To His Coy Mistress
Critical Commentary Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ embodies the male craving for intercourse, as in the poem the narrator tries to convince a woman to have sex with him. The poem is abounded with metaphysical conceits and really depicts the theme of carpe diem. With the exploitation of numerous motifs, compelling imagery and its rhythm, Marvell is able to construct a very influential argument. Initially, Marvell uses the metaphysical conceit to compliment the woman as a means of persuasion for intercourse. In the first stanza, he claims that he has eternity to spend time courting and admiring his woman.
Yet, already in the first line, the poet uses irony with the word ‘had’. This establishes that the lovers will not live eternally; implying that the speaker is aware of this before he begins his flattery. Also, the use of rhythm is becoming more apparent; maintained throughout are rhyming couplets and iambic pentameter, which gives the argument a structure, therefore making it seem more plausible to the woman. Marvell uses a lot of alliteration in the first stanza.
By using this technique, his argument seems more appealing to the woman, as it adds light-heartedness to the poem. As well as alliteration, the poet uses exotic imagery to allure his potential companion; he refers to ‘the Indian Ganges’ (ll. 5) and ‘Humber’ (ll. 7). By presenting images which are more enticing than anything local in England, the poet allures the woman, leading her to believe that if she committed herself to him he will offer her exciting new experiences. The poet later on insists that the woman may refuse to have intercourse with him ‘till the conversion of the Jews
This again, shows the motif of time and how much he is willing to give to her. .Since most Jews never converted to Christianity this emphasises the fact that she has a lot of time to come to a decision. Marvell goes on to compare his love for her to vegetable growth: ‘vegetable love should grow / vaster than empires and more slow’ (ll. 11-12), implying that he needs to be fed in order to grow and here the woman doesn’t realise that there is an underlying statement that he needs to be ‘fed’ sex in order to ‘grow’. Marvell, from ere, purely loses all concept of time and his lust begins to show.
He goes from saying that ‘one hundred years should go to praise’ (ll. 13), to ‘two hundred to adore each breast’ (ll. 15), then on to ‘thirty thousand to the rest’ (ll. 16). Although it seems as though he is paying her plenty of compliments, in reality, the time span in which he is saying that he will spend with her is impossible for humans to live through. He is not really giving her that much time as he wants a decision, and flattery is the best way to gain her trust.
In the second stanza, Marvell becomes impatient and begins to base his tactic to win her over on the point that time will be forever chasing them; he goes on to admit that they do not have all of eternity. Instantly, the romantic ambience of the poem has transformed as the first line of the stanza starts with ‘but’. In this stanza, Marvell refers to the pure speed and certainty of time: ‘time’s winged chariot hurrying near’ (ll. 22). This refers to Roman mythology and to the poets point that time flies; this attaches a sinister tone to the second stanza.
This is emphasised when he compares their lives to the ‘deserts of vast eternity’ (ll. 24). The poet goes on to talk about how her ‘beauty shall no more be found; [… ] that long-preserved virginity (ll. 25-28). This illustrates that he no longer will find her attractive when she is old and she will not be able to preserve her beauty through all eternity. Here he is trying to scare her and essentially tells her life is coming to an end fast; hence she should give in to his plead. This section of the poem shows a very strong contrast between the grand first stanza and the lifelessness of the second.
In the third stanza, the poet concludes his argument using the theme of carpe diem. Marvell makes it apparent that he wants sex now, and recommends the woman to succumb. Instantly, it is noticeable how the poet starts the stanza with the word ’now’ (ll. 33). Here, we can see that he wants to have sex ‘now therefore while the youthful hue / sits on thy skin like morning dew’ (ll. 33-34). The simile is applied to portray the situation as plainly as possible to the woman, as he refers to how they are going to grow old and consequently should have sex immediately.
Again, it is noteworthy that there is a change in the mood and the language; it is now very passionate. The poet now exploits images of fiery passion, for example: ‘instant fires’ (ll. 36)and ‘devour’(ll. 39). Contrasting with the opening stanza, where Marvell tries to sway the woman, he now employs passionate images to entice the woman’s desire; revealing the poets desperation. Although a strong rhythm has been used throughout, in the last stanza it becomes obvious that the rhythm begins to speed up as the man is in a hurry and is coming to a conclusion.
This is made apparent through the absence of commas and words which only have single syllables. Ultimately, Marvell concludes the poem by stating that ‘we cannot make our sun / stand still, yet we will make him run’ (ll. 45-46). This emphasises the complete argument, and powerfully reveals that they should not worry about their current situations as time is catching up with them both, thus they should seize the moment by giving into their passionate temptations.
Another poem, like Marvell’s, is John Donne’s ‘The Flea’; which again, is a metaphysical poem about a man who is telling a woman why she should have sex with him. Donne uses an excellent mixture of connotative words, figurative language, imagery, tone and rhythm to reveal to the reader the conversation between them, where the argument is so well thought out, the woman may actually be convinced. The tone, at the beginning of the stanza, seems conversational – discussing a harmless flea.
But as the poem develops, the tone becomes more cynical and is clearly being portrayed by somebody skilled in persuasion. Donne goes on to say how the mixing of their blood inside of the flea is the same as the two having sex. The speaker goes on to suggest that the mixing of their blood is neither ‘a sin, nor shame’ (ll. 6) , arguing that the flea is nothing significant, therefore giving him her virginity would not be either. The application of connotative words is shown throughout the whole poem.
In the first stanza, the man says: ‘How little that which thou deniest me is’ (ll. 2); referring to how she is refusing his advances. He goes on to say, ‘Me it sucked first, and now sucks thee’ (ll. 3); the sexual connotation of the repetition of the word ‘suck’ is made quite clear. In the second stanza, the poet tries to persuade the woman again: ‘Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare / Where we almost, yea, more than married are’ (ll. 10-11). The lives in which he is exclaiming about are his, the woman’s and the flea itself.
Again, the man is suggesting that their conjoined blood inside of the flea is equivalent to them having sex. In this stanza the woman tries to kill the flea and the man metaphorically refers to the flea as their ‘marriage bed, and marriage temple’ (ll. 13) in order to stop her. As well as using the theme of marriage he exaggerates using words like ‘self-murder’ (ll. 17) and ‘sacrilege’ (ll. 18), to guilt the woman into thinking that if she kills the flea, she will also kill herself and the man, thus ruining anything they have had or will have in the future.
By the third stanza, the woman does not agree with his persuasive accusations and evidently squashes the flea: ‘purpled thy nail’ (ll. 20). The man identifies her as ‘cruel and sudden’ (ll. 19), having killed the flea and any hope he had of having sex with her. The poet has now redefined the flea; it has become a symbol of his own pain because of her rejection. John Donne’s use of language devices, such as imagery and metaphysical ideas, make ‘The Flea’ a poem that almost convinces the lady.
With the last lines: Tis True; then learn how false fears be: / Just so much honor when thou yield’st me, / Will waste, at this flea’s death took life from thee (ll. 25-27) Even though the woman has realised that with the flea dead the world is no different, Donne turns the entire argument back on her, making the rejection seem utterly pointless. This poem encapsulates a man’s power, when sex is concerned, and is a fantastic example of a poem that makes use of an extravagant metaphor and other poetic devices to persuade a woman.