Syllogism in To His Coy Mistress
Syllogism is a process in logic a kind of deductive reasoning. It is a form of reasoning to deduce a conclusion from two given or assumed propositions, called the premises. The propositions state the arguments from which the conclusion follows logically.
Syllogism is a sort of intellectualism and found to constitute a part of the intellectual argumentation of the metaphysical poet. This is definitely unconventional in poetry, but it occupies a good deal of space in metaphysical poetry, as seen in Donne and Marvell in particular.
Marvell’s love-lyric To His Coy Mistress, for instance, deals with the conventional carpe diem theme (take hold of the day) in a manner that is entirely different from what is usually found in an Elizabethan love-lyric. The poem deals with the old idea of the need for the enjoyment of love in a transitory world. The poet’s main contention is to enjoy love in the prime of life. “Seize the day” and make the best of it is the conventional slogan, and this is celebrated in the poem.
But what is particularly notable is the way of Marvell’s approach to this conventional theme the way in which he builds up his carpe diem theme. This is definitely unconventional and even prosaic and too argumentative and logical for poetry.
The poem, in fact, is constructed like a syllogism, in a form reasoning to deduce the main contention. The poem is sharply divided into three parts. The first part, comprising the first twenty lines, contains the first proposition. The next twelve lines form the second part, and it states the second proposition. The conclusion is drawn from these two propositions in the remaining lines:
“Thus, though we cannot make our sunStand still, yet we will make him run.”
The first proposition fancies a world in which the lovers may have an infinite time and an unlimited space to make love and adore each other. In such a situation, the lady’s coyness would be no crime. She may deny surrendering herself to the intense passion of her lover. The lover, on his part, may wait; continue to praise her bodily beauty, part by part, for long years together. After all, she deserves to enjoy the long series of compliments from her lover for many years. The proposition is well stated and rightly based on the possibility of a particular happening (“Had we but…..”). Of course, the poet’s tone is light and witty.
The second proposition denies the first. The conjecture about the possibility of an infinite time is sternly turned down. The poet asserts firmly that no one has infinite time at his or her disposal. The allotted span of life is extremely short, and man is constantly chased by ‘Time’s winged chariot’. Death lies close to this life with its vast emptiness. There is a clear admission of this hard and unavoidable truth
“And yonder all before us lye
Deserts of vast Eternity.”
The poet goes further in his second proposition to show the silliness of coyness in a transitory world. He draws the realistic image of the lady’s body lying in her grave, with the worms tasting and enjoying her long-preserved virginity, that she denied to him out of her coyness. The poet’s tone grows serious and carries a sling of banter
“….. then Worms shall try
That long preserv’d Virginity :
And your quaint Honour turn to dust;
And into ashes all my Lust.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.”
Therefore, the poet draws his conclusion with an instructive note and in a sense of urgency. The very word ‘therefore’ in the line 33 indicates the process of his logic. As long as youth remains and passion inflames, the lovers must leave all their hesitation and reservation and come forward to enjoy themselves fully. They should not languish in the ‘slow-chapt power’ of time, but rather sport with and enjoy their short time like ‘amorous birds of prey’. The poet insists on seizing the present moment to ‘roll all their strength’ and all their ‘sweetness up into one ball’. The poet calls for a robust, rather violent enjoyment of life-
“And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,
Thorough the Iron gates of life.”
The final couplet gives out the conclusion of the argument. The lovers cannot certainly stop time, but they can make the best of it by the lavish and free enjoyment of their love and youth. They can even chase time, as it were, by seizing every opportunity for the full utilization of their youth and life and even to defy and threaten time by the vigour of their love and life.
“Thus though we cannot make our Sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
Indeed, Marvell’s reasoning is well calculated and rightly balanced and his conclusion comes naturally as the inevitable deduction from his propositions. And all this pronounces him as an essentially intellectual poet.
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