Sunday, October 16, 2011

Poetry Critique “To His Coy Mistress”

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Poetry Critique

Either you have sex with me or you die. A very strong statement to get your attention. This is exactly what Andrew Marvell intends for the reader of this poem. Marvell makes use of allusion, metaphor and grand imagery in order to convey the carpe diem motif ...To seize the day.

He begins with stressing how he wishes his love to be “Had we but world enough, and time/This coyness, lady, were no crime”. Life symbolizing a river, the water flowing by like time, is the first place Marvell places the characters. “Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side”. As the water flows, this concept begins to hint at the shortness of time, for them to have sex, the source of new life. The flood symbolizes life is the fresh start of the new covenant. To begin to slow the passage of time, Marvell makes reference to past and future events. His allusions to religious scripture gives the impression of vast ages passing “...I would/Love you ten years before the flood/And you should, if you please, refuse/Till the conversion of the Jews”.

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Metaphorically, Marvell’s vegetable love is oxymoronic “My vegetable love should grow/vaster than empires, and more slow”. Love is not normally like the uncaring, thoughtless, and noncommunicating plant. She is the water, food and light for his love; and as long as she is there, he will love her. The image of a vine which takes over the garden until it becomes “vaster than empires”. She is everything that supports his love; and if she is not there, his vegetable could not be supported and would die “My vegetable love should grow”. Then the threat of punishment comes if she happens to continue down her dark path of stubborn unwillingness to engage with him “Time’s winge`d chariot hurrying near/And yonder all before us lie”. Suddenly the desert is before them and beauty is gone forever “Deserts of vast eternity/Thy beauty shall no more be found”. And she’s dead and the worms are her only company “...then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity/And your quaint honour turn to dust/And into ashes all my lust”. The worms are a cycle that will break her body down into soil, feed the trees, feed the animals. So he tries to scare her and force her into the decision to either have sex with him or she will die.

Marvell then stresses the youth she still posses and his plan to save them in the use of imagery “we would sit down, and think which way/ to walk, and pass our long love’s day”. A scene free of the pressures of age. Not only are they walking (which implies calmness), but they are sitting down and considering which way to walk on their “long” day. Marvell then gets aggressive and the sense of urgency to his pleas are conveyed by reminding her what she needs to save from the imposing grip of her grave “The grave’s a fine and private place/But none, I think do there embrace/ Now...while the youthful hue”. Then he talks of birds of prey, and devouring her to convince her again “...birds of prey/Rather at once our time devour”. “Now let us sport us while we may” meaning free of the pressures of age and freed from the concerns of impending death let us not waste time on courting. Death is coming, so we should love. Time is a tyrant, slowly killing us all. Lines 40-46 Marvell explains that an escape from and the method of fighting against time is to love with passion and defy his aging effect.

Andrew Marvell tries in this carpe diem poem, “To His Coy Mistress”, to use time and symbols to convince her to seize the day. He uses the river, the worm and many direct references to time to express the urgency of the situation. He then says that his love is vegetable and that this coy mistress is the only one that can sustain this living love. Then he threatens death, gets aggressive, and shows her that her youth is fleeting, and that if she does not change, she will be miserable. The carpe diem theme, Marvell makes his point. He makes the ideal scene of timelessness more concrete, so that when it is swept away the alternative seems all the more frightening and imperative. In this way he recreates a feature of real life-death is imperative, but trivialities can often make it seem distant. Invariably, however, it will greet us all.


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