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Romeo & Juliet | To His Coy Mistress

Steph Atkinson | Wednesday April 18, 2012

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Part 1 Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet | Part 2 Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress
Part 3 Browning’s Sonnet 43 | Part 4 Owen’s Futility
Part 5 Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade

Andrew Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress

Overview and Context

The poem might be viewed as a literary exercise in logic as much as a ‘love’ poem’. Marvell’s speaker uses a tripartite structure to follow his argument to its conclusion, effectively forming a ‘syllogism’.

This poem is also a prime example of the ‘sex-death’ juxtaposition (which critics such as Roland Barthes have explored in more detail), also a marked characteristic of Romeo and Juliet.

Whilst many students will be able to understand the ideas contained within this poem, a very rough ‘translation’, such as the one which follows, may be useful. Click on the images to enlarge them.

click on images to enlarge

NB. Note the three stages of the argument:

  1. He describes what he would do if he had all the time in the world (this section is full of persuasive flattery).
  2. Unfortunately, time is not on his side and death will destroy her beauty so they need to act quickly.
  3. So whilst they are young she should give in to his desires and enjoy themselves whilst they can.

Some Initial Notes

  • The poem invokes the Petrarchan convention; this originates in the fourteenth century (named for the Italian poet, Petrarch). This poetic form is conventionally spoken by a male lover and addressed to his female beloved. It employs hyperbolic metaphors and excessive language (rhetoric) Petrarchan sonnets conventionally explore unrequited love but here Marvell’s speaker is not respectful and adoring – he is full of lust and his language is highly sexual; he is inverting poetic convention.
  • The poem also reminds the reader of the blazon, a poetic form which praises a woman’s physical attributes (consider Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 as an inversion of this poetic form).
  • The poem is...

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