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The two poems I am comparing are ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell. Coy can be translated into modern language as Shy. The whole poem is persuasive and is trying to get the lady to sleep with him, but because she is shy she wont. Marvell lived in the 17th century from 1621-1678. The poem in contrast is ‘Sonnet 116’ by William Shakespeare who also wrote this poem in the 17th century and he lived from 1564-1616. This poem is about the strength of love.
Marvell was a metaphysical poet, which means he used extensive metaphors throughout his poems, as if he is playing with language. On the other hand Shakespeare wrote in sonnets and has a more sincere approach to writing.
The poems are both similar in ‘meaning’ because love I the base of these two poems. I will be exploring the meaning, which is most difficult to find without deep thought. Marvell’s poem is split into three parts, the first is speculating about love and if they had all the time this is what they would do.
If they had plentiful time her shyness wouldn’t matter, (but using the unique style Marvell has acquired), he is almost saying it is a crime to be shy because they have little time. He says he would spend 200 years adoring each breast and 100 years gazing upon her forehead. With all the time the world has he tells us they would visit the Indian Gange’s side, because they had all the world to explore with unlimited time.
Shakespeare is in contrast to this to Marvell as he is saying they have enough time to do what they like. In the opening line ‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds’, he is saying nothing can stop the partnership of soul mates as they come together. This evokes marriage and he does so again on the concluding line by saying ‘impediments’ which is a well-known part of the marriage service.
Marvell then starts a new stanza where he starts the second part, where he is being realistic and saying but they do not have all the time in the world. He is bringing the theme from the first stanza, which is fantasy, to reality in this stanza. He starts by saying they haven’t all the time in the world and death is always around the corner. He says ‘Time’s winged chariot hurrying near’ and we get imagery in our head of a flying chariot, speeding after him to catch and kill him. Marvell then says ‘marble vault’ which is a grave therefore provoking death and imagery again. Marvell then says if she dies a virgin, she has only preserved her virginity for the worms, as they will creep into every orifice and eat her inside out. The imagery used here is very powerful and provokes sickening sights in our mind. Marvell writes her ‘quaint honour turns to dust’ which means her cute or silly morals of staying virgin, will disappear when she dies. As she dies all his lust for her will go and turn to dust, he says she should lose her virginity to him in a bed rather than the worms in her grave.
Shakespeare then again writes complete opposite to Marvell. He says it isn’t love if something changes and the love changes, or if something is removed the love is removed. Shakespeare says love is ‘an ever-fixed mark’ meaning it is always present and in ‘tempests’ or storms of trouble and problems it is ‘never shaken’ and nothing phases it. No, Shakespeare says love is the hope and guidance for every lost ship. We can portray the ship as a soul, love will get them through all their problems and troubles. Ships were the only form of transport between countries. Many people died at sea and their only motivation to work hard and see it through was love. The journeys at sea often took months. Shakespeare then carries on to say love is priceless, you can measure the height of it; ‘although his height be taken’, but you cannot value it. Basically meaning you can see what’s on the outside but it’s what’s on the inside that counts.
Marvell then starts a new stanza, which is also the beginning of the third part of the poem, where he is evaluating and saying So let’s do this and that. He says whilst she is good complexion (‘youthful hue’) ‘Sits on thy skin like morning dew’, meaning her youth wont be there long, just as morning dew is only present for a short time. Marvell is implying why she is young let them have sex because she is in her prime state. There is a lot of urgency in this stanza, using words like ‘instant’, ‘now’ and ‘at once’. He is trying to hurry her up because life expectancy was small due to bad hygiene and life threatening diseases. Therefore youth and beauty and youth were highly prized and the plague was an epidemic, which could lead to death and certainly disfigurement.
Shakespeare then writes for the first time in agreement with Marvell. He says ‘Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks Within his bending sickle’s come’; Shakespeare means love stays but beauty is at the mercy of time. We get an image of a large hooded figure catching all beauty in his circular orbit with no escape from the curved edge, which chops down all beauty. Shakespeare describes the figure’s reach as a compass, linking the previous mentions of ships.
Marvell then writes in imagery for sex and writes in first person plural, to persuade her and make her feel as if she is a part of him and his life, he uses words such as ‘we’. With more urgency he says they should ‘devour’ the time they have. They must eat hungrily their opportunities ‘like amorous birds of prey’. We get imagery of large vicious birds in partnership ripping up their time and pleasure with ‘rough strife’. Meaning they must be very fast and strong to make use of the time they have. Marvell is writing very aggressively.
Shakespeare is again writing in complete opposite to Marvell, he says love does not change ‘in brief hours or weeks’. Love ‘bears it out even to the edge of doom’ meaning love lat beyond people’s lifetimes, to the ends of eternity. Shakespeare then ends and concludes his poem with a rhyming couplet. If Shakespeare’s thoughts about love are false, then he says he has never written anything, therefore he cannot be wrong.
Marvell then writes that they are going to be so fast that the sun will have to catch up, we see the couple hand in hand with a huge burning ball chasing them.
Shakespeare is basically saying love is more powerful than time and Marvell the exact opposite.
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