To His Coy Mistress Questions and Answers
Q.1. Consider Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ as a love poem.
Ans. It cannot be denied that both the lover and the mistress are drawn together by love as an abstract idea. But all along the lover believes that his purpose will not be fulfilled unless love is enjoyed on the physical plane. The mistress, however, is determined to maintain her chastity at all cost. So the lover’s insistence on enjoyment of physical love and the beloved’s desire of remaining far away from it create a tension which heightens the artistic merit of the poem and adds a dramatic interest to it.
In the first section the lover is founds to have fallen into difficult because of the ladylove’s unwillingness to part with her modesty. He fears she may feel hurt if he says or does anything unfavourably. So he agrees to be a model of patience and plans to please her in every possible way. He tells her that her coyness would not be a ‘crime’ if they were possessors of infinite space and unlimited time. In a tone of encouragement he says that they will sit together and decide which way to walk’ to pass their ‘long love’s day’. She would, if she likes, go to fabulously rich India to pick rubies from the bank of the river Ganges whereas he would stand by the Humber, a river in Yorkshire of England, to make mournful sounds because of his separation from her. Given unlimited time, he is ready to love her since a long time in the past (when the Flood washed away the sins of mankind) and in the same way she could also refuse him till a long time in the future (when the conversion of the Jews to Christianity will take place). His ‘vegetable love’, which is capable only of growth but devoid of passion and rationality, will slowly grow bigger than ’empires’ in course of time. Then he says that she is so sweet and lovely that he cannot rest without admiring her beauty. He will let go one hundred years to praise her eyes and to gaze on her forehead and two hundred years to adore each breast of hers. It will take thirty thousands years to praise the remaining parts of her body. At least an age will be needed to eulogize every part, and none but the last age’ (when the world and time will cease to exist) will reveal the mystery and complexity of her heart. This is no exaggeration, he tells her, for she deserves such kind of high praise (as she is a ‘Lady’to him, her humble servant, according to the convention of courtly love poetry); nor will he feel satisfied by praising her at a rate lower than this. While this satisfies and soothes the beloved there can be no doubt that there is much irony impatience and even scorn in what the lover conveys to readers.
In the second section the lover suddenly tells his mistress that notwithstanding his eagerness it will not be possible for him to love her in a leisurely way. It is because he has heard at his back the sound of a chariot on which Time the destroyer is seated as a victor coming towards them in great hurry. Similarly in their front vast deserts made of ruined hopes and aspirations and of broken love and promises lie stretched out till eternity. Besetted (=closed in all sides) as they are by such prospects (i.e. desolate deserts and the crushing wheels of Time’s chariot) the best course left for them will be to enjoy the present without any loss of time. Otherwise she will, like himself, will be struck dead when her beauty will no more be found nor will his song in praise of it will echo in the cold marble vault where she will lie buried. What is most regrettable and shocking is that her ‘long preserved virginity’, which her human admirer is deprived of enjoying, will now be open for the inspection of some loathsome worms that will make short work of it (=finish it quickly). Now if she believes that their love may continue beyond death in the grave he can only reply that though the grave is ‘a fine and private place’ he has never heard of its use for the expression of love, such as embracing. The lover’s reference here to grave and worms is no doubt a grim reminder to the mistress of what will happen to her in case she delays in making love to him.
In the third section he tells her that now that a rosy youthful colour glows on her skin ‘like morning dew’ and now that her soul’s willingness to burn aflame with instant passion comes out through every pore of her skin, it is high time that she should give up coyness and derive merriment (=amusement) by taking love as a ‘sport’. They should, he urges, at once devour their time of youth, beauty and vigour like a pair of ‘am’rous birds of prey’ rather than ‘languish’ (i.e. lose health and happiness) by falling into the powerful jaws of Time who will apply them slowly in order to draw maximum relish out of them. Finally he asks her to join him in the love-game which they will play with a ‘ball’ made of masculine virility (=strength) and feminine sweetness (=charm), the sexual act being a joint enterprise, and they should tear, in tune with their image as birds of prey, the pleasures’ available from the act with ‘rough strife’ as
violence will add piquancy (=state of pleasant excitement) and zest (=great pleasure) to their enjoyment. Just as the enemy by shooting a cannon ball break open the ‘iron gates’ of a castle and enter inside to plunder the riches that lie hidden there, so the lover, with the consent and co-operation of his mistress, wants his ‘ball’ (signifying the male sexual organ) to tear (=to go or move in excitement and at great speed) its way through the ‘iron gates (i.e. obstacles like the hymen or the labia) of life’ (i.e. made of living sensitive tissue) in order to plunder the pleasures that lie hidden inside. He concludes that it is by consummated love that they can deal with their enemy, Time. It is true that they can neither keep their strength or beauty intact nor their present happy and contented state unchanged for a long time. But making him envy them as well as their present state they can at least ‘make him run’ at a pace far faster than what is normal for him, he doing so in order to stop their merriment the sooner. However, by living life to the full and cramming their time with more and more excitement and for little more time they have the possibility of proving old Time as a tired-out runner or of even defeating him in the race although for a limited period. Their ability to make him run proves their power and influence over their enemy and to defeat him in the race (even though for a short while) establishes their love’s triumph over Time.
Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is a unique love poem known for its development of thought in a neat and logical manner. It is also distinct for its power of concentration for it does not allow readers to stray till its argument reaches its natural end. It exhibits enough wit through the blend of seriousness and levity and the agility (-quick-moving nature) of thought and feeling. It is also known for its variety of tones as it can easily shift from attitude to attitude. It is also remarkable for its threestage movement: in the first section the enemy Time is discovered; in the second section it is feared; and in the third section it is confronted and conquered.
Q.2. How does Andrew Marvell deal with the theme of time and transience in his treatment of love in his poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’? What is ‘metaphysical’ about it?
Ans. Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is notable for its treatment of time. The poet shows that time is not simply of one variety.
A deep introspection will reveal that it is of a number of types, especially when it has to react with love. So far as the present poem is concerned ime is seen in its four forms: (i) eternity; (ii) an enormously long time which is unrealistic and mostly a creation of the imagination; (iii) time the destroyer; and (iv) transcient (=shortlasting) time. Time in all its (forms affects love, and a sense of tension develops because of the relation of opposition, that lies between them. It is undoubted that this tension adds charm and interest to the poem as a whole.
Time as eternity cannot be sensed on this side of life. Its power can be felt beyond death. The poet has linked it to vast deserts that are made of broken hopes and aspirations and unfulfilled love and promises. It is not far off from the lovers and lies just in their front. The implication is clear that if they postpone enjoying their love, they will soon die and become a part of ‘vast eternity’ where they will be no better than some insignificant sand. Their love, likeness, will be turned to nothingnessa matter of deep sorrow and regret no doubt for the lovers if they think about it when alive.
In it second form time is seen to be enormously long (through shorter than desolate and despairing eternity). It is mostly a matter of the lovers’ imagination having no truck (=association) with reality. In such a background the mistress’ coyness (=modesty) will be ‘no crime’ (=offence). In order to pass their ‘long love’s day’ she can go to distant India to pick rubies from the side of the Ganges while he will be left in England to rue his separation from her by standing by the side of the river Humber. The lover can love her since a long time in the past (such as the occurrence of the Flood) and she can refuse to respond to his love till a long time in the future (such as the conversion of the Jews). Against such monstrous enormity of time his attachment to her will turn into ‘vegetable love’ capable only of growth but devoid of passion. Consequently his love in course of time will grow ‘vaster than empires’ but the growth will be so slow as to be of no joy or consolation to the lover; its lack of passion is the cause of more regret to him. Not to admire her beauty (of which she is, he has noticed, highly proud) will be the height of impropriety (=lack of correctness) and lack of etiquette to him. So he becomes a spendthrift of time in this matter. He makes himself ready to praise her eyes and forehead for a hundred years and to spend two hundred years to adore each of her breasts. As regards the other parts of her body he will not mind spending thirty thousand years. He will also allot an age at least for the appreciation of every part of her beautiful body and only the last age will reveal the mystery and complexity of her heart-a heart that hesitates to return love and unreasonably sticks to her coyness. It is, thus, clear that loses its seriousness in this make-believe world and time and becomes an object of mockery and disdain.
As destroyer time strikes terror in the heart of the human lovers. He is seen as a winner, borne in winged chariot and coming in a hurry towards them. The lover is filled with fear when he hears the harsh sound of the chariot-wheel at his back. He will neither spare the mistress nor the lover. He will strip her of her beauty and send her to find a shelter in the cold and inhospitable interior of a marble vault where, on account of his death caused by time, his ‘echoing song’ in praise of her beauty will no longer sound. What is most shocking and regrettable is that time will now make open her ‘long preserved virginity’, the same which she deprived her lover from tasting, for the inspection of some loathsome ‘worms’ which will gladly make short work of it. Time will not be kind to her hesitation in making love and turn her honour into dust and likewise reduce the lover’s lust to ashes. All that remains after time’s revenge and punishment is a grave which, though fine and away from regular public visits, is absolutely unsuitable for the expression of erotic love.
Next we came across transient (=lasting for a short time only) time. This is especially notable in the lovers’ strength and beauty, honour and lust, desire for love and enjoyment which will not last long. During such a time the youthful rosy hue glows on her skin ‘like morning dew’ and the willingness of her soul, aflame with instant passion, is visible through ‘every pore’ of her skin. It is only at such a time when the lovers can play in the role of a pair of ‘am’rous birds of prey’ and tear their ball of pleasures (referring to the whole sexual act for which both masculine vigour and feminine sweetness are needed) with ‘rough strife’ so that their enjoyment may be more relishing. It is only at this time that the lover’s ‘ball’ (signifying now to the male reproductive organ), in the manner of the invador’s cannonball tearing apart the portcullis in order to plunder the hidden riches from the inside of the castle, can tear (=to move in excitement and with quick speed) its way through the iron gates (obstacles like hymen and labia lying at the mouth of the female genitals) of life’ (i.e. something made of living and sensitive tissue) in order to enjoy the deep and passionate pleasures lying further inside. Again, it is only at this time that the youthful lovers can make (=force; compel) ime ‘run’ at a faster speed than what is normal for him (its cause being his enemy for their happy and contented state without whose destruction he can no longer rest), and thereby creating a possibility for them to time an old tired-out runner and even defeating him at the race prove even though for a short while. Thus, it is by active involvement in consummated love that they can establish their superiority and even victory (although a qualified one) over time.
The theme of time and transience in the treatment of love has a metaphysical (=finding of truth and reality based on abstract reasoning) implication involved in it. Against eternity love loses all value and importance and is turned into nothing. In the background of an enormous stretch of time love ceases to offer any charm or satisfaction and becomes an object of pretence and mockery in a make-believe world as well as a heavy burden notwithstanding its considerable growth. Before time the destroyer, love becomes utterly incapable of defending itself and consents to be without beauty and strength, allows honour and passion to be turned into dust and ashes, endures deflowering by worms without protest, and agrees to have shelter in a cold and dark grave. Love becomes most interesting, charming and satisfying at the backdrop of transient time when it can throw a challenge at time and can even frustrate his purpose (which is a sign of his defeat) by living life more fully and filling it with more and more excitement and amusement. Transient time, again, helps to discover some other truths: (i) that action (such as making timely response to the lover’s call) is better than stagnation (such as ascetic preservation of virginity at all cost); (ii) that filling life with love and happiness, even if only for a short time, [through enjoyment of sexual love] is better than lengthening of life in an idle and profitless way with never having any scope for the above things; and (iii) that enjoyment of beauty and youth, transient though these things are, is better than allowing oneself to be slowly and surely crushed by the powerful jaws of Time. What is most remarkable is that love flourishes and shows its power most against transient time.
Q.3. Comment on Marvell’s treatment of love and time in his poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’.
Ans. Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ deals with two opposed ideas-love that sustains life and time that terminates it. Throughout the poem a clash between time and love is noticeable which in the last stanza culminates in the victory of the weaker party. It is clear that the opposition between them creates a tension but for which the poem would have last much of its interest and charm. So we may say that the opposition between time and love is the most striking feature of this poem.
In respect of eternity, one form of time which is mentioned in the second section of the poem, love is incapable of offering any opposition. Consequently it is almost turned into nothingness having no significance at all. Beside eternity is faced only after death, a time when requirement of love as far less than its necessity during life.
Next we hear of time which is enormously long, though somewhat shorter than eternity. Far from having any real existence it is mostly a creation of human imagination. Faced against such vast time the mistress’ coyness is no crime for there is always the time for its rectification. It is a time when the beloved can go to distant India to pick up rubies from the side of the river Ganges; the lover’s raising sounds of mourning for their separation has no effect on her as her interest in precious stones becomes more important than that in her lover. Placed against such time the lover can love her since a very old time when the Flood occurred, and she, likewise, could refuse him till a long time in the future when the Jews, it is believed, would be converted to Christianity. Such an enormous amount of time, it is clear, is not helpful for the nourishment of love. Under its impact the lover’s attraction for the mistress in turned into ‘vegetable love’ i.e. one that is capable only to growth but has no power of passion for which love becomes a frustrating and unsatisfying experience. Such love can ultimately grow bigger than empires but its extreme tardiness (=slowness) of growth, in addition to its lack of passion can hardly be an object of attraction to the lover. Such time is only helpful in praising the beauty of his beloved. So he can spend a hundred years to praise her eyes and forehead, two hundred to adore each of her breasts and thirty thousand to admire the remaining parts of her body. Notwithstanding the use of hyperboles the ironic tone of the lover makes it clear that he is not at all satisfied with such love and would have received much solace and relief had she lessened her delay in responding to his love to a great extent. Far from being a friend such enormous times a burden to him and ultimately becomes an enemy to them, though his young and inexperience beloved fails to grasp it properly.
In the second section of the poem time is seen to be too dominant and destructive for the lovers. Seated on a winged chariot the victor time chases them from behind in utmost haste. The lover understands that if she sticks to her coyness and postpones enjoyment of their present time even for a short time, the result will be ruinous for them. In that case time will force them to take shelter in graves sans (=without) beauty, sans vigour, sans honour and sance lust (i.e. passion). What will be most shameful and shocking is that her long preserved virginity which she unreasonably prevented her lover from enjoying will now be thrown open for the examination of worms that will make short work of it without any sense of civility or hesitation. Against such time love seems to be utterly weak and defenseless.
There now remains another form of time which may be termed as transient (=shortlasting) time which love neither fears to face nor feels confounded (=puzzled) to deal with. There is no question of considering it as friendly to them as it, too, is fitted with a powerful jaw readily to crush them slowly and surely so that it can heighten their miseries and maximize his own pleasure. During this time the lovers are at the pick of their beauty and vigour. A rosy hue sparkles on the beloved’s skin like morning dew, and notwithstanding her every attempt to enjoy sensual pleasures her soul’s willingness to have such joy comes out through every pore of her skin. The lover is also seized with the desire of utilizing his vigour promptly for the enjoyment of love. He realizes, notwithstanding his beloved’s hesitation, that it will be ruinous for them to wait and that they must at once make use of their youth, short though it is. He asks her to join him in the ‘sport’ of love giving up all her coyness and hesitations. He warns that unless they tear, like a pair of amorous birds of prey, their ball of pleasures with rough strife their is every possibility of time smashing them slowly with the help of his powerful jaws. He makes it clear to her that devouring their time (short, of course) is far wiser than allowing themselves to be devoured by time. Rather than languishing in the hands of time he requests her to cooperate with him as he tries to let his ball (signifying male sexual organ as well as male vigour) tear (to move with excitement and at speed) its way through the iron gates (i.e. hymen and labia serving as barriers at the entrance of the female sexual organ) of life’ (i.e. things of sensitive living tissue). It is in this way (i.e. through sexual enjoyment that brings contentment and happiness to life) that they can put time into no end of troubles. Indeed by living life more fully and filling it with more and more excitements they can make time run (by making him envious of their happiness without whose destruction he can never be at ease) and even to prove him as an old tired out runner and to defeat him in the race (though for a limited time) if she assists the lover to prolong their enjoyment during which they will remain totally forgetful of the presence of time and his threats. Love in his way will score a victory over time.
It is possible to deduce certain conclusions out of this opposition between love and time. Against eternity love loses all value and becomes as insignificant as a grain of sand. Against an enormous stretch of time love actually becomes most unsatisfying though it appears as pleasant pretence in a make-believe world. Against destructive time love loses all chances of survival and finds its last shelter in a dark grave without beauty, honour, passion (‘lust’) or virginity. Love, however, flourishes best against the background of transient time when, assisted by vigour and enjoyment, it can put time into lots of difficulty and even win over him, though for a brief period.
Q.4. How does Marvell treat carpe diem theme in his poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’?
Ans. One of the prominent themes in Marvell’s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is carpe diem, a Latin expression which literally means ‘seize the day’ and figuratively conveys (to a young woman) that things like youth and love, instead of being postponed, should be enjoyed at once. It was Catullus the Roman poet who popularized this theme while he wrote excellent love lyrics on his mistress, Lesbia. Robert Herrick, a 17th-century Cavalier poet of England, is also known for his poems that dealt with this theme. In one of his poems he counselled the young woman to ‘gather rose buds’ while she yet had time, for ‘old Time’ might fly away without giving her such an opportunity. In the same poem he advised and warned her:
Then be not coy, but use your time, And, while ye may, go marry; For having lost but once your prime, You may for ever tarry. Unless she did not enjoy her ‘prime’ (youth) out of coyness, the poet sternly warned, she would have to remain a spinster throughout her life.
Before Herrick, Edmund Spenser, too, toyed with the same time. In Sonnet No. 70 of his Amoretti he urged his beloved the following: Make haste, therefore, sweet love, whilst yet is time
For none can call again the passed time. In ‘Bower of Bliss’ he advised the young woman about the following: Gather therefore the Rose, whilst yet is prime, For soon comes age that will her pride deflower: Gather the Rose of Love whilst yet is time, Whilst loving thou mayst loved be with equal crime. In ‘To His Coy Mistress’ Marvell executes a variation (=modification) of the same theme by introducing some new and exciting features into it.
The basic characteristics of a carpe diem theme is that Time is fleeting, life is transitory, youth is much shorter, and love should be enjoyed at its prime before passion gets cooled inevitably. Marvell adds to these conventional features some of his own such as (i) an ironic treatment of the mistress’ coyness which proves in the end more a pretence than a reality, (ii) a depiction of love which is more aggressive and violent than what love in ordinary circumstances appears to be; (iii) a logical development of the thought leading finally to the triumph of love over time, and (iv) a syllogistic reasoning that is applied to the three-step development of the poem’s argument.
Whereas poems with the carpe diem theme begins with an exhortation to the young woman to enjoy her youth promptly since time is at lying, ‘To His Coy Mistress’ commences with the idea of having plenty of time for the lovers for which the lover assures the mistress that her coyness, her delay in responding to his love-appeals, is ‘no crime’. He falsely encourages her by saying that she could refuse to accept his love-proposal ’till the conversion of the Jews’. Again, instead of urging her to use her time at once he rather plants an opposite idea in her mind by saying that he would spend one hundred years to praise her eyes or gaze on her forehead and two hundred to adore each of her breasts. Contrary to carpe diem motif he outwards shows that there is no need for hurry as they have plenty of time at their disposal.
Such dilettantism (=lighthearted treatment) with time, however, comes to an end in the second stanza of the poem where the lover says that at his back he always hears the sound of Time’s chariot coming nearer and nearer to them in order to turn them into no better than some grains of sand of ‘vast eternity’. With this hearing of the chariot’s sound begins the regular features of the carpe diem motif of this poem. Reminding the beloved of Time’s chasing after them the lover makes it clear to her that she must experience sensual pleasures before Time succeeds in taking away their youth and power of enjoyment. He warns her than any delay on her part will result in Time striking her dead after which her beauty of which she is so proud will ‘no more be found’. Their enemy will also not spare him from meeting the same fate as hers. Consequently his song in praise of her beauty will no more echo in the cold ‘marble vault’ in which she will find her last refuge (=shelter). After death her ‘quaint (=(i) strange; odd (ii) despicable) honour’ will turn to ‘dust’; likewise his passion (‘lust’) will be reduced to ‘ashes’. What is most shocking is that her ‘long preserved virginity’, which she did not allow even her human lover to deflower, will now be examined by loathsome worms that will gladly make short work of it. Thus, the chasing chariot, marble vault, worms and grave are all in tune with the carpe diem them urging a young woman to make use of beauty and youth, and enjoy love and pleasure without any further delay.
In the third section of the poem the lover urges the mistress to give up all her hesitation and coyness and to taste sensual pleasures before Time succeeds in thwarting her purpose. He reminds her that now is the best time for love when her youthful skin reflects a rosy hue and when the willingness of her soul, notwithstanding her attempt at suppression, to take part in love-making comes out through ‘every pore’ of her skin. He invites her to join him in the sport’ of love and to ‘devour’ their time like a pair of ‘am’rous birds of prey’ before Time can make them languish and devour them by putting them in his powerful jaws where they will have to endure long suffering in a slow way. In their game of love he asks her to play with a ‘ball’ that will be made of masculine vigour and feminine loveliness as it cannot be played without contribution coming from both. Just as an invader shoots a cannon ball to break open the portcullis (-iron gates) in order to plunder the riches lying within a castle, in the same way lover seeks assistance and cooperation from the mistress while he desires his ‘ball’ (signifying the male sexual organ) to tear its way through the iron gates (i.e. barriers like hymen and labia that lie at the entrance of the female genitals) of life’ (i.e. things made of living and sensitive tissue) in his search for pleasures lying deep within. He tells her that they cannot make immortal their beauty and vigour but
(0 through their sexual enjoyment, which brings satisfaction and happiness their life, they can at least make Time ‘run’ at them faster than usual by making him highly envious of their present state without whose destruction he can never be in ease and peace. It is through love-play that the young lovers hope to put old Time not only into lots of difficulty but also to prove him as a tired out runner and even to defeat him in the race (although for a limited time). This kind of recommendation of enjoyment of love before Time can do its worst to them is also in tune with the carpe diem theme of the poem.
Q.5. Consider Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ as a metaphysical poem.
Ans. ‘Metaphysics’, from which issues the term ‘metaphysical’, is derived from two words-meta which means ‘after’ and physics which means ‘nature’. It is a branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence; truth, knowledge and reality. The term ‘metaphysical is applied to a type of seventeenth century poetry which exhibits certain characteristics like arguments or attempts to persuade, a vivid dramatic quality, wit (i.e. quickness of intellect, ability to say brilliant or sparkling things, to surprise and delight by means of unexpected thoughts or expressions), conceit (in which, according to Johnson, ‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’), imagery (taken from a wide range of subjects including contemporary discoveries from various fields), use of pun and paradox and other figures of speech, concentration of thought, variety of times, and blending of levity and seriousness.
At the beginning we would like to mention that metaphysical poetry deals with abstruse (=difficult to understand) thought. In ‘To His Coy Mistress’ such a thought is found when an attempt is made to bring time under the control of love and to establish love’s triumph over it. Such kind of thought undoubtedly intensifies the philosophical nature of metaphysical poetry.
The poem has a dramatic opening. The lovers sit down to decide which way to walk to pass their ‘long love’s day’. She goes to distant India to pick rubies from the side of the Ganges and he stays back in England to express mournful sounds for his separation from her by standing close to the river Humber. She does not speak a single word throughout the poem, yet to assume her absence will be the very height of absurdity on the part of anyone. In fact it is her presence that encourages the lover to talk so much and to persuade her to give up coyness for the sake of enjoying the pleasures of love. There is a great variety of tones in the poem. For example, the lover, on the one hand, encourages the mistress by saying that her coyness will be ‘no crime’ and, on the other hand, he lets his reader feel how exasperated (=annoved) and disturbed he really is at her delay in responding to his appeal of love. Again the delight of the mistress may know no bounds when he says he would spend one hundred years to praise her eyes and forehead and two hundred to adore each of her breasts but in reality such hyperbolic praise, as the reader well understands, is absurd (=unreasonable), unrealistic and incredible. He describes her honour as ‘quaint’ which she takes to be strange or over-refined but actually her delay has make her so irritated that such honour loses all value and sounds to the reader, on account of close similarity of sound, no better than ‘cunt’ which, besides referring to her vagina, means something despicable (=contemptible). This shift of tones is, indeed, an added charm to the poem.
Argument, another metaphysical feature, takes a syllogistic shape in this poem. In the first strophe the lover argues that her coyness will not be an offence if they have enough world (=space) and time’. In the second strophe, by referring to Time’s chasing after them, he shows that they have really a short time in their possession. In the third strophe he concludes that in the face of Time’s attempt to devour them the best course (=plan) of action for them will be to be locked in love at once giving up all hesitation or coyness.
Persuasion also figures prominently as it is a seduction poem in nature. When she fails to understand the implication of ‘vegetable love’ growing faster than empirès’ as a result of coyness drawn to an absurd length or the sneering lying behind his hyperbolic praises of her lover has to resort to frightening to see if it succeeds to achieve his purpose. He tells her that her coyness will ultimately result in her finding rest in a cold marble vault without beauty, without honour and without the lover’s song echoing round it. Frightening reaches to a shocking proportion when he says that though she did not allow her lover to take a taste of her ‘long preserved virginity’, now (i.e. after her death) it will be laid open (exposed) for the examination of some contemptible worms that will make short work of it (=to finish it quickly). In the third section he, again, urges her to join him in the ‘sport’ of love as otherwise Time will devour them by putting them in his powerful jaws.
Concentration of thought is another important feature of metaphysical poetry. In the present poem we notice its presence in the logical development of the thought. After its leisurely beginning the main thought (i.e. the necessity of enjoyment of love) does not nowhere rest till it reaches its end (i.e. the conviction of the mistress at last that she must now give up her coyness in order to enjoy sexual pleasures) in the last section. The concentration is such that is does not let us wander away from the central thought for the sake of the charm of any word, idea or image.
Conceit is the very lifeblood of metaphysical poetry. It is a kind of comparison in which ‘we are made to concede likeness while being strongly conscious of unlikeness’. It is a comparison ‘whose ingenuity (=skill, cleverness) is more striking than its justness’. Judged in this light the poem contains a number of excellent conceits such as ‘vegetable love’, ‘deserts of vast eternity’, ‘marble vault’, ‘quaint honour’, ‘slowchapt power’, ‘(ball of) pleasures’ and ‘iron gates of life’. The conceits are made memorable and witty with the help of such figures of speech as simile (‘like morning dew’; ‘‘like am’rous birds of prey’), metaphor (‘deserts of vast eternity’), hyperbole (‘two hundred to adore each breast’), irony (‘the last age should show your heart’), pun (‘quaint; ‘sun’), epigram (*The grave’s a fine and private place,/ But none I think do there embrace’), and paradox (yet we will make him run).
The images, which have heightened the intellectual quality of the poem, have been drawn a wide variety of fields, such as geography (Indian, Ganges, Humber), the Bible (the Flood), popular belief (the conversion of the Jews) administration (empires), commerce (rubies, rate), logic (therefore), anatomy (eyes, forehead, breast, heart), warfare ([cannon] ball, iron gates), time (now, year, eternity), and sex (lust, embrace, ball, sport, devour, iron gates of life, rough strife).
Wit, another metaphysical feature, is chiefly to be seen in certain brilliant expressions, such as (i) ‘For Lady, you deserve this state;/Nor would I love at lower rate’; (ii) ‘then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity’; (iii) ‘Thy willing soul transpires/ At every pore with instant fires; and (iv) ‘And tear our pleasures with rough strife/Thorough the iron gates of life’.
The poem follows a rhythm which has similarity with natural human speech. The rhythm of the poem is far from regular as the following extract will show:
Lét us | roll áll | our strength I and áll Our sweet- I ness úp I in-to I óne báll. Needless to say, such rhythmic freedom is in tune with the colloquial; speech of human beings.
Alliance of levity and seriousness is another important metaphysical feature. When the lover says that his ‘vegetable love’ in the background of unlimited time will grow ‘vaster than empires’ the seriousness of his intent cannot perhaps be questioned but when he adds that its growth will be more slow’ than vegetables, the expression undoubtedly makes light what has been asserted earlier. Another such example is found in the following extract: ‘I would/Love you ten years before the Flood.’ The solemnity of his intention to love the mistress in a hearty and warm way in the declaration, but the expression ‘ten years before the Flood’ takes away all its seriousness by making it absurd and incredible, unrealistic and fantastic.
Finally, the ‘blend of passion and thought’, feeling and ratiocination’ is, according to Prof. Grierson, the greatest achievement’ of the metaphysical poets. In Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ there are many instances where such blending has taken place. One such example is presented below: ‘And now, like am’rous birds of prey,/Rather at once our time devour/Than languish in his slow-chapt power.’ In it we find, on the one hand, the lover’s earnest desire that they should sexual love with force and fierceness and his apprehension, on the other, that any delay or hesitation on her part will let them to be crushed in the powerful jaws of Time. The presence of feeling side by side thinking, of passion together with ratiocination (=exact or careful thinking) has without doubt heightened the intellectual standard of the poem.
Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ possesses many metaphysical features, and its execution is such that it can rightly claim a very high place among such poems.
Q.6. Comment on the blending of ‘levity and seriousness’ in Marvell’s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’.
Ans. Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ stands out sharply for one of its characteristics-the blending of levity (=lack of seriousness) and seriousness. Both Prof. Grierson and T.S. Eliot have referred to this quality and regarded to be one of Marvell’s greatest achievements’. Indeed the very presence of these two opposed traits has not only helped to bring in a variety of tones but it is has also enriched the intellectual flavour of the poem.
In the first section the blending of levity and seriousness has occurred in the very first couplet of the poem: Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime. His utterance makes the mistress take the lover’s statement with as much seriousness as possible. But to readers the seriousness is lightened to a great extent is qualified (=limited) by the information that the lover’s statement will remain true only if they had infinite space and unlimited time. However, as such possession is impossible to have, the implication is clear that the lover does not approve of his mistress’ coyness (which he had apparently encouraged). Again, the same blending of the two opposed qualities is discernible in the lover’s affirmation that he would love her since ‘ten years before the Flood’ and the beloved’s equal denial to accept his love ’till the confirmation of the Jews’. The grim seriousness that lies behind the lovers’ resolve (=decision; determination) cannot be called into question (=doubted). But the moment we take into consideration the question of time-far in the past and equally far in the future-the whole seriousness collapses to become something incredible and ludicrous, something unrealistic and unreliable. Take, for example the following extract:
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
As the mistress is unwilling to part with her coyness (=modesty) the lover’s love turns into a ‘vegetable’ one (i.e. capable only of growth and devoid of both rationality and passion (which really makes his woe profounder). He tells her that since they are never in want of time, it cannot be denied that his love will ultimately grow bigger than empires. As there is no end of his love for her such description hardly raises any doubt in her mind. But to readers he gives the game away (=reveals the trick) not only by an exaggerated description but specially by the addition the words ‘more slow’ which makes clear that bigness of love can hardly be a matter of solace as its growth will even be slower than the of petty vegetables. Again, when he begins to praise his beloved,
she has every reason to feel comforted when he assures her that he, a spendthrift of time, will allot at least an age’ to admire ‘every part’ of her beautiful body. But he pricks holes in her satisfaction, without her knowledge of course, when he adds that only ‘the last age’ would show her ‘heart’, stressing thereby how mysterious and complicated her heart really is, notwithstanding her apparent innocence. In the same section. another alliance (=combination) of levity and seriousness can be found when the lover says:
For, Lady, you deserve this state;
Nor would I love at lower rate. Apparently the mistress has every reason to feel glad and happy when he tells her that can justly demand the high praise he has showered on her just now. He further says that even if she states that she is not fit for such kind of admiration and he ought to praise her in a somewhat lesser manner, he will not do so as he is convinced that she deserves such kind of extraordinary lauding (=praise). However satisfying it may appear to her readers have no difficulty to understand that the lover’s actual attitude is quite different from what he expresses to her. In fact he would have felt completely at ease if his. praise of her had been far less timeconsuming.
In the second section we come across (=to find) another such instance where the lover warns the mistress that after her death her ‘quaint honour’ will turn to dust’. Her honour lies in her ‘long preserved virginity’ which she will not part with even if she were to accept death for its keeping. Naturally such honour appears ‘quaint’ to him leading her to accept it in its usual sense of something strange, over-refined or old-fashioned. But what he keeps hidden from her is that ‘quaint’ for similarity of sound is also pronounced like ‘cunt’ which, besides referring to the female genitals, means something (or somebody) despicable or unpleasant. Thus her ‘long preserved virginity’ (=chastity) (which worms instead of her human admirer would examine and enjoy after her death) may be a source of honour to her, but it is quite otherwise to him. In the same section we also find the same quality in the following couplet: The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
Since the beloved will accept death rather than allow deflowering of herself, the lover finds that she has no other way but to lie in the grave. At this she implies, but does not utter openly, that they may carry on their spiritual love-making in the grave even after death. To this the lover sardonically replies that the grave is ‘a fine and private (i.e. not open to public) place’ but nobody has ever heard of its use for the sake of love-making. Here gravity and lightness is mixed in a wellproportioned way.
The same alliance of levity and seriousness is also present in the third section of the poem. It is brought into focus when the lover detects that her ‘willing soul transpires (=comes out)/At every pore with instant fires (=passion), notwithstanding her desire to appear ‘coy’ merely for the sake of social convention. Outwardly she seeks to guard her modesty and virginity but inwardly she has no objection to tasting the pleasures of sex. The final exposition of her nature points to the presence of both seriousness and levity. In spite of her clinging to coyness for form’s sake she neither raises any objection nor offers any resistance when, like an invader’s cannon ball to a castle, he wants his ‘ball’ (signifying the male sexual organ) to tear (=to move fast with excitement) its way through the iron gates of life’ (referring to the female genitals together with hymen and labia standing as barriers (=remember in this context the portcullis of a castle) at the mouth) so that they may enjoy the pleasures of love with rough strife’. Finally, their eagerness, notwithstanding Time’s power to take away their beauty and vigour, to ‘make him run’ (by causing him envy their happy and contented state resulting from their enjoyment of love) may be taken as another fine instance where levity is blended judiciously with seriousness.
We have, thus, no hesitation to declare that Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ has attained a distinctive (=the ability to make something different from other) position by virtue of its skillful alliance of levity and seriousness.
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