Andrew Marvell's elaborate sixteenth century carpe diem poem, 'To His Coy Mistress', not only speaks to his coy mistress, but also to the reader. Marvell's suggests to his coy mistress that time is inevitably rapidly progressing and for this he wishes for her to reciprocate his desires and to initiate a sexual relationship. Marvell simultaneously suggests to the reader that he or she should act upon their desires as well, to hesitate no longer and seize the moment before time, and ultimately life, expires. Marvell makes use of allusion, metaphor, and grand imagery in order to convey a mood of majestic endurance and innovatively explicate the carpe diem motif.
To show the passage of time in his poem, Marvell makes reference to past and future events on a grand scale. His allusions to religious scripture early on in the poem give the impression of vast ages passing, spanning most of time itself. He says:
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews. (7-10)
The period ten years before the flood, which occurs in Genesis some time after creation, until the conversion of the Jews crosses a massive amount of time. This allusion is one of the several techniques Marvell uses to turn the focus away from impending death to an ideal world without it. These amplifications imply that under normal circumstances the speaker would wait many years until his mistress became ready for their relationship. Marvell also uses the image of the flood to evoke visualizations of a new life within a new covenant.
The reader can almost visualize the deep love the narrator bestows upon his mistress through the inten...
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...icture in the reader?s mind that depicts the speaker?s anxiety and urgent desires.
Marvell uses this anxiety to emphasize the importance of acting now, the essence of a carpe diem poem. In order to seduce his mistress Marvell relies on the threatening rapid progression of time. The second stanza persistently reminds the readers that those who postpone their joy in love will have no joy at all. Time then moves into the present tense, providing the intensity of the current moment. Marvell makes the idea of eternity seem more tangible so that when that timelessness is swept away, the alternative seems all the more frightening. This fear is the backbone of seizing the day.
Marvell, Andrew. "To His Coy Mistress." 1681. Literature and Society: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama, Non-fiction, 3rd ed. New Jersey: Pretence Hall,1999.
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