Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
In ‘To His Coy Mistress’ the speaker carefully constructs a subtle and logical argument as to why his addressee should sexually unite with him. The speaker attempts this proposition through finesse in manipulating reason, form and imagery. The reasoning employed would be familiar to a reader educated in Renaissance England, as it is reminiscent of classical philosophical logic, entailing a statement, a counter-statement and a resolution. In line with this method Marvell’s speaker codes his argument in classical imagery. To understand this argument I will be approaching the poem in three clearly defined sections, which are denoted in the poem with indented lines.
The first of these section runs from lines 1-20, here the speaker sets out his thesis that if ‘Had we but world enough, and time’ (l.1) he would not rush the process of courtship and admiration. The speaker establishes a world unconfined by time and space by using the word ‘had’ to create the subjunctive tense. This passage is highly ironic however as the speaker is conscious that this is purely a theoretical state before he even speaks the words, he deviously lays out his persuasion knowing the impossibility of his proclamations. The speaker aims not only to flatter but also to impress the mistress using rich imagery. To compliment, but also to amaze with his geographical knowledge, the speaker refers to the River Humber and the Ganges River (ll.5-7) to emphasise the distance he would supposedly endure without her if time permitted. The exotic imagery of Asia is inline with British exploration and trade with the region and provides an escape from the relatively bland image of everyday life in England at the time even if the image of the East was unrealistic.
After he has dealt with the idea of space he goes onto confront the notion of time, using biblical references to mark the perpetual nature of reality. By using the Old Testament image...
Bibliography: Primary Text
Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress, pp. 478-9, The Norton Anthology of Poetry (W. W. Norton & Company; 5th edition, 2004).
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