Human beings are social beings, and from this nature, love sprouts almost impulsively. Many people concur with the well-known statement that there is no better thing in life than to love and be loved. In a bid to love and be loved, many people have gone out of their way to do or say inappropriate things. Nevertheless, this is understandable as each one tries to satisfy the strong feelings called love.
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This essay compares and contrasts “To His Coy Mistress” and “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time.” The former poem is written by Andrew Marvell, while the latter is created by Robert Herrick. Below I describe, in my own words, the ways Marvell’s poem alludes to Herrick’s poem and show what the similarities and differences between the two of them are.
“To His Coy Mistress” & “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”: Tone & Main Themes
In his poem, To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell presents the reader with a scenario one would rather call lust than love. Andrew addresses how short and full of shifts our lives are, and the need to “seize the moment” and do what one has to do. However, in his poem, To the Virgins, Robert Herrick somberly addresses the issue of love. He encourages virgins to make long-lasting commitments in marriage when there is still time.
Nevertheless, despite the counterpointing insinuations in these two poems, one thing stands out clearly; there is no time to waste in this life, and people have to do what they have to do now, not tomorrow.
This fact qualifies these two poems as carpe diems. The image of the sun appears in both lyrics, and even though it may symbolize different things, it underlines the short time that people have in this life. This is a good illustration of symbolism as the main literary device used in both of the poems. At face value, these poems may appear to be addressing love issues, which qualify them as identical; however, they have differences that a reader without a keen eye may not point out.
Marvell and Herrick had the same thoughts of love while writing these poems and this may explain why the two poems’ similarities outweigh the differences. This paper addresses these issues from a critical point of view, identifying rather significant differences and similarities in the two poems.
“To His Coy Mistress” & “To the Virgins”: Similarities
As aforementioned, these poems are carpe diems. The writers insist on seizing the moment for time is short. In To His Coy Mistress, the idea of capturing the moment comes out clearly, as the narrator speaks plainly about the issue. “Had we but world enough, and time/ This coyness, Lady, were no crime/ We would sit down and think which way/ To walk and pass our long love’s day” (Marvel line 1-4).
The use of the past tense in this context makes the narrator sound as he is regretting. He is lamenting the shortness of time in this life, which does not allow him and his coy mistress to court forever. If they had enough time, the mistresses’ coyness would not be a crime; however, the limited time they have makes it a crime to be coy. They “would” do anything like sitting and thinking the way to go in their love life.
On the other side, Herrick, in “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time,” shares the same idea of seizing the moment. He says, “Gather ye rosebuds, while ye may/ Old time, is still a-flying/ And this same flower that smiles today/Tomorrow will be dying” (Herrick line 1-4).
Instead of regretting like Marvell, Herrick gives a solution to counter the short time, ‘gather’ your rosebuds; in other words, do it now. The use of present tense in “gather” echoes the carpe diem that this poem is. Gathering of roses here means living life to the fullest now. Roses here stand for the virgins that Herrick is addressing in this poem. Generally, virgins are young, energetic, and brimming, and this is the same nature of rosebuds.
However, just like the roses that are smiling today, and tomorrow are dead, the virgins will suffer the same fate. Human life is just but a short journey on earth, and then they die. The bottom line of these two poems is that there is no time, for both the coy mistress and the virgins. They have to seize the moment.
These poems are also similar in the way they start and proceed. They both start with a persuasive tone. Marvel begins by persuading his coy mistress to give in to his sexual desires now. To show his commitment, he tells her mistress that he would love her even for a hundred years provided time is sufficient.
He goes into detail of trying to make her understand that he knows she is contented with her status, for she sits by the ‘rubies.’ Nevertheless, he is sitting by the estuary where tides may sweep him any time and die before having sex with her.
In “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time”, the tone adopted by Herrick is the same. As the poem opens up, he persuades virgins to marry now because, just like roses, they will be here today, but tomorrow they will be gone.
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As the poems proceed, both writers adopt a pragmatic stance where they bring facts about the brevity of life. Marvell goes overboard to get his coy mistress from her complacency and make her see the shortness of time. He says, “But at my back, I always hear/time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near/ and yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast eternity.
/Thy beauty shall no more be found/ nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound/ my echoing song: then worms shall try/ That long preserved virginity/ And your quaint honor turn to dust/ And into ashes all my lust/ the grave’s a fine and private place/ But none, I think, do there embrace” (Marvel stanza II).
Marvel warns his coy mistress that even if she preserves her virginity, worms in the grave will break and eat it once she enters eternity. This part is very pragmatic, and one may call it the ‘facts’ stanza where persuasion dies, and the writer comes out to present the facts of life.
Herrick adopts the same stand for he says, “The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun/ The higher he’s a-getting/, The sooner will his race be run/ And nearer he’s to the setting/ That age is best which is the first. /When youth and blood are warmer/ But being spent, the worse, and worst/ Times still succeed the former” (Herrick stanza II & III).
Just as Marvel warns that the time’s chariot is coming faster than expected, Herrick warns that heavenly master, the sun, will sooner than later finish his race and ‘set.’ He posits that the worst time; that is death, will succeed the better times; now, when the virgins are warm and young. The tone in “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” and in “To His Coy Mistress” is the same as the narrators move from persuasion to warning their subjects.
Finally, as the poems close down, the narrators give a resolution to their subjects. In Herrick’s case, he urges the virgins to marry. He says, “Then be not coy, but use your time” (Herrick, line 13). The use of ‘then be’ gives paints a resolution picture.
On the other hand, Marvell finishes his poem on the same note. He says, “Now, therefore, while the youthful hue/ …Now let us sport us while we may/ And now, like amorous birds of prey” (Marvel line 18, 23&24). Just like Herrick, Marvell says, ‘now lets’ and this paint the same picture of giving a resolution.
The symbolism of the sun appears conspicuously in these two poems. Marvell says, “Thus, though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run” (Marvell line 39-40). On the other side, Herrick says, “The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun, / The higher he’s a-getting” (Herrick line 5-6).
Probably to emphasize the brevity of life on earth, the two narrators choose to use the sun. Every day, the sun rises in the morning, and within no time, it sets, and this echoes the carpe diem nature of these poems. Just like the sunrises and sets, the same will happen to both the virgins and the coy mistress.
As aforementioned, these two poems are carpe diems, and they insist on seizing the moment and do what one has to do now. Moreover, similarities come in the way the narrators go about it. They start by persuading their subjects, proceed to give facts and close by providing a resolution.
“To His Coy Mistress” & “To the Virgins”: Differences
As previously mentioned, To His Coy Mistress is about a lustful man persuading his coy mistress to have sex with him; however, the narrator in “To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time” encourages virgins to get married as soon as they can.
Therefore, it is clear that To His Coy Mistress is a lustful story, while To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time is a love story. The types of love spoken of here speak volumes about this fact. Marvel, in his poem, talks of “Vegetable love” while Herrick uses roses to describe love. So, where is the difference?
Naturally, love comes with romance, and roses have been used for over long periods to represent this. By using roses, Herrick makes it clear that he is talking of true love. To echo these arguments, he closes the poem by arguing virgins to get married. The fact that he acknowledges the place of marriage in sex life is a clear indication that he is after true love. The process of marriage takes some time, and this calls for patience, a great character of true love.
On the other side, Marvel is about sex, and he wants it now. He does not care whether his coy mistress is in love with him; all that he cares about is having sex. By describing his passion as a ‘vegetable’ love, he echoes how insignificant his love is. In history, no vegetable has ever been used to represent love; therefore, his vegetable love is a synonym for lust.
He does not care about the romance that comes with roses and love. Moreover, he goes overboard to use coarse language to threaten his coy mistress into giving in to his desires. He tells her that even if she preserves her virginity, it is vanity because worms will feast on her when she dies. This is not how someone in love addresses his lover.
The tone of the poem excludes any suggestions of someone in love. He starts by declaring that even though his mistress is secure wherever she is, he is insecure, for he sits by the estuary where tides can wash him away anytime. Love brings security, not fear, and the fact that Marvell is insecure shows that he is not in love.
The choice of words in these poems is different. While Herrick chooses his words carefully, Marvel uses coarse language, probably driven by his sexual desires. Herrick is more informative, and he is more of an advisor than an overt.
He uses mild words, for instance, “That age is best, which is the first/ when youth and blood are warmer” (Herrick line 9-10). This is very informative, for he lets the inexperienced virgins realize that married life is more enjoyable when one is young than in old age when the blood grows cold as one nears death.
This statement is not scaring as Marvell’s statements, “Thy beauty shall no more be found/ Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound/ My echoing song: then worms shall try/ That long preserved virginity” (Marvel line 26-29). Marvell here comes out as a self-seeking individual who cares less about what his mistress feels. He uses threatening language, and this underlines his sole agenda of having sex now.
The other outstanding difference comes in the structure of the two poems. To His Coy Mistress is not arranged in any systematic stanzas. It is in three sections that they cannot qualify as stanzas. They are more of paragraphs than stanzas. The first ‘paragraph’ contains twenty lines, the second twelve, and the third fourteen. On the other hand, To the Virgins to Make Much of Time is arranged in four stanzas, each with four lines.
Most probably, the most debated topic in social circles is love. Unfortunately, many people concentrate on the wrong side of love leading to making some serious mistakes in life. Other people are coy and cannot stand love; however, love cannot be divorced from human beings. In this essay I compared and contrasted “To His Coy Mistress” and “To the Virgins…” by Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick. I made an analysis of the attitudes to the concept of love featured by the poets. I reviewed the main themes and the questions raised by Marvell and Herrick. Moreover, I described, in my own words, the ways Marvell’s poem alludes to Herrick’s poem and showed what the similarities and differences between the two of them are.
In summary, these poems are carpe diems; whereby, the narrators emphasize on seizing the moment. They indicate clearly that there is no time to waste around, and people have to do things now because the present time is the only time they are assured. The two poems compare in the way they start and progress. They begin by persuading their subjects to consider the brevity of life and do what they have to do.
However, there are notable differences in these poems. While Herrick in “To the Virgins to Make Much of Time” woos virgins to seize the moment, marry, and consummate their marriages after that, Marvel threatens his coy mistress to have sex with him. The most notable difference is the fact that To His Coy Mistress is about lust, while To the Virgins to Make much of time is a love story.
Herrick talks of ‘rose love’ while Marvel talks of ‘vegetable love’; in other words, lust. The structure of these poems also differs significantly, as To His Coy Mistress is arranged in the paragraph-like stanza while To the Virgins to Make of Time is organized in four equal stanzas.
Herrick, Roberts. “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.” 2010. Web.
Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.” 2010. Web.