Compare "To His Coy Mistress" and "The Passionate Shepard to His Love." Does Marvell's poem make more explicit something that Marlowe expresses, or do the two poems differ too much?

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afarpajian eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The principal difference between Marlowe's approach and Marvell's, in these two poems, is that Marlowe presents a series of entrancing images to encourage a woman to love him, while Marvell appears to have already won a woman's heart but still needs to persuade her to consummate their love. Marvell's persuasion takes the single-minded form of telling her that life is transient, and that if they don't act now, they will lose their opportunity for pleasure and happiness.

The thoughts expressed in the two poems are therefore quite different, so perhaps we should not undertake a direct comparison at all. But one could argue that Marvell's approach diverges from Marlowe's, not simply because he's expressing a separate set of ideas, but also because of changes that took place in both English society and English poetry between the late sixteenth and mid-seventeenth centuries.

Other metaphysical poets, such as Donne, wrote verse that used complex metaphors or "conceits," often going out of their way to cite specialized knowledge and to express cynical views about love and women. Marvell was part of this movement, though his verse is simpler than that of some of his contemporaries. "Thou by the Indian Ganges side / Shouldst rubies find," is an exotic reference typical of these poets—so different from the simple images presented by Marlowe's shepherd. And, as Donne tends to do, Marvell uses graphic imagery: "....worms will try / That long preserv'd virginity."

Marvell wrote at a time when England was wracked by the English Civil War. The tension and edginess so apparent in "To His Coy Mistress" is symptomatic of a violent period in English history in which poets still wished to present ribald and relatively explicit ideas in spite of the execution of the King and the reign of the Puritans under Cromwell. In politics, Marvell himself played both ends against the middle, as many others did, in order to survive. Marlowe's poem is typical of a simpler time, sixty years earlier, when he and other poets, such as Edmund Spenser and Walter Raleigh (who wrote the most celebrated "reply" to "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"), crafted elegant verse in which simplicity and beauty of language were the most important qualities. The gulf in both idea and style between their poetry and that of later poets like Marvell is demonstrated fully in comparing these two poems of love and persuasion.

sullymonster eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Marlowe's poem is an idealized version of domesticity.  He is using the beauty of nature to encourage a young woman to live with him and to be his lover.  By using nature, Marlowe is asserting that this action is a natural thing, and is glorifying the sexual relationship as he glorifies the season and the natural surroundings.  Marlowe is offering a relationship to this woman, and encouraging her in the language of romance.  Although the promises being made and the pleasures being mentioned are sexual in nature, he is suggesting a real relationship.

Marvell isn't concerned with a relationship.  Marvell is concerned with time.  He is interested in the pleasure alone, and is suggesting to his mistress that life is too short to wait for a relationship to lead them to that inevitable coupling.  He thinks that, because the two are growing old, they must make "sport... while we may."  Marvell makes no promises to the woman, as Marlowe does, and is much more specific about what it is that he wants.

So to answer your question - yes, Marvell is more explicit in what he wants, and while Marlowe uses hyperbole to accentuate the beauty of the relationship, Marvell uses it for the purpose of persuasion only, and not for a relationship, but just for sex.

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The Passionate Shepherd to His Love

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