To His Coy Mistress as a Metaphysical Poem

To His Coy Mistress as a Metaphysical Poem

To His Coy Mistress as a Metaphysical Poem

Metaphysical poetry is very often loosely defined as something fantastic, abstruse, or vague. But this is no justifiable characterization of this kind of poetry which remains singular by virtue of a number of decisive features. In great metaphysical poets, like Donne, Vaughan and Marvell, all such features are distinctly discernible, giving their poetry a distinguishing individuality.

Of course, Marvell did not belong exactly to the age of Donne. He came more than a generation after that illustrious founder of metaphysical poetry. Yet, as a metaphysical poet, Marvell stands very high and is accorded, very rightly indeed, a place only after Donne. The specific characteristics that singularize metaphysical poetry are as much conspicuous in his poetry as in Donne’s.

Metaphysical poetry is fundamentally concise. A true metaphysical poet is seldom found to enlarge or amplify a particular point of view. Precision, as a matter of fact, constitutes the most characteristic mark in a metaphysical expression. In Marvell, a renowned metaphysical poet, this characteristic feature of metaphysical poetry is well illustrated. In his celebrated love lyric, To his Coy Mistress, for instance, the basic trait of precision in metaphysical poetry remarkably comes out. The poem well testifies to the popular saying that a metaphysical poem is an expanded epigram.’ The poet’s thought here is deep and serious, and related to the lover’s passion and eagerness and the lady’s coyness. This is, however, presented with a matchless precision. In two epigrammatic lines, the poet brilliantly brings out the emptiness of coyness in a transitory world, where death is inevitable-

“The Grave’s a fine and private place,

But none I think do there embrace.”

In this connection, Marvell’s another celebrated poem The Garden may be mentioned. The poem illustrates his precision in the description of natural scenery. The entire imagery is presented with utmost concentration and the poet’s profound attachment to and regard for nature is expressed in two brief but highly meaningful lines.

“Society is all but rude.

To this delicious Solitude.”

Marvell’s poetry is also marked with the presence of the characteristic metaphysical conceits. A conceit calls for a comparison between two utterly unlike elements. This has also a sort of epigrammatic effect, as the comparison is both shocking and deeply meaningful. Marvell’s conceits are found very much aptly conceived as marked in the love lyric, To His Coy Mistress. The poet finely describes here Platonic abstract love as the vegetable love that grows “vaster than Empires”. The fond human faith in the long continuance of love is sharply satirized in a well conceived conceit

“………. I would

Love you ten years before the Flood;

And you should if you please refuse

Till the Conversion of the Jews.”

‘Vegetable love’ is a conceit. It means growth and reproduction- hence an idle monotonous existence. ‘Iron gates of life’ suggests dullness and monotony of passive life.

Also Read:

Metaphysical poetry, as distinctly known, is intellectual rather than impulsive, rational rather than romantic. This is found in its conceits as also in the elements of wit and reflection, so strongly present in it. The intellectual aspect of metaphysical poetry is a rare gift in Marvell’s work whose wit is both diverting and deep. The poet’s rare intellectual flight is perceived in his quite witty assertion that the lady’s quaint sense of honour or the lover’s ‘lust’ for her cannot stand against mortality, so inevitable to the human world. There is also discerned a slight sling of satire in him. This is found in his pointed comment on the foolish effort of the lady to preserve her virginity in a transitory world. Marvell’s satiric note, a gift of his metaphysical intellect, is detected here further. The emptiness of human wishes in a mortal world, as noted already, is sharply exposed by satirizing the proposed long love of the lovers from ‘ten years before the flood’ ‘to the conversion of the Jew’.

Of the metaphysical poets, Marvell is, perhaps, most conspicuously intellectual. The intellectual aspect of his poetry, however, prominently comes out in his logical argumentative approach to build up his theme and deduce his conclusion. The poem, To His Coy Mistress, is constructed like a syllogism, sort of reasoning, in which the conclusion is derived from propositions, stated earlier. The poet states in the first proposition the wide scope of love-making, if the lovers had infinite time. His second proposition denies the first, asserting that no one has infinite time and that time is ever threatening. The poet’s conclusion comes inevitably. This insists on seizing the present moment and making the best enjoyment of love in the short span of this worldly life

“And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,

Thorough the Iron gates of Life.”

Marvell is an original metaphysical poet, and the originality of the metaphysical style of expression is a distinctive feature in his poem, To His Coy Mistress. The unique blending of the sublime and the commonplace, the profundity and the levity, a typical novelty of the metaphysical style, is marked in Marvell. The analogy between the play of lovers and the enjoyment of the amorous birds of prey indicates the genial metaphysical way to bring together mystic thoughts and simple facts. The concluding portion, again, contains the characteristic metaphysical imagery, such as the ‘iron gates of life’ or ‘the sun that is made to run’.

The second stanza of To His Coy Mistress changes from a solemn and majestic discourse on life’s brevity. He impresses his beloved the terrible on the rush of time and the approach of death. The poet is concerned with death as a means of frightening his mistress and as a contrast with the invitation to love contained in the final section of the poem. Love is vital and dynamic; it is contrasted with the coldness and silence of the tomb where the only movement is that of worms. Worms will violate the virginity of the lady. They would devour the time with wild and passionate amorous sorts like birds of prey. Thus time and death would be conquered by love.

In its rhythm and verse pattern, To His Coy Mistress, like other typical metaphysical poems, has more intellectual emphasis than emotional. Thoughts are struck rather than impulses are roused by the very pattern of Marvell’s rhythm, in a measured rhythmic pattern.

The poem starts at, what may be called, the medium pace. The four stress lines give movements, while the rhyming couplets, complete in themselves, put the restraint. There is a combination of energy and halt giving indirectly the variety of swing and stop.

To His Coy Mistress has the structure of a neat syllogism with witty treatment of time and with hyperboles and conceits typical of metaphysical poetry.

Leave a Comment