The Relationship Between Love and Death in “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell

October 9, 2017 September 1st, 2019 Free Essays Online for College Students

I have been studying the poems “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, “The Sick Rose” by William Blake and “Remember” by Christina Rossetti. Each of the poets belonged to a different school of poetry: Blake and Rossetti belonged to the Romantics whereas Marvell belonged to the Metaphysicals. The Romantics were six English poets: William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Percy Shelley and John Keats. They wrote from 1789 to 1824, and they loved nature and believed love, emotions, passion and human relationships were paramount to everything else including God and religion. They also wrote about the pathos of love – which would usually include the death of a lover. The Metaphysicals were the poets John Donne, Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughan and Thomas Traherne. They wrote mainly to show how intellectual they were and how intellectual they could be.

They wrote in the seventeenth century. They too wrote about love, although they were more interested in separating and rationalizing their thoughts from their feelings. Their poems share the common conventions of wit, rational discussion, inventiveness and they all shared a love of elaborate, stylistic manoeuvres. The poems they wrote were more often than not in the style of an argument. As Blake and Rossetti were Romantics, we would expect that their poems would contain natural imagery and would also be about love. Marvell was a Metaphysical poet, so we would expect the poem to be in an elaborate style, the poet’s reasoning would also be shown in an argument, and the poems would contain rational thinking which would also been shown through the argument. The aim of this essay is to compare and contrast the three poems and to see how they deal with the themes of love and death.

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“To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell is from the Carpe Diem tradition. Marvell attempts to persuade his lover into beginning a sexual relationship with him. “The Sick Rose” by William Blake can be interpreted in many ways. One way the poem can be interpreted is ‘Rose’s’ own feelings. ‘Rose’ could be talking about how she feels. “Remember ” by Christina Rossetti is about urging the recipient of the poem to remember her after her death, but then accepts it may be a good thing to forget her; the poem may be slightly autobiographical as she put her relationship with God first. The themes of love and death differ in each poem. For example death in “To His Coy Mistress” is used as a means to frighten his lover into beginning a sexual relationship. The theme of love in “To His Coy Mistress” is used as a way to persuade his lover to begin a sexual relationship.

Death is the more dominant theme in “Remember” as love is barely mentioned. In contrast to “Remember”, in “The Sick Rose, the theme of love is more dominant than the theme of death as the theme of love has elements of passion, love and also the pathos of love (tragedy such as death of a lover). “Remember” deals mainly with the death rather than love, although it does mention what love leaves behind. Blake and Rossetti were both Romantics, so their poems should contain elements of love, passion and nature. “The Sick Rose” is a typical Romantic poem as it does have natural imagery, and does discuss love and passion. Unlike Blake, Rossetti is not much of a Romantic. This is because “Remember” has no natural imagery; Rossetti herself rejected love over God, although Rossetti does not mention heaven. Marvell was a Metaphysical poet. This shown by the way he sets out the poem, which is set out as an argument. Metaphysicals also used elaborate styles such as personification, which Marvell uses in line 22 with the chariot.

Marvell uses language for many different purposes such as to flatter: “Thou by the Indian Ganges.” (Line 5), to provoke fear: “The worms shall try that long preserved virginity.” (Line 27 – 28), to amuse: “This coyness, Lady, were no crime.” (Line 2) and to persuade: “The youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew.” (Line 34-35). In “The Sick Rose” Blake deliberately attempts to be ambiguous. This can lead to the poem to be interpreted in numerous ways. For example the ‘Rose’ could be a flower or a person. The ‘Worm’ could be seen as a literal worm or as a male lover. Marvell also uses the metaphorical worm, which is used in both poems to show the destruction of love and beauty. He also describes death similarly to Rossetti. He describes death as “Deserts of vast eternity” (line 24), which is similar to how Rossetti describes death which is described as the “Silent land” (line 2). Unlike Blake and Marvell, Rossetti has written “Remember” in the simplest form, to make the poem easier to understand. She wrote “Remember” to leave something of herself behind after her death as she didn’t marry or have children. This purpose is echoed in her language as she uses imperatives such as “You should” which is repeated in lines 9, 13 and 14.

Each poem has a very distinct atmosphere. The atmosphere in “To His Coy Mistress” is oppressive and arrogant “And the last age should show your heart.” (Line 18). The poem is male dominated and lacks a female voice. He does, however, attempt to flatter her although these efforts are false, shallow and insincere. He mocks her desire to preserve her virginity by calling it a “Crime” (line 2). He divides his thoughts from his feelings by setting out the poem the way it is. The poem is a cynical, calculated attempt to get what he really wants: to begin a sexual relationship with his lover. His lover is not credited with much intelligence; she is not treated as an equal. “The Sick Rose” is similar in the sense that both poems are oppressive. The poem tells us that love causes destruction, but uses pathos and genuine sentiment. It requires emotional engagement from the reader, unlike “To His Coy Mistress”. “And his dark secret love does thy life destroy.” (Line 7-8). The atmosphere in “Remember” is mainly loss, and the pathos of love. The poem is about her death, which fits in with its atmosphere. The poem is used at funerals because of its sombre and melancholy atmosphere. “You should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.” (Line 13-14).

In “To His Coy Mistress”, Marvell uses personification: “Time’s winged chariot,” (line 22), metaphors: “Deserts of vast eternity,” (line 24), similes: “Youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew,” (line 33-34) and rhyme “Praise” (line 14) and “Gaze” (line 15). He uses these devices in order to show how intellectual he was, which was the main aim of the Metaphysicals. Blake uses the metaphors of the ‘Rose’ and the ‘Worm’, although these metaphors are extended throughout the whole poem. The ‘Rose’ and ‘Worm’ could be a flower and a literal worm, which seems unlikely, or they could represent lovers. Our understanding of the poem depends on our interpretation of the metaphors.

Alliteration is used in the last line, line 8, with “Does” and “Destroy”. This makes ‘Rose’s’ destruction inevitable, Blake uses imagery in line 3 with “That flies in the night”, which also rules out the literal interpretation of the ‘worm’. Rossetti, however, does not use elaborate styles or manoeuvres. She uses the simplest way of expression, which is reflected, in her use of rhyme and iambic pentameter. She uses iambic pentameter to give the poem a rhythm. She breaks the rhythm on several occasions with her use of punctuation. For example “Only remember me; you understand.” (Line 7) and “Afterwards remember, do not grieve:” (line 10). She does this in order to emphasise “Only remember” and “Do not grieve” for the recipient of the poem. She uses rhyme to add to the flow and rhythm of the poem.

Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” has the structure of a traditional Carpe Diem poem. Marvell sets the argument by splitting the poem into three stanzas. The first stanza is the thesis – the stanza talks of a scenario that is hypothetical. It begins with “Had we,” (line 1) which makes Marvell, at first, seem wishful. The second stanza is the anti-thesis. It contradicts the thesis. It begins with the word “But” (line 21), which is a negative connective. The thesis discusses what he would love to do, but then abandons that idea by saying they don’t have enough time. The final stanza is the synthesis- Marvell’s conclusion to the problem. The synthesis begins with “Now, therefore,” (line 33). The use of “Therefore” shows how logical he is. On the other hand, Blake sets his poem out in two stanzas. The first stanza gives us the idea of the ‘Worm’ and the ‘Rose’.

The emphasis changes in the second stanza, which deals with the consequences. Rossetti’s poem has the traditional Romantic structure of a sonnet. Sonnets were developed from Italian poetry. The Victorians used them extensively. Sonnets were written in a set form: they must have two stanzas called a sestet and an octave. In “Remember” the sestet is six lines long and urges the recipient to remember her. The octave is eight lines long and changes the emphasis from urging to remember to accepting that the recipient may forget. The change of emphasis is similar to “The Sick Rose”, which also has a change of emphasis.

Marvell, Blake and Rossetti all present love and death in different ways. For example Marvell uses love and death as ways of persuading his mistress to begin a sexual relationship. Blake mainly presents the consequences of ‘Rose’s’ and one of the consequences is her death. Although “Remember” is a sonnet, the theme of death (especially Rossetti’s death) is more prominent than the theme of love. T he theme of death is presented by saying what should happen after her death. The three poems were all written using the conventions of the different schools of poetry and the different structures of poems. The views expressed in the poems may not necessarily express the poets’ true thoughts and views. The poem could also be autobiographical, especially “Remember” as Rossetti rejected love over her relationship with God, so she died on her own.


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