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Is the following passage from "To His Coy Mistress," by Andrew Marvell, an example of...

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lolalito | eNotes Newbie

Posted August 12, 2013 at 12:43 AM via web

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Is the following passage from "To His Coy Mistress," by Andrew Marvell, an example of hyperbole?

My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
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...

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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted August 12, 2013 at 2:33 AM (Answer #1)

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Andrew Marvell is one of the Metaphysical poets, and his poem "To His Coy Mistress" is written a kind of logic syllogism (if...then). The premise of the poem is simple: IF we had all the time in the world, my love, you could be coy as long as you wanted; however, we do not, so let us act now. In his attempt to convince his "coy mistress" to hasten her decision, the speaker uses hyperbole to make his point about time.

Hyperbole is the use of exaggeration for effect, and surely his exaggerations are obvious in the following passage from the first stanza of the poem:

My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
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.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

He says that if he had enough time, his love would grow "vaster" and more slowly than empires, things which of course take centuries to build.

The speaker would praise his lover's eyes and forehead for a thousand years, each breast for two hundred years, and thirty thousand years "to the rest." Clearly this is impossible given the human lifespan. As if that were not enough, however, he intends to adore the rest of her parts for an age each, and an age is thousands of years (even a million, according to some scientists). No one can live that long, and the numbers are outrageous enough that they cannot possibly be taken seriously. These are grand exaggerations.

It is obvious that the frustrated lover is using hyperbole to make his point that they do not have all the time in the world, so to speak. 

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Lori Steinbach

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