridiculousness and eloquence as he likens his lust to ash in the event that her beauty fades (although this argument is neatly veiled in his concern over her dying a virgin—lines 28-32).
Ironically, it seems that it is the superficiality of the speaker’s attraction to the woman in “To His Coy Mistress” that grants her agency. As determined as he is to seduce her into transgression of society’s values, she is equally as adamant in her refusal of him. Based on his repetitive, reworded sentiments, we can infer that he appeals to her vanity in the hope that her fear of declining societal value due to age outweighs her fear of being devalued in the eyes of society as immoral and unchaste. “Had we but world enough, and time/This coyness, Lady, were no crime (lines 1-2). From the very onset of this poem, the speaker seeks to rewrite the lady’s values as they have been written to her by society, making his argument so extensive because of the careful unraveling he must do to the very expectations that men such as himself impose on women they wish to marry. Though it is clear that he has no intention of marrying the addressee in his poem, he is clearly attempting to manipulate the standard in a way that convinces her to acquiesce to him—he invokes the excitement and necessity in “breaking the rule” rather than making her an exception to it.
The speaker in “Damon the Mower” is much more willing to grant the woman in his poem agency. Though it remains to be examined if his motives are truly any purer than those of the other speaker, from the very onset of the poem, the addressee wields power as an identified individual: Juliana. Although it can be argued that the speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” refrained from identifying the object of his desire by name so as to protect her, the superficiality of his attraction to her indicates no thought for her beyond his immediate desire. On the other hand, Damon’s inclusion of her name gives Juliana liberal agency from the onset of the poem. “Hark how the mower Damon sung/With love of Juliana stung! (lines 1-2). The elements at play in these two lines imply the attraction Damon feels for Juliana as far more complex than that which the speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” felt. Further, the prominence of the pastoral throughout the story serves to both naturalize his attraction to her on the grounds that he is powerless against the forces of nature as well as introduce a purity to his attractions. Nomenclature serves to enhance Juliana’s agency in a way that is impossible due to the absence of one in “To His Coy Mistress.”
Naturalizing his attraction to Juliana casts Damon in a particularly sympathetic light. Naturalizing the feelings that Juliana elicits from him also allows him to liberally metaphorize her character against the backdrop of a literal landscape, a consequence of which is that she claims a potent agency throughout the poem: “Tell me where I may pass the fires/Of the hot day, or hot desires (lines 25-26). Here, Damon’s command to Juliana is rendered a plea by the inclusion of the phrase “I may,” which requires Juliana to participate in an exchange with him to move the poem forward. We are told of a refusal on her part in his exclamation—“Alas! I look for ease in vain” (line 29)—but what makes her rejection so poignant is that even after it has happened, Damon confesses that he cannot return to his previous state, that is, he cannot rest easy, as a consequence of her rejection.
A shift in power from Damon to Juliana occurs in the presence of the snake Damon weaves into the poem—“Only the snake, that kept within/Now glitters in its second skin” (lines 15-16)—and then ties off a few lines later: “To thee the harmless snake I bring/Disarmed of its teeth and sting” (lines 35-36). Not only has Juliana successfully recognized Damon’s redoubled efforts towards her, if we read the snake as a metaphor for Damon then it is evident that Juliana also recognizes that Damon threatens her simply by virtue of his maleness, which is encapsulated by the “teeth and sting.” Essentially, Damon is much more physically powerful than her, a fact that he acknowledges and seeks to alleviate her preoccupation with by disarming the snake (himself). By straightforwardly baring his intentions, Damon furthers Juliana’s agency as holding not only the decision to cut him down, but also as a judge of his own qualities, through which he invokes potent imagery of his relationship with nature in the hope that she will concede that his desire for her is pure before it is natural.
Although women’s agency is present in both of Marvell’s poems, it is clear that it is conditionally granted. The speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” constrains the woman’s agency to the superficiality of his own attraction to her (her power of choice is, rather depressingly, between dying a virgin and allowing him to have her). In “Damon the Mower,” Damon shapes his attraction to Juliana against the sting of her rejections, a sentiment that is veiled from us in “To His Coy Mistress.” Rather than weakening Damon’s verse though, the vulnerability he displays as a product of her rejection actually serves to heighten the tension between him and Juliana. The absence of any speaker vulnerability in “To His Coy Mistress” ultimately detracts from his argument to the addressee, particularly because he emphasizes her beauty in an exploitative manner that severely limits her agency. The prominence of beauty in both of Marvell’s poems thus determines the type of agency the women possess; it is not a matter of them possessing any agency inasmuch as the approach of the speaker grants them certain levels of autonomy.
Andrew Marvell’s Representation of Tone and Symbolism as Explained in His Poem, To His Coy Mistress
Andrew Marvell wrote “To His Coy Mistress” to persuade the speaker’s mistress to quicken their relationship, while Annie Finch wrote “Coy Mistress” as a rebuttal to his persuasions. These poems contained contrasting ideas due mostly to the tone and imagery Marvell and Finch used. The ideas included satire, lust, bitterness, aggravation, passion, and affection.
Marvell creates a distinct stone for each stanza, satirically insincere, melancholically sincere, and passionate. These diverse tones are used to con the Coy Mistress into obeying the speaker. The insincere, satiric tone is shown in the first stanza when Marvell stated “Two hundred (years) to adore each breast” (15) which is twice as long as the hundred years he remarked he would spend adoring her forehead and eyes. The point of his insincere, satiric tone is to flatter his Coy Mistress. The second stanza portrayed his melancholically sincere tone to address his death and decay that are approaching. He remarked “My echoing songs; then worms shall try” (27) providing an image of worms eating away his unfinished work. This emphasizes that death is coming soon, proving to his mistress that they should speed up their relationship to live a full life. He also justifies that they only have this life to love each other by saying “The grave’s a fine and private place, / But none, I think, do there embrace.” (31-32) showing human mortality, and how unrealistic it is to love after death. The last stanza exhibits a passionate tone that contains his true lust for the Coy Mistress. He stated “And while that willing soul transpires / At every pore with instant fires” (35-36) which shows that everytime they touch a fire arises proving his passion for the Mistress. This is intended to awaken his lover’s hot-blooded desire. All three of the tones used in the three stanzas of “To His Coy Mistress” create a seemingly justified argument towards the speaker’s relationship with the Coy Mistress although there may be flaws in his arguments displayed in the poem “Coy Mistress” by Annie Finch.
Finch also used three different tones to prove her point even though her point strongly differed from Marvell’s. She used tones such as bitterness, anger, and distant affection to portray that the speaker does not want to quicken her relationship with the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress”. The first eight lines of “Coy Mistress” show Finch’s bitter tone by ending various lines with a period in to emphasize a point “a Lady does not seize the day.” (2). The period ends the line bitterly in an attempt to forbid the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” from responding. A minimal amount of punctuation is used to create an aggravated tone along with short vowel sounds “were we not fond of numbered Time / and grateful to the vast and sweet / trials his days will make us meet:” (6-8) this gives off the idea that the speaker is spitting out words in one breath. The aggravated tone is followed by an affectionate tone, which is achieved while still remaining distant. She says “and Time, in turn, may sweeten Love” (13) addressing the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” and informing him that if he gives her time, the lust may come so he need not be so impatient with her. The tones used provide ideas that contrast those of “To His Coy Mistress” such as time is fast and there’s just enough time, and we can push love to move faster and love will come with time.
Marvell and Finch also use imagery to depict their contrasting ideas. Marvell begins with exotic imagery to tantalize the Mistress “Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide” (6). The speaker is attempting to entice the Mistress with rubies near the ocean. He also uses dreary imagery to scare the Mistress “And your quaint honor turned to dust, / And into ashes all my lust” (29-30) which shows lifelessness and decomposition of their love if she does not quicken their relationship. The speaker draws the mistress in and scares her to keep her from leaving by using dark imagery.
Finch begins with imagery that displays a friendly interpretation of time “I trust that brief Time will unfold / our youth, before he makes us old.” (3-4). This gives the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” an image of Time displaying their youth so they may see there is time for their love to grow. She also includes imagery that is ironic “no skeleton can pen a verse” (10) so that the speaker of Marvell’s poem realizes he is being condescending by writing about his desires instead of acting upon them. Even though it is obvious that a skeleton cannot write a poem, the speaker is taking a shot at the fact that the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” spent his supposedly short amount of time writing verses. The imagery used by Finch shows the speaker of Marvell’s poem that he needs to be patient and everything will work out while Marvell’s imagery is used to draw in the Mistress.
Both authors used tone such as satirically insincere, melancholically sincere, passionate, bitter, aggravated, and distant affection. The tones create opposing ideas which may change the point of view of the addressees. They also used imagery to tantalize, scare, display Time as a friend, and show condescendence. Opposing ideas were created by the imagery as well as the tone. The call and response of these poems helped the similar literary elements create different ideas as though Marvell was asking and Finch was refusing.
An Analysis of the Essence of Love as Revealed by Andrew Marvell and Percy Shelley In, To His Coy Mistress and Love’s Philosophy
The Many Ways We Love
Love is an idea that many are familiar with – a term used to characterize one’s deep affection for someone. Love is unique in the ways that it is manifested and presented. Sometimes love is portrayed as genuine devotion to another, while other times it is portrayed as simply lustful. In some cases, love can be so intense that it develops into pure madness to possess one’s lover. Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Percy Shelley’s “Love’s Philosophy” are direct contrasts in the ways that they portray love. “Love’s Philosophy” presents love as honest and divine as “To His Coy Mistress” presents love as a lustful sentiment. In addition to these two poems, Robert Browning dwells upon the subject of madness in his dramatic monologue, “Porphyria’s Lover,” presenting madness as the result of love as well as the result for a man’s need to control and possess. These poems all portray the radically different views of the nature of love.
“To His Coy Mistress” portrays the lustful aspects of “love”. Although this poem is a love poem, the poem culminates into one huge ultimatum, which is: sleep with me because we’re running out of time. The first stanza of the poem is when the speaker makes his first point. He opens the poem by saying “Had [they] but world enough, and time…[they] would sit down, and think which way to walk, and pass [their] long love’s day” (Marvell 1-4); meaning that if there were enough time, he would be patient in loving her. He continues on by using flattery to tell his lover how he would “love at [no] lower rate” because she deserves nothing but first class love . Then he introduces the “but” statement. Although he would like to love her at a slow and patient rate, he claims that he can “hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” and so must rush her. He then brings into account the next reason why they must hurry the pace of their love—this being because her beauty will eventually fade. He claims that her “beauty shall no more be found” and that the “worms shall try / That long-preserved virginity”. As grotesque as that sounds, he is basically attempting to provoke a sense of urgency within his lover as well as scare her by saying she will die a virgin. In the end, he states that they are basically trapped in the prison of life and that the only way to escape is by “tear[ing] [their] pleasures with rough strife / Through the iron gates of life”. This whole poem, as symbolic and insightful as it may sound, culminates to the simple fact that his love for his lover manifests in the utmost lustful—and almost vain—manner that a love poem could ever get.
In direct contrast to “To His Coy Mistress,” “Love’s Philosophy” presents love as genuine and heartfelt as the poet, Shelley, utilizes personification throughout most of the poem. This use of personification allows the many descriptions of the grandiosity of his love to seem even grander. Shelley splits the poem into two stanzas; each ending with a question. In the first stanza, he states that the “fountains mingle with the river… [and that] the winds of Heaven mix for ever” (Shelley 1-3). Along with this description, Shelley argues that nothing in the world is single and he ends the short stanza by asking that if everything in this world has a match, “Why not I with thine?” (Shelley 8). The second stanza follows the same pattern, presenting love, again, as grandiose and divine as the “mountains kiss high Heaven / And the waves clasp one another” (Shelley 9-10). But as he concludes describing the marvelous essence of nature, he asks “What is all this sweet work worth / If thou kiss not me?” (Shelley 15-16). The manner in which Shelley expresses the nature of love is one of true honesty and love as is seen in his simple but beautiful descriptions of the Earth.
Unlike the lovey-dovey personality that “To His Coy Mistress” and “Love’s Philosophy” possess, “Porphyria’s Lover” focuses on the strained relationship between Porphyria and her lover that quickly digresses to her death, as a result of social barriers and the lover’s obsession with Porphyria. The poem begins with Porphyria entering a cottage where her lover patiently waits as she starts a fire and “[makes] the cheerless grate / Blaze up, and all the cottage warm,” revealing her authority in establishing the environment in which they reside (Browning 8-9). It can be seen that Porphyria possesses the control in the relationship which her lover makes obvious when he states that “She put [his] arm about [her] waist” and “made [his] cheek lie there, / and spread, o’er all, her yellow hair” (Browning 16-18) Although Porphyria is seemingly the one in control, her lover reveals her “Murmuring how she love[s] [him]” and how “She [is] too weak […] / [To] give herself over to [him] for ever” (Browning 21-25). Not only is it made clear that Porphyria is reluctant to be with him, but it also presents the idea that her lover is upset that she does not make him her primary and only love. In fact, C.R. Tracy observes that Porphyria’s lover knows that “Porphyria loves him passionately but has not the strength of character necessary to make her true to him” and, therefore, finds it more logical to kill her rather than let her live (579). Porphyria’s lover also suggests her social standing as an upper class woman when he claims that she is incapable of setting her “passion free from pride, and vainer ties,” establishing the social barrier that perturbs him from fully possessing Porphyria. In the moment that Porphyria’s lover recognizes that she reciprocates his love for her, he revels in the moment because at last he knows that “Porphyria worship[s] [him]” (Browning 33). His love for her is so obsessive and desperate that he is led to madness and finds another reason to keep her in this perfect instance by killing her. He goes on to state that in “That moment she was mine, mine, mine,” highlighting the idea that he now possesses her and can keep her forever (Browning 36). Not only does the night continue with the now-deceased Porphyria lying beside her lover, but her lover also goes on to describe Porphyria as significantly more alive after death, with cheeks that “Blushed bright” (Browning, 48). Her lover’s madness and desperation is so severe that he feels as if he has allowed “Her darling one wish […] be heard” (Browning 57). This manner of expressing love is much more extreme than many love poems in the way that love is seen to drive someone to madness.
Although Porphyria’s lover did end up murdering Porphyria as a way of possessing her, he holds a completely different view of his partner. It can be seen that he does wish for her to love him, and only him, but he does not share the trait with the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” where he expresses his lustful nature to the extreme. Actually, his madness spouts from the opposite idea – he feels as if he does not have the social standing to keep her with him forever and, therefore, kills her out of desperation.
Love, as we all know, is quite complicated. Not only is it complicated, but it is different for everyone. Some choose to express their love through a sincere and warm expression as is seen in “Love’s Philosophy”, while others make it obvious that love is simply possessing the other through sexual relations as is seen in “To His Coy Mistress”. In the utmost level, love can also be presented as destructive. As is evident in “Porphyria’s Lover”, love kicked up a few notches creates a sense of madness and desperation, which culminates in the death of Porphyria. It is interesting, indeed, to dissect how these poems accurately portray the many ways in which we love.
Andrew Marvell’s Description of Life in Carpe Diem as Illustrated in His Poem To His Coy Mistress
In Andrew Marvell’s poem, To His Coy Mistress, he writes to show that is hurrying after him and will bring death, so because of this his beloved must live by carpe diem. Marvell uses “coy” to describe his lover as she is shy, but due to his fear of time running out they must act on their emotions now. To achieve his purpose, Marvell uses his diction, imagery, and metaphors.
Marvell uses his diction to portray time as a villain chasing after him and love, causing the necessity for them to seize the moment. By using the words “worms”, “ashes”, and “dust”, Marvell shows the severity of the situation as these things are what time will bring to the lovers in death. The connotation behind these words is that death is completely empty and they will rot in the ground. Due to this, the lovers must make the most of their time together as it is already running out. In using the words “youthful hue” and “morning dew”, Marvell shows that they should take advantage of their love before their youth is stolen by their foe, time. Like dew, the life that they have is temporary. The connotation behind these words implies that the pair will only be young for so long before time has its’ grip upon them. Marvell’s diction urges his love to carpe diem with him as time is chasing after them both.
Another way Marvell achieves his purpose of showing time is the enemy of love is through imagery. If they had all the time in the world, Marvell says that he “would love you ten years before the Flood” and “till the conversion of the Jews”. This imagery shows the true nature of love as if Marvell had eternity, he would this girl for all of that time. But behind these promises of loving her forever, lies him urging her to accept his love now as they do not have all this time. He shows how futile it is to not love, as her “quaint honor [will] turn to dust, and into ashes all my [Marvell’s] lust”. This imagery is a contrast of images as it proposes his love, which represents life, versus death, which represents time. This points out that as time ticks by, they are coming closer and closer to death. Death has finality and if him and his do not get together soon, time will overcome them both; therefore they need to live in the moment.
Marvell also uses metaphors to show that time is coming for him and his love with the inescapability of death. If Marvell had eternity to love, he would have his “vegetable love grow, vaster than empires, and more slow”. In comparing his love to vegetable growth, Marvell shows that his love would grow slowly and surely, if they had eternity. But, they do not have this time as “at my [Marvell’s] back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near”. With comparing time to a winged chariot, Marvell is proving that time is fast and right behind him. Marvell can hear this “chariot” as it is coming towards him and his love, once it catches them they will no longer have time left to love each other. Marvell uses metaphors to show that time is coming after him and his love quickly, preventing them from having forever together. Due to this, Marvell wants to take advantage of the time they do have left and use it.
To His Coy Mistress uses Marvell’s diction, imagery, and metaphors to press the urgency of the situation in that time is running out. He views time to be the enemy of love and it will bring death. Marvell and his lover must carpe diem and love each other while they can.
Comparing the carpe diem theme in 2 love poems: The flea by john Donne and To his coy mistress by Andrew Marvel
Even Educated Fleas Do It
“The Flea,” by John Donne and “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell are both love poems from the 1600’s with the shared goal to court their respective ladies. Donne’s “The Flea” shows the speaker trying to woo his lady by convincing her that they have technically already engaged in sexual intercourse through a flea. The flea had bit them both, thus mingling both their bloods and stimulating the act of sex within his body – this was science’s understanding of sex at the time. In contrast, Marvell uses time as a tool in his pursuit for romantic engagement. Time is his weapon in convincing his lady that they should share their love with one another now, while they are both young and attractive. While Donne’s approach to persuade the young lady differs significantly from Marvell’s, both poems have the same aim and attempt to achieve their shared goal through the use of personification, language and form within the body of the poems. The shared theme, carpe diem (Latin for: seize the day), is the fundamental argument for both poems, as well as their most noteworthy likeness.
Personification is a common literary tool, which consists of giving human characteristics to a nonhuman entity. This is used in both Donne’s and Marvell’s poems in order to create vivid imagery and persuade the reader to embrace the theme of carpe diem in order to achieve their goal. In Marvell’s poem, “To His Coy Mistress,” he personifies time in an attempt to court his lady. He writes lines filled with substantial imagery to get his point across to the reader. “But at my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;” is a keen example of the use of personification in Marvell’s poem (506). The quote serves to engage the reader’s sense of sound to create a vivid and enticing image. Donne uses the same literary tool in his piece, however he chooses to personify a flea, which has bit both the speaker and his would-be-lover, rather than time. The following quote is an example of this: “This flea is you and I, and this/ Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;” (Donne, 504). By saying that the flea is not just a flea, but also their marriage bed, Donne has effectively used personification in his poem as a tool to win his argument. While Donne personifies a flea and Marvell personifies time, both are successful in using this literary tool in their carpe diem poems.
The language, or diction, of a poem reveals what is important to the writer and sets the tone and mood of the poem. In Donne’s poem, “The Flea,” the writer chose to express his love with a brief poem, highlighting exactly what he felt was necessary to move forward with his goal. Marvell’s poem is slightly longer, but still brief enough that word choice is an important tool to keep in mind. In both poems, the word choice not only serves to set the tone but also to persuade the reader. An example of this is seen in the first two lines of Donne’s poem: “Mark but this flea, and mark in this/ How little that which thou deny’st me is;” (504). This is a good example of diction because in the first lines of the poem, the speaker is already trying to convince the reader that the act of sex is about as insignificant in size as a flea. The writer immediately captures the reader’s attention and has laid down his argument with a handful of words. Marvell also seems to be a master at word choice; by speaking of time in a romanticized way, the speaker plants his seed in the reader’s mind:
A hundred years should go to praise/ Those eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;/ Two hundred to adore each breast,/ But thirty thousand to the rest. (506). This quote is an example of Marvell’s skills as a writer. Choosing his words carefully, the speaker woos the reader by praising them and saying that their beauty is worthy of worship for not one lifetime, but for thousands of years. He then proceeds to shock his reader by saying that time is fleeting and they don’t have an eternity for him to worship her, as only a woman as beautiful as she deserves. By choosing to first say endearing words about exaggerated love and adoration, Marvell entices his reader enough to then flip his tone, seen through the following word choice: “… then worms shall try/ That longed preserved virginity,” (506). In this line, the speaker is telling the reader that if they wait any longer to engage in sexual relations, then they will surely die a virgin only to have the worms eat away at her and her maidenhead. This is a dark and even disturbing image, however it serves its purpose to shock the reader into agreeing with the speaker and his carnal wishes. Marvel and Donne both do an elegant job of choosing just the write words, at just the right moments, in order to convince their respective ladies to seize the day – and make love.
Perhaps the most undervalued literary tool, form – the form of the poem – serves to set the pace of the poem as well as aid in the reader’s reaction and interpretation. Using rhyming couplets, Donne and Marvell set quick paced poems, keeping the reader from having a moment to think of a counter argument. It also serves the speakers’ arguments to use rhyming couplets, as they are associated with flowery love poem or sonnets; like Shakespeare’s work, for example. The two poems are radically similar when it comes to their structure, each consisting of three stanzas. One recognizable difference in the structure, however, are the rhyme schemes in either poem. Donne’s rhyme scheme is AABBCCDDD for each stanza, while Marvell’s is AABBCCDDEEFF and so on for each stanza. Both are set up in three part arguments: first enamor the reader, then scare the reader into embracing your idea as their own, and concluding with a carpe diem theme to give the reader a sense of empowerment and freedom. The lines “Tis true, then learn how false, fears be;” from Donne’s poem and “Thus, though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run” from Marvell’s poem both express themes of seizing the day and not worrying about tomorrow (505, 506). Donne’s line is telling the reader that their fears are nonexistent. Marvell’s is encouraging the speaker to outrun the sun (or time) with him. This successfully sways the reader in favor of the speakers, as well as into their respective arms.
In summation, “The Flea” and “To His Coy Mistress” share similar qualities; mainly. The persuasive and alluring theme of carpe diem, also known as ‘seizing the day.’ The two love poems strategically, yet romantically, express their individual arguments through common literary tools such as those discussed earlier. We can see this through the personification of a flea as well as time, as well as carefully chosen diction or language within the body of the poems. Finally, the form and structure of the poem, which dictate things like the pace of the poem. While these tactics may seem exaggerated to the modern reader, the poems are still deemed as successful. Both writers prove to be skilled in the art of strategically romancing their respective partners. In truth, these poems show how the proper use of basic literary tools paired with an empowering theme, like carpe diem, can inspire any writer to romanticize a truthfully calculated argument.
“To His Coy Mistress” and “Sonnet 116”: Comparing the Portrayal of Love
In Octavio Paz’s book The Double Flame, he describes three different categories of love that can arise between partners: sexuality, eroticism, and Love. The first category, sexuality, refers to the biological and instinctive urge to reproduce, whereas eroticism descibes the pleasure and desire of the sexual act. The third category, Love, refers to an attraction to the person as a whole, and encompasses an equal sharing of love between the body and the soul. While Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” both pursue the theme of love, each poem describes a kind of love that is different from the other. “To His Coy Mistress” seems to conform to Paz’s second type of love, eroticism; however, “Sonnet 116” posits an alternative to all three of Paz’s types.
The speaker in Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” longs for a woman whom he attempts to persuade to go to bed with him. Because they will not live for eternity, the speaker argues, he and his mistress should then “tear [their] Pleasures with rough strife” (43) as soon as possible, while they still have the chance. The speaker’s focus is on attaining pleasure through intercourse, and not on producing offspring. Although the speaker claims that if he had all the time in the world he would spend “thirty thousand” (16) years adoring every inch of her, he perhaps says this only to try and woo her so that he can fulfill his desire as quickly as possible. He knows that he does not have much time, so he can tell her this without ever having to prove it. The speaker is not driven by a biological urge to reproduce nor does he possess an equal sharing of love between his mistresses’ body and soul; he is focused entirely on her body. The speaker wants only to indulge in bliss by having intercourse, and as soon as possible to avoid any chance of his lust turning to ashes. For this reason, the love that the speaker has for his mistress falls under Paz’s second category, eroticism.
Because in the first stanza of “To His Coy Mistress” the speaker focuses on the mistress as a whole person, and not solely on his pure erotic desire for her body, it is tempting to classify the poem within Paz’s third category, Love. The speaker declares that his “vegetable Love” (11) would grow slowly, and be “Vaster than Empires” (12) if he had more time. He insists that he would spend “An Age at least to every part,” (17) indicating he would love her as an entire person, and spend lavish amounts of time doing so. However, the reader cannot be sure that the speaker is being entirely truthful, for there is no way for him to prove this. The speaker wants to engage “now, like am’rous birds of prey” (38) in intercourse, and his aggressive tone indicates that he is becoming impatient. His impatience suggests that the speaker is anxious to explore his mistresses’ body and is not interested in anything else. Also, if he truly did want more than just her body, he presumably would not attempt to frighten her with crude images (“then Worms shall try / that long preserv’d Virginity” [27-2])) into the idea that if she doesn’t give up her virginity soon, if not immediately, she may die a virgin. Because the speaker is not willing to wait and let his love for his mistress develop prior to engaging in the sexual act, and is only interested in making sure his lust does not turn to ashes, his love is purely eroticism.
While Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” illustrates Paz’s concept of eroticism, Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” does not fit into any of Paz’s three categories. The speaker describes a “marriage of true mindes,” (1) a kind of love that is solid and “never shaken” (6). Because this love bypasses the body and is centered on the mind, it transcends both sexuality and eroticism. “Sonnet 116” puts little emphasis on love of the body, in fact, even though “rosie lips and cheeks”(9) will diminish as time continues, the speaker asserts that his kind of eternal love will not be altered. Insofar as it considers lovers that are no longer youthful, the poem does not encompass an equal sharing between body and soul, for the body begins to lose its beauty and liveliness with time, and love between souls “beares it out even to the edge of doome” (14). However, while its lovers are youthful, the poem describes Love: there is a true connection between both the young and lively body and the soul. Perhaps, Shakespere suggests, as couples age and the body begins to lose its beauty, love between partners becomes more and more love between two souls.
“Sonnet 116” emphasizes that true love cannot be altered with time. In contrast, the speaker of “To His Coy Mistress” urges his mistress to pursue sex immediately because there is never enough time. While “To His Coy Mistress” illustrates eroticism, “Sonnet 116” describes a kind of Love that Paz does not account for in The Double Flame. Rather, Shakespere suggests a fourth type of love, one that is between souls alone. This kind of love can remain potent with the passing of time, as the body declines into age, and the soul is enriched with experience.
Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress”. Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. Robert Wilcher. New York: Methuen, 1986. 40-42.
Paz, Octavio. The Double Flame. Trans. Helen Lane. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1993.
Shakespere, William. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds.” Perrine’s Literature: Structure, Sound and Sense. 8th ed. Eds. Thomas R. Arp and Greg Johnston. Boston: Heinle and Heinle, 2002. 1092.