Metaphysical poets, selected poems Contents
- Donne, John
- John Donne's early life
- John Donne - from Catholic to Protestant
- John Donne's marriage and its aftermath
- John Donne - The Reverend Dean
- Herbert, George
- Crashaw, Richard
- Vaughan, Henry
- Marvell, Andrew
- King, Henry
- Lovelace, Richard
- Cowley, Abraham
- Philips, Katherine
- Cleveland, John
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context: ideas and innovations
- Aire and Angels
- A Hymn to God the Father
- A Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse
- A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day
- At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Synopsis of Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Commentary on Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Structure and versification in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Imagery and symbolism in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Themes in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- A Valediction: of Weeping
- Batter my heart
- Death be not Proud
- Elegie XIX: Going to Bed
- Elegie XVI: On his Mistris
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
- Lovers' Infiniteness
- Oh my blacke Soule!
- Satyre III: 'On Religion'
- Show me Deare Christ
- Since She Whom I Lov'd
- Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre
- The Anniversarie
- The Dreame
- The Extasie
- The Flea
- The Good-morrow
- The Sunne Rising
- This is my playes last scene
- Twicknam Garden
- What if this present
- Affliction I
- Easter Wings
- Jordan I
- Jordan II
- Love II
- Prayer I
- The Church-floore
- The Collar
- Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Hymn to St Teresa
- St Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper
- To the Countesse of Denbigh
- Ascension - Hymn
- The Night
- The Retreate
- The Water-fall
- A Dialogue between Soul and Body
- On a Drop of Dew
- The Coronet
- The Definition of Love
- The Garden
- The Mower Against Gardens
- The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- The Mower's Song
- The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
- The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
- To his Coy Mistress
- Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
Commentary on To his Coy Mistress
The poem is divided into three clearly defined section parts:
- The way the lovers could behave if they had all the time in the world (ll.1-20)
- Reminder that life is short and that death will bring an end to lovemaking (ll.21-32).
- The need to make the most of the brief time available (ll.33-46).
The poem starts with a conditional: ‘Had we but...Time'. The implication is that the lovers do not, setting the poem at the opposite extreme from Donne's The Sunne Rising, which boldly asserts that the lovers control their own time, and the sun is their servant. Marvell's verbs go into the conditional tense: ‘would sit', ‘should'st ... find', ‘should ... refuse ... grow ... whatever'. So although his suggestions seem positive enough, they are an illusion.
The suggestions are, of course, comic absurdities. This is the form of Metaphysical wit that Marvell uses for his conceits. He would be willing to go back almost to the beginning of time in the Bible and ‘Love you ten years before the Flood', a reference to Noah's flood (Genesis 7:17-24). She, on the other hand, could delay her response ‘till the Conversion of the Jews', an idea which Marvell uses to symbolise an unknown future timescale. His love could be ‘vegetable': which will keep growing and reproducing itself - slowly. The fact that it is one of the lower forms of life is part of the irony. As is the fact that we are irresistably reminded through his image of the speaker's (actually almost immediate) erection.
Marvell parodies the Elizabethan love convention of listing the mistress's bodily parts, and praising each one separately – eyes, forehead, breasts – by giving absurd amounts of time to be spent in praising each part. He slyly hints at ‘the rest'. Each shall have an ‘age', referring to Greek mythology in which human history could be divided into ‘ages': gold, silver, bronze (see The Golden Age).
This is a powerful section on time and death. The carpe diem (‘seize the day') theme is strong, as it is in Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd, or more genteelly in Robert Herrick's Gather ye Rosebuds. The tempo and mood suddenly change. ‘Times winged Charriott' sounds quite military, in pursuit of the lovers. With the prospect of ‘Desarts of vast Eternity', the vegetable image is replaced by total barrenness. This leads on to talk of dust, to which her ‘quaint Honour' will be reduced. ‘Quaint' contains a play on words. In the seventeenth century it meant proud and also ‘whimsical', as it does today; it may also be a pun on ‘queynt', which in the medieval period, referred to a woman's sexual organs. Her ‘Virginity' in death will be as barren: it has produced nothing but a facade. The reality of the grave confronts us as bleakly as it does in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet or some of the Jacobean dramas that followed.
Having mocked the Elizabethans in Section 1, then agreed with them in Section 2, Marvell follows their advice in Section 3. The Latin carpe diem (‘seize the day') motif is echoed in such violent phrases as ‘like ... birds of prey', ‘our Time devour' and ‘tear our Pleasures'. The sense of struggle is strong: either time controls us, or we it. So there comes the defiant ‘yet we will make him [the sun] run', echoing Donne's poem, a defiance which, we feel, stems from the frustration at his inability to make love to his lady.
- Compare Marvell's To his Coy Mistress with Donne's The Sunne Rising
- What are the biggest similarities and differences?
- How does Marvell convey
- the idea of time almost stopping?
- the idea of time rushing along?
- Do you think this is a very masculine poem?
- What suggests it is so?
- If you were the one being addressed by Marvell, would you be persuaded or put off?
- Is the poem meant to be persuasive?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
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