In the poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ the speaker carefully tells a subtle and valid argument as to why the woman or his addressee should be sexually attracted to him. The man attempts this sexual proposition through flair in manipulating reason, form and imagery like the vegetable garden. The reasoning would be familiar someone who studied somewhere renaissance England, as it is suggests of a sort of classical philosophical logic; the others are entailing a statement, a counter-statement and a resolution. In line with this method the author’s speaker coded his argument in a classical imagery.
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The first section runs from lines 1 to 20, here the man sets out his view that if “Had we but world enough, and time” he would not rush the process of finding love and respect. The man establishes a sort of world unconfined by space and time by using the world he had to create the subjunctive tense. This passage of the poem is highly paradoxical however the man is aware that this is purely a hypothetical state before he even begins speaks the words, he cleverly lays out his point of view knowing the impossibility of his announcement. The man aims not only to smooth talk but also to impress the mistress using vivid imagery. To Flatter, but also to amaze her with his knowledge of Asia, the speaker refers to the Ganges and the Humber Rivers to emphasize the distance he would allegedly endure without her if time permitted. The exotic imagery of Asia is in line about British trade and exploration in the region. It also provided an escape from the relatively weak image of everyday life in England at the time even if the image of the Far East was unrealistic. This is how he dealt with the idea of space.
To confront the concept of time, he uses biblical references to mark the permanent nature of reality. By using a story out of the Old Testament the image of the great flood that purged the earth as a start point and then used the image that Armageddon will ultimately occur at the conversion of the Jews as an end point, the man tries to show the vastness of predicted human existence. At the same time however he subtly hints toward the second more nihilistic section of the poem. If you look at this imagery it is interesting in two respects; first it suggests that physical human life has been ended by God and will be ended by him again. Thus providing a backdrop for the speaker’s argument that in reality life is temperamental and therefore procreation should not be delayed at the expense of morality. The image is interesting in a second way as it may be Marvell’s way, as a Puritan, of condemning the speaker’s attitude, suggesting that the speaker may be punished for sinfully trying to indulge in base luxury.
The speaker goes on to describe his ‘vegetable love”, many possible interpretations can be applied to this image. Firstly there is the sexual connotation whereby the vegetable operates as a phallic image, acting as a prelude to the speaker’s suggestions. As The Norton Anthology of Poetry suggests in the footnote, the vegetable symbolizes a slow unconscious growth of love, emphasizing the ‘sincerity’ and power of his feelings as they grow ‘vaster than empires’. However the irony here lies in the fact that the speaker fully understands that he does not have time to spare and thus his ‘love’ has developed quickly, consciously and almost forcibly.
To finish the first section the speaker begins assigning years of devotion to each part of the mistresses body. It is notable a significant time is spent admiring her breasts, which seems to be a sexually motivated act as opposed to the shorter length of time spent on her eyes, which are often more associated with true love. The hyperbolic statements increase in unrealism to an incomprehensible ‘age to every part’; it seems that the speaker is being generous in his admiration but he is cognizant of the lack of weight in his words due to their unattainable status.
The next section runs from lines 21 to 32, here the speaker moves away from the hypothetical to reality but retains the melodramatic language used in the previous section to sustain the tenacity of his points. Time here is portrayed as chasing the speaker as opposed to being something the speaker is in control of as in the end of the last section. This is done using the image of a ‘winged chariot’, this has classical associations with Greek mythology which relates to his form of argument. The meter of the poem is restrictively regular, this structure emphasizes the idea that time is constantly progressing; reflecting the speaker’s argument.
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Space is no longer inhabited by images of movement and life like the rivers previously mentioned but instead: ‘before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity’. The desert has strong connection with death, an issue that the man develops upon and progresses within this section. The speaker implies on lines 26-7 that the only exploration of the mistress’s body that will be undertaken will be by the worms that are decomposing her body if she remains in her coy state. This thought that her sexuality should not be wasted is elaborated upon with a crude pun on line 29: “And your quaint honor turn to dust” These images of deterioration linked to sexuality are intended to shock persuade the mistress into not wasting her youth. The speaker’s sly and ironic tone is revealed to the reader in lines 31-2: ‘ The grave’s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.” The tone here is clearly sarcastic; the reader enjoys these ironic statements due to the falsity and overacting involved in Marvell’s speaker as he tries to woo the mistress. The purpose of this second section is to provide a counter-statement to the first section. Discord has been created within the poem; the first section sets out a space where the speaker has an infinite amount of time and space to engage with the mistress, but in the second, time and life are construed as being fleeting and temperamental. This tension is intended to make the mistress feel uneasy and anxious about herself as a young single woman; prompting her to change her attitude towards courtship.
To conclude the argument and disagreement between the two former opposite parts the speaker offers a resolution. The reader can easily predict what this will be as the speaker’s suggestive tone throughout the poem points towards sexual unification. The speaker’s intention is described using fantastic and abstract lexical choices and phrases. The passage is full of images and language related to movement, physicality and violence such as ‘transpires’, ‘like amorous birds of prey’ and ‘devour’. The speaker asserts his masculinity in these images, implying his sexual expertise in an attempt to better his offer. The speaker energetically expresses his make the most of it mentality suggesting that as a combined force, represented in the form of a ball in this section, they will be able to ‘tear our pleasure with rough strife / through the iron gates of life’. This notion that together they can conquer life is emphasized on the last two lines where, in agreement with the classical imagery throughout the poem, the speaker admits although he cannot stop the sun together: ‘we will make him run’. The mistress is lead to believe that if she submits to her pursuer the ‘winged chariot’ of time from the previous section will be reversed, with the mistress and speaker in the dominant position. Thus the speaker has concluded his logical progression, firstly operating in an unattainable hypothetical state, then switching to a morbid reality and finally concluding in copulation as a form of mastery over time. Although the reader can see faults in the reasoning employed, admiration is still felt towards the speaker for elaborately crafting his speech in his pursuit of the mistress.
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