In the poems “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by Jonathan Keats and “To His Coy Mistress” by Marvell the notion of time is very significant. In “To His Coy Mistress” Marvell discusses a control over time, and this control over time is for the most part a theoretical and imaginative concept that was conjured by the writer. Marvel is also fascinated by the control over what truly exists. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats is portraying the control of things that are not subject to time.
The writer strongly believes in a control of the imagination.
These two poems come to teach the reader that although one should physically “seize the day”, one should also use his imagination to unleash the true beauty of things. Although these two poems seem very different, especially in their style of writing they are actually quite similar. Both Keats and Marvel are trying to unleash the true beauty of humanity, but each uses its own approach.
Keats approach involves using irony and opposites; contrasting things of action (like time) to things of stillness (like the urn).
Marvel is interested in a “carpe diem” outlook on life using the ideal if time had no end and contrasting it to the chariot of death that follows each and every person. One can see the control of time as Marvel discusses in “To His Coy Mistress” most clearly in the first two lines of the poem, “Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime” .
Although on a basic level it seems obvious that Marvel is saying that “only if we had the time, we could be coy with each other for as long as we please”, on a deeper level these lines have a greater significance.
Marvel is establishing the fact that he believes in a control over time, and even more so that time is a concept that is conjured by the writer. Marvel goes on and attempts to woo the woman in the poem with this “time” that he has created. As Marvel stated “I would / Love you ten years before the Flood; / And you should, if you please, refuse / Till the conversion of the Jews” . He is in control of this theoretical time.
This is supported even more by the amount of time he would spend to “adore each breast, / But thirty thousand to the rest; / An age at least to every part, / And the last age should show your heart” . But then towards the end of the poem he destroys this control over the theoretical time he has created in order to take this woman into bed. “Now let us sport us while we may; / And now, like am’rous birds of prey, / Rather at once our time devour/ Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power” .
He believes that time has no presence, and no purpose. Keats portrayal of the control of things that are not subject to time in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” can be seen throughout the poem. This control of time is accomplished by using images that can never be fulfilled or that seem hypocritical. In the first two lines he compares the urn to an “unravish’d bride of quietness” and a “foster-child of silence and slow time”. Then in second stanza he creates this image of “Fair youth, beneath the trees”.
Then Keats tells the reader that ” Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve; / She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! ” . In the third stanza Keats goes to the extent of stating the feelings of the trees, and the eternalness of their boughs, as demonstrated in the following two verses. “Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; . In addition to being a believer in control of time, Keats is also a strong believer in the control of the imagination.
Many of the images he creates require our imagination to unleash the inner beauty of the urn. He asks many questions that he does not give answers to in order to make the reader think. “What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape// What men or gods are these? What maidens loth? // What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy? ” . As Keats wrote in his poem “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; , and indeed one should use his imagination to do so.