17th Century Poetry

Compare (find the similarities) and contrast (find the differences) between the poetic techniques of Herrick and Marvell to achieve their intentions in “To the Virgins…” and “To his Coy Mistress”

Both of the poems, “To the Virgins, To make much of time,” by Robert Herrick and “To his Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell deal with the issue of virginity in young women and focus on the need to begin a sexual relationship as early as possible so that no time is wasted.

Herrick is more openly expressing his ideas and poetic techniques in “To the Virgins…” as to build a good grounding for his argument by showing off his literary skills but most of all a refined, diligent use of imagery. Whereas Marvell in his writing, is more humble to begin with, yet, as the poem progresses becomes more insistent, almost intimidating as his language adopts a more passionate, fiery nature.

The themes of each piece both highlight the poets’ intention – an urgency to have sex – and go on to elaborate about the passing of time.

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When Marvell says, ‘Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,’ he is asserting to the woman the fact that time is running out and they won’t be young forever. Similarly, in the same way, Herrick is demonstrating to all women that their times will run short when he metaphorically compares the passing of time to the setting of the sun in the line, ‘And nearer he’s to setting.’ Both poets are proving that their intentions are justified because time really is of the essence and death is ‘hurrying near.

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The way in which the themes of each piece, which happen to be very similar, are articulated by the different poets readily reflects their stance on the poem and involvement in it. Herrick is more flamboyant, ‘Old time is still a-flying,’ yet less involved, as he is speaking in more open terms to women in general, whereas, on the other hand Marvell is more intent, ‘Nor would I love at lower rate,’ and to a certain extent threatening as he is only trying to lure one woman in particular. Both poets seem transfixed on the idea that it is almost a crime to die a virgin, showing to the reader that their stance about love – especially of a sexual nature – is similar in this way.

Throughout both pieces, a fluctuating tone is implanted by each of the poets, from optimistic to pessimistic in each stanza of “To the Virgins…” and then from understanding to arrogant between the first and second stanzas of “To his Coy Mistress.” These varied moods create the right atmosphere for the poets to voice their opinions by adoring and flattering the women or woman, ‘And this same flower that smiles to-day/To-morrow will be dying,’ yet, still exerting their arguments with a sinister undertone to prompt them. In the first stanza of “To his Coy Mistress” the tone is amenable, complementary and adoring. The poet is humble of his own petty existence and extremely flattering towards his proposed mistress. ‘My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires,’ expresses his suggested great love for her, he then continues to almost over embellish his adoration for her in a complex six line tribute, finishing it with, ‘For Lady, you deserve this state.’ Likewise, in “To the Virgins…” each stanza begins optimistic and flattering when the poet repeatedly uses metaphors to compare young women to the beauties of nature. However, Herrick uses less admiration and flattery but instead intermingles a pessimistic warning tone with each beautiful piece of imagery he compares the women to. ‘The sooner will his race be run/And nearer he’s to setting,’ uses a flattering imagery of the sun yet still with the sinister message of time passing. Marvell differs by saving all his vindictiveness for the second stanza – most likely to encourage his proposed mistress to read on by flattering her at the outset.

The range of language used in both poems is vast and each word conscientiously selected so that the poets receive the desired effects from their readers. In his first stanza, Marvell uses thoughtful, sensual diction with elaborate and flattering exotic imagery designed to gently coax his mistress towards seeing his point of view. ‘Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side/Shoulds’t rubies find,’ is a passionate and meaningful expression of his love for her, elaborating his servility towards her by comparing her priceless and radiant beauty to that of ‘rubies.’ He also uses repetition of the word, ‘Lady’ as further flattery to magnify her status. Equally, Herrick begins most of his stanzas by using strong, natural imagery to describe the women his poem is aimed at. ‘The glorious lamp of heaven,’ uses an appealing imagery of the sun to suggest the cycle of life: youth to old age, innocence to experience.

However, on the contrary, at the beginning of stanza two, Marvell’s language becomes much more urgent, insistent and vindictive. His disposition comes across as aggressive, arrogant and quite threatening as he desperately tries to frighten the woman into agreeing with him. The atmosphere of the poem gets very intense when Marvell describes her eventual death as ‘deserts of vast eternity’ exaggerating a ‘marble vault’ as her final resting place to be desolate and lonesome assuring her that, ‘Thy beauty shall be no more found’ as there is nothing after death.

He also uses very graphical, nauseating imagery of worms consuming her body and links it to the fact that she is still a virgin when he says, ‘then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity,’ which is alarming and included to purposely unnerve her. Further, he becomes even more malicious when he calls her ‘quaint’ as if she intentionally refuses to have sex with him just to spite him and then continues to try and intimidate her by declaring that when she dies he will no longer want her in the line, ‘And into ashes all my lust.’

As for Herrick, he still does try to persuade the women but has a much less cruel way of going about it and is less intent than Marvell. He generally just wants young women to realize that they won’t stay that way forever and therefore to make the most of their time, this is clearly evident from the start since the title, “To the Virgins, to make much of time,” practically speaks for itself. By contrast though, Marvell’s title, “To his Coy Mistress,” could potentially have a deeper layer of meaning and possible be suggesting that Marvell is in denial that this woman has refused to sleep with him and therefore refers to her as someone else’s, whereas, if she were his mistress a more fitting

title may be, “To my Coy Mistress.” Herrick does, nevertheless in some instances use a threatening or more of a warning tone to highlight that nothing lasts forever. ‘For having lost but once your prime/You may forever tarry,’ is a very pressurizing and assertive way to finish his poem, giving the consequences of ignoring his advice and strongly linking his ideas to the title.

Turning to Andrew Marvell, he ends his poem by reverting to flattery after he has just terrified the woman he is planning to sleep with; arrogantly assuming he has convinced her, he continues to compliment her by personifying her youthful looking skin to dew in the simile, ‘youthful hue/Sits on thy skin like morning dew.’ Finally, he finishes even more insistent by explicitly referring to sex, using words such as, ‘amorous,’ ‘devour,’ ‘power,’ ‘tear’ and ‘rough,’ to create a seductive scene – incorporating onomatopoeic words such as ‘rough’ for an impassioned response.

Both the poets have structured their writing in different ways for a particular effect. The two stanzas of “To his Coy Mistress,” present a logical argument with an, ‘If…, But…, Therefore…’ sequence which helps the poet to validate and put more significance behind his words – basically as another inducing technique. It has been structured in rhyming couplets with a regular line length of eight syllables per line, producing a soft, meditational beat with a reflecting rhythm. By contrast, Herrick’s piece comes in more short, direct fragments that help it to flow, again putting forward a more general yet still logical point of view which Robert Herrick holds. Once more, the rhyme scheme is regular in a common a, b, a, b fashion with alternating line sequences from seven to eight syllables as a further support in helping the coherence of his ideas. Throughout, the beat has a strong, melodic and customary rhythm demonstrating a balanced, orderly argument to the reader – similar to that presented by Marvell.

Overall, Marvell and Herrick both manage to convey their ideas and publicise their intention, to start a sexual relationship without being too rude or indecent. Herrick exhibits a great composure in his thoughts, using language to his advantage but still incorporating the more sinister undertone of death and old age. Marvell, on the other hand is less poised within his argument, therefore comes across as more arrogant, vindictive and quite egotistical in the second stanza when his language adopts a more persistent, reiterating format and the intensity of the mood climaxes. However, towards the end of that stanza he is able to revert back to flattery, finishing the poem on a more positive, optimistic note as not to blemish his original line of reasoning.

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17th Century Poetry. (2020, Jun 01). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/17th-century-poetry-new-essay

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