The Carpe Diem Motif in To His Coy Mistress
"Seize the day." For cavalier poets, there seemed to be little else they found nearly as interesting write about than the carpe diem concept. The form of carpe diem poetry is generally consistent, almost to the point of being predictable. Though Andrew Marvell worked with the same concepts, his modifications to them were well-considered. In "To His Coy Mistress," 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.
Previous carpe diem poems (such as those written by Robert Herrick at the same time period) often took an apostrophic form and style which stressed the temporality of youth. The logical extension was to urge the recipient of the poem to take advantage of that youth to further her relationship with the narrator. They were often dark and melancholy in theme, underneath a light exterior of euphony and springtime images (perhaps to urge consideration of the winter to come).
Marvell chooses not to employ many of these techniques in the opening of "To His Coy Mistress." Instead, his images and tools stress how he wishes his love to be- tranquil and drawn out. Rather than beginning with a focus on the concept of death, he opens the poem with the lines, "Had we but world enough, and time / This coyness, lady, were no crime" (ll. 1-2) He will later take on the trappings of the carpe diem poem, but his focus will then be on the grandeur and passion of love, rather than its instability.
To begin to slow the passage of time in his poem, Marvell makes reference to past and future events on a grand scale. His allusions to religious scriptur...
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...it becomes easy to say "death is coming, so we should love" without any particular impact behind the thought. Now, by contrasting the alternative to love caught in time, Marvell demonifies time to be a tyrant, slowly killing us all. He then states that an escape from and method of fighting against time is to love with a passion and defy his aging effect (ll. 40-46).
By rethinking the carpe diem theme, Andrew Marvell makes his point more effectively than many other poets working with the same ideas. Using the methods described above, he makes the ideal scene of timelessness more concrete, so that when it is swept away the alternative seems all the more frightening and imperative. In this way he recreates a feature of real life- death is imperative, but trivialities can often make it seem distant. Invariably, however, it will greet us all.
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