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Contrasting Love in To His Coy Mistress and Elegy for Jane

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Contrasting Love in To His Coy Mistress and Elegy for Jane

If one is interested enough to look, one can find twenty-eight definitions for the word "love" in the dictionary. Such a broadly-defined word has no doubt contributed to the diverse array of poems which all claim (legitimately) to be about "love". Two such poems are "To His Coy Mistress", by Andrew Marvell, and "Elegy for Jane", by Theodore Roethke. Both poems are clearly love poems; however, the types of love that each one represents are quite different. "To His Coy Mistress" is written in a very amorous tone, while "Elegy for Jane" is written with a tone of deep, personal affection and loss.

Dictionary definition number three for love is "sexual passion or desire". This is the stance from which "To His Coy Mistress" is written. Marvell spends the first twenty lines of the poem lauding such female attributes as coyness and virginity (lines 2 and 6). The first twenty lines of the poem are Marvell’s attempt to gain the trust of the object of the poem (for it is clearly written for a young lady). He assures her that if he had the time, he would love her as she deserves to be loved (line 19). He assures her that he could spend over thirty-thousand years praising the parts of her body. He would also wait a time of biblical magnitude (lines 8-10) for the young lady to bestow her sexual favors upon him, if he had the time to wait. However, even in this sort of "you can trust me because I love you and fully appreciate you for who you are" set-up to gain the confidence of the girl, it is clear that his intentions are amorous: the fact that he would spend a mere hundred years praising her eyes, yet spend a collective four hundred years on her breasts (lines 13-15) is...

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...ither father nor lover"). Their bond, ostensibly teacher/student, grew into a friendship far stronger than an academic one. The tone is nostalgic, yet mournful the loss of one for whom the speaker had a deep affection.

Love comes in many forms, and poets have likely described them all at one point or another. With so many different types of love, it is quite possible for two "love poems" to be written in completely different tones. Marvell’s "To His Coy Mistress" is a very amorous poem, spoken by a fiery young man, while Roethke’s "Elegy for Jane" is a mournful look back at a life lost too soon, spoken by a deeply affected friend. Both poems are as poignant as they are distinct from one another, and they serve as an interesting lesson in love.

Works Cited:

Marvell, Andrew. "To His Coy Mistress" and Other Poems. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1997.
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