To His Coy Mistress

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"To His Coy Mistress" and Shakespeare's sonnet 12 both explore the theme of human mortality and man's relationship with death and time. Compare and contrast the writers treatment of this theme.

The two poems "To His Coy Mistress and Sonnet 12 were written in the late 16th and 17th century at a time when early and premature death were extremely common. Some parts lead the reader to believe that it was a man, yet there are some points in the poem that contradict this. Marvell uses his poem to discuss time in the context of a syllogistic argument. The main reason for the poem was to persuade his lover to have sex with him. The poem begins with a thesis. He expresses his desire for more time. He describes time using biblical terms; ‘ten years before the flood…till the conversion of the Jews'. This is Marvell's interpretation of eternity. He is saying that is he had this vast amount of time then her so called ‘coyness' would ‘be no crime'. However, the next section is written as an antithesis. Marvell is describing the reality of his wish, the fact that they have very little time. He portrays time as a metaphor, ‘time's winged chariot'. The idea for this metaphor seems to have been derived form Classical mythology, where Greek god Apollo drove a winged chariot across the sky at the time of a person's death. The use of the word ‘wing' implies that death is approaching with speed. Marvell says ‘at my back I always hear'. This suggests how he feels time is chasing him like a predator. The word ‘always' shows he is constantly aware of the threat of death. There is further possible reference to Greek mythology in lines 45-46, when Marvell says ‘we cannot make the sun stand still'. This reflects how it is claimed that Zeus asked the sun to stop moving so that he would have more time with his lover, Alcamena. It could also refer to the biblical incident when Joshua asked the sun to stop so that Israel could defeat their enemy, the Amorites. But Marvell is saying how...
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