In Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress," is the speaker influenced in any ways by earlier kinds of poems, such as Shakespeare's sonnet 130?

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lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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If you think about what you would expect in a traditional love poem you might think of things like the poet praising the lady's beautiful eyes, her silky hair, and her sweet, virtuous nature. That kind of flattery might please the young lady and convince the lady of the poet's love. Andrew Marvell tries to convince his lady to love him using a little different strategy!

The poem starts in what seems to be a traditional manner as mentioned above. He is flattering the young lady by saying that if he had all the time in the world he would spend years, decades, and ages (all hyperbole) on her various bodily attributes, most notably her eyes, her forehead, her breasts and he even adds that he would spend thirty thousand years adoring "all the rest; / An age at least to every part, / And the last age should show your heart." The speaker is making such exaggerated remarks, and it is through this that the reader sees how Marvell is mocking poets who made these kinds of statements with a tone of sincerity. This is similar to Shakespeare's Sonnet 130 where the speaker also takes the traditional favorable comparisons of a woman's beauty and turns them on their side. Traditionally a woman's eyes would be compared to the sun and her lips to coral, but Shakespeare's speaker says that his mistress's eyes "are nothing like the sun" and that "coral is far more red than her lips red." While Shakespeare's sonnet would appear to be rather insulting to the lady, he concludes by wooing her with the idea that she is as "rare as any she [woman] belied with false compare." She is more special than any woman is only special by false comparisons.

After the opening statements, Marvell's speaker then proceeds to "woo" the lady by explaining why she should SHOULD give her virginity to him. He doesn't use flattery; he actually does the opposite. He rather vividly points out that if she were to die without ever being with him "the worms shall try / That long preservedvirginity, / and your quaint honor turn to dust." This is not what a traditional poem would do, but it does serve to effectively make his case with the lady.

He concludes with a rather suggestive description of how he and the young lady should act. He reminds her that they are only young once, so they should enjoy "at every pore with instand fires." and "like amorous birds of prey . . . roll all our strength and all / Our sweetness up into one ball." This kind of sexually charged language is a clear departure from a "typical" love poem of the time period.

 

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