To His Coy Mistress Essay: Use of Sound

To His Coy Mistress Essay: Use of Sound

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Use of Sound in To His Coy Mistress         

At first glance, Andrew Marvel's poem "To His Coy Mistress" is a fairly typical carpe diem poem, in which the speaker tells his beloved that they should "seize the day" and have sex now instead of waiting until they are married. Today, the speaker's speech may seem sexist in its attitude toward women and irresponsible in its attitude toward the coy mistress (the speaker doesn't explain how he would seize the day if the woman became pregnant, for example). Still, if we look beyond the limited perspective of the speaker himself, we can see that Marvell is making a statement about how all of us (regardless of gender or involvement in relationships) should savor the pleasures of the moment. For the poet, there are two kinds of attitude toward the present: (1) activities in the present are judged by their impact on the future, and (2) there is no future state--all activities occur in the present and can only be enjoyed or evaluated by their impact at that moment. The mistress would like to postpone sex (theoretically until she and the speaker are married). The speaker wants to consummate their physical relationship now. Each viewpoint has its reasons, and certainly the woman in the poem would stand to lose practically from premarital sex. Marvell, however, isn't suggesting that unbridled lust is preferable to moral or ethical restraint; sex is the subject matter, not the theme of the poem. Marvell's actual point here is that instead of dividing our lives or our values into mathematically neat but artificial categories of present and future, we should savor the unique experiences of each present moment; to convey this theme, the poet uses irre...


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...g up and slowing down time, the speaker's irregularities of meter create a melody that substitutes the rough spondaic meter for the smoothly regular iambic tetrameter.

By the time they have read (aloud) the entire poem, readers should be less concerned with the poem's overall moral (or amoral) philosophizing than with its musicality. Marvell, after all, is writing a poem, not a work of philosophy. His use and then subversion of conventional rhyme, rhythm, and meter, create a music that opposes both philosophy and anti-philosophy. Life, these irregularities remind us, exists in the here and now, not on the neatly divided clock or calendar. We cannot control the fact that life is followed by death, nor should we try to do so through fantasizing about the future, but we can control each moment that we are alive: each irregular, spontaneous, surprising moment.

 

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