Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" Andrew Marvell Essay

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Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress"

Andrew Marvell is loosely affiliated with the Metaphysical school of poetry, much noted for the wit and novelty of their "conceits" (or figurative language), and his poem "To His Coy Mistress" accordingly adopts a series of different rhetorical figures -- fixed within a tightly rhymed tetrameter stanza -- which attempt to place great rhetorical flourish on what is a simple request on the part of the poet begging his girlfriend to lay aside her reservations and engage in coitus. The poem is written in three verse paragraphs, which lay out three different stages of this love poem which illustrates the Classical topos of "carpe diem," the Horatian exhortation to enjoy life's pleasures in the face of inevitable mortality. I hope to show that over the course of these three paragraphs, Marvell employs tonal shifts which accompany three different views of time, as part of his argument to the mistress to cease her coyness and sleep with the poet.

The first verse paragraph engages in an interrelated set of images, all of which are meant to lend comic exaggeration to the idea of how lazy and protracted the courtship of the poet and his "coy mistress" could be if they had infinite time and space ("world enough and time," l.1) in which to engage in such courtship. He imagines the distance between the two of them to be as grand -- and as comically deflationary -- as a comparison of the exotic Ganges with the mundane Humber (in Marvell's birthplace of Hull). But also, the mistress' refusal to go to bed with the poet would encompass a cosmically long time scheme that lasts from "ten years before the Flood" (l.8) -- a date that is literally antediluvian -- with her continuing to "refuse / Till the conversion of the Jews" (l.9-10), Marvell's allusion to one of the foretold events of the End of Days in the Book of Revelation. Marvell then stretches out the well-worn cliches of Petrarchan love-poetry into comic exaggerations of this colossal slowness, enumerating how many centuries he would gladly devote to praising each particular part of her body, ("two hundred to adore each breast," l.15, and so forth), concluding the opening verse-paragraph dryly with an almost mercantile emphasis on the large numbers involved here: "For, lady, you deserve this state / Nor would I love at lower rate" (ll.19-20), where particularly the last two words leap out as a metaphor at odds with the real subject of this poem (which is sexual congress).

The second verse paragraph introduces the objection to the comic fantasy of the first with two startling image: "But at my back I always hear / Time's winged chariot hurrying near / And yonder all before us lie / Deserts of vast etermity" (ll.21-2). Here the imaginary…

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