Andrew Marvell, a famous poet, was born in 1621 and raised in Yorkshire, England. Most of his poems were published after Marvell’s death in 1678 which is about thirty years after they were written. Although Marvell’s style and theme relates his writing to other famous poets such as Donne and Jonson he is considered to be “a supremely original poet” (Norton Anthology 676). The poem To His Coy Mistress, written by Marvell, at first glance contains the theme of love. But when analyzed more closely the theme of sex, seduction and passion become the basis of the poem. By looking at the poem’s style, form and dialogue the meaning and theme becomes more obvious and visible to the reader.
When first reading the poem, what stands out the most is the structure and form that the poet has used. Rhyme and rhythm are what is most noticed when first reading a poem. In the poem To His Coy Mistress the rhyme sequence that is AABBCC. This sequence might have been chosen by the writer because it is simple and easy to detect. Marvell might have used this sequence because he wanted the reader to focus more on rhyme in order to keep the theme and meaning hidden. A simple sequence such as AABBCC makes the rhythm of the poem obvious to the reader. When rhythm in a poem is found it creates flow which gives the poem a dramatic effect. Another device that Marvell uses to make the form more dramatic is enjambment and caesura. “I by the tide of Humber would complain. I would love you ten years…” (Marvell, Line 7) is an example of where caesura has been used. This was used in this part of the poem to emphasize that the speaker is not satisfied and is complaining. A pause in the middle of a line is noticeable to the reader and this is why it is successful for adding dramatic effect to the poem. Enjambment is used throughout the poem when a line ends before a thought or sentence does. This is used most likely to maintain rhyme and rhythm rather than to add dramatic effect to the reader. Structure and form of a poem is important for the reader because it helps to identify the meaning that the poet is trying to get across.
In this poem the speaker is a man, this becomes obvious at the beginning of the poem, “This coyness, lady, were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way to walk, and pass our long love’s day” (Marvell, Line 2-4). This line shows that the speaker is talking to a woman after he refers to who he is speaking to as “lady”. The speaker is identified as a man when he says that he is in love with the “coy” woman. It is obvious that the man and woman are in love, “nor would I love at lower rate” (Marvell, Line 20-21), but it is more difficult to understand the point that the speaker is trying to get across. “And you should, if you please, refuse till the conversion of the Jews” (Marvell, Line 10-11). The man is making an attempt at convincing the woman to do something; he is stating that she is continuously denying him of what he wants, so he has to keep asking. Also they are disagreeing about something, “Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side shouldst rubies find; I by the tide of Humbler would complain” (Marvell, Line 5-7), this suggests that they are opposite sides of each other suggesting that they are arguing which causes a strain on their love life.
The topic of the speaker’s argument is revealed when he mention’s the woman’s virginity, “in thy marble vault, shall sound my echoing song; then worms shall try that long-preserved virginity” (Marvell, Line 27-28), the man is after the woman’s virginity and he is saying that if she doesn’t give it to him when she is alive than the worms will take it from her when she is dead, marble vault meaning tomb or grave. Persuasion begins when the speaker says, “had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime” (Marvell, Line 1-2), he is saying that if they had all the time in the world then the woman’s unwillingness would not be a problem. “My vegetable love should grow vaster than empires, and more slow” (Marvell, Line 11-12), his love would continue to grow with time, and it would grow slow meaning that he would be patient and only go as far as she wanted. The speaker is not after sex alone, he loves every part of her “an hundred years should go to praise thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze; two hundred to adore each breast, but thirty thousand to the rest” (Marvell, Line 13-16). Problems arise when he stops trying to persuade her, he can only think that time will not last forever, “at my back I always hear time’s winged chariot hurrying near” (Marvell, Line 21-22). As time moves forward, they will lose their youth, “thy beauty shall no more be found” (Marvell, Line 25), and that their sexual desire and fertility will fade with age, “your quaint honor turn to dust, and into ashes all my lust” (Marvell, Line 29-30). These are the reasons that he gave for her persuasion. He argues that since they are young, “while the youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew” (Marvell, Line 33-34), and her youth will not last forever, it would be better to make use of the passion they share all at once instead of suffering slowly with time. The man is aware that she shares the same desires as him and this is why he refers to her as “coy”. “While thy willing soul transpires at every pore with instant fires” (Marvell, Line 35-36), the woman has intense sexual desire towards the man but she is unwilling to go through with them. If they do not have sex then they will both remain imprisoned in the “iron gates of life” (Marvell, Line 44) and without giving into sex life is only a prison. They can not stop time but by surrendering to their desires they would make life itself more thrilling and worthwhile.
Marvell, Andrew. To His Coy Mistress. Norton Anthology: English Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. United States: W. W. Norton And Company. 1990. Print
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