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In the poem, "To His Coy Mistress," explain the possible purpose of Marvell’s use of...

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smiley01 | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Honors

Posted October 25, 2012 at 7:19 PM via web

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In the poem, "To His Coy Mistress," explain the possible purpose of Marvell’s use of hyperbole as the work takes on a more humorous tone than serious.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 25, 2012 at 9:21 PM (Answer #1)

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In Marvell's poem, "To His Coy Mistress," the tone may be humorous in that it expresses the speaker's impatience. The theme of the poem is based upon its first two lines:

Had we but world enough, and time,

This coyness, Lady, were no crime.

Marvell seems to embrace the Cavalier sentiment of "carpe diem," seize the day. The poem is an argument to convince the speaker's would-be lover that there is no time to wait to submit to his advances, for (he argues) time is short. However, even as that may be the case, the reader might sense that he has no desire to wait under any circumstance.

Perhaps, then, Marvell's purpose with the ridiculous exaggerations (hyperbole) is that they make his arguments fantastic and entertaining. The speaker's use of hyperbole is an example of over-overkill. After the first segment, it is certain the young lady must be clear with regard to his stance on waiting.

I would

Love you ten years before the Flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

The "Flood" refers to the Biblical account of Noah and the ark; it is interesting how he chooses "ten years before the Flood," as if the "ten" is more significant (adding to the humor). The inference regarding "the conversion of the Jews" is that they have all the time in the world—for this is an unlikely event.

This next segment directs the reader's attention to what the poet really has in mind:

An hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;

Two hundred to adore each breast;

But thirty thousand to the rest;

An age at least to every part,

And the last age should show your heart...

He speaks not of undying love, their hearts beating as one, how he has adored her from the moment they met and will until he dies; instead, he goes about praising the parts of her body. This can also be seen as humorous. Praising eyes for a hundred years would be boring for both of them. In spending so many lines on these specific spots that he would worship for many years—if time allowed—his arguments to "make much of time" echo Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" and concentrate more on the flesh and less on the spiritual and the emotional.

The speaker gets to the point: the reality that faces them is the speed of time. His point is accurate in his personification of time's passing:

But at my back I always hear

Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near...

However, this argument would be less than flattering; for his haste seems to be born more of a physical desire rather than a deep and abiding love—of which many women would rather hear than of a sweetheart's impatience. His haste makes it impossible for him to sincerely consider her position.

Now let us sport us while we may...

This line certainly is not referring to lovemaking as a sport, but the essence of "sport" still conveys entertainment rather than devotion. The speaker's use of hyperbole definitely makes his point. The exaggerations he uses are beyond believable, but perhaps his intent is not as serious as one might think at first. If we look to the poem's last lines, the speaker makes what seems to be a joke: if we can't make time stand still, at least we can hold him to a run (we infer) rather than flight—supporting his exclamation earlier regarding tempus fugit:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Marvell may be making fun of carpe diem poems, using hyperbole to do so.

Sources:

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