man and women intimately close in the starry night sky with an infinity sign below them

To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Start Free Trial

Compare the themes of "To His Coy Mistress" and "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love."

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both of these poems firmly fit into the "carpe diem" or seize the day category of poems. These poems are a call to live life to its fullest right now. By reminding the listener of the fleeting nature of mortality, the speaker hoped to urge them to love and live life to the fullest now, rather than wait until tomorrow. This of course is the most obvioius theme of both of these poems. Note the imperative beginning of Marlowe's verse:

Come live with me, and be my love...

Both speakers seek to persuade their mistress to engage in a realationship with them now, rather than waiting until tomorrow.

However, if there is a difference in theme it is the way that Marlowe's poem ignores the threat of death and decay and focuses just on the country, pastoral pleasures that the speaker will create for his mistress. We are presented with lavish images of the "beds of roses" and embroidered clothing that he will weave himself for his loved one. Country sights and sounds dominate as the speaker tries to tempt his lover with all the pastoral delights his imagination can muster.

In contrast, "To His Coy Mistress" includes lots of reference to the fate that awaits us all, and seeks to use this fate as a spur to convince his lover to engage in a relationship with him:

Thy beauty shall no more be found,

Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound

My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long-preserved virginity,

And your quaint honour turn to dust...

The presence of time, in his "winged chariot," is never far from this poem, and thus there is much more of a focus on the ephemeral nature of human existence and how quickly beauty fades and we all die. Better, then, to live and love today before it is too late...

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How can I compare and contrast the themes of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"?

Both poems are an attempt to persuade the beloved to do what the lover wants. The main differences come in the techniques of persuasion and what the lover ultimately desires. Marvell's speaker transparently wants to have sex with his beloved. This is how he describes what will happen to her after death if she dies a virgin:

then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
It's obvious that the speaker's "lust" is in opposition to the beloved's "quaint honour" that causes her to "preserve" her "virginity." His whole argument is that time passes quickly and both of them will soon die, so they might as well have sex and enjoy it while they are alive.
Marlowe's speaker, by contrast, has a more idealized vision of what should happen between him and the beloved:
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
These pleasures may include sex, but Marlowe's speaker doesn't say anything about it directly. Instead, he speaks of all the ways he will adore and spoil his beloved:
And I will make thee beds of roses
And a thousand fragrant posies.
He offers to make her things and to sit with her while they observe nature.
The technique of persuasion used by Marlowe's speaker is less coercive than that of Marvell's—the offer of material enjoyment vs. the threat of impending death. (Obviously, Marvell's lover is not threatening to kill the beloved, but he is using the truth that we will all die to his advantage.) Your essay might consider how the nature of what the speaker seeks affects the technique of persuasion that he chooses to use.
Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How can I compare and contrast the themes of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"?

Both Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love" are classics in their own right and have long been recognized as important contributions to English literature. More importantly, both poems are exceedingly famous examples of love poetry. However, while they are similar in this respect, it's also important to recognize that the way in which each poet expresses his love is subtly different.

First, the similarities: both Marvell and Marlow employ elegant (and often ornate) language in addressing their mistresses. Marvell, for instance, uses a lengthy first stanza to describe the vast ages of love and courtship that his mistress is worthy of, saying things such as "An hundred years should go to praise/ Thine eyes" (13-14). Marlow uses similarly hyperbolic and flowery language, telling his love that "I will make thee beds of Roses/ And a thousand fragrant posies" (9-10). Obviously neither poet will literally do either of these things; rather, both use over-the-top language to illustrate the depth of their affection.

It is important to recognize, however, that the poets have different attitudes toward their courtship. Marlowe, for instance, seems to have nearly no sense of urgency in discussing his courtship. Indeed, his relaxed, languorous writing style gives the reader the sense that he has no need to rush the relationship. Marvell, however, is obsessed with speed. "To His Coy Mistress" is essentially about a race against time and mortality, as the narrator pleads with his lover to have sex with him immediately before both he and she lose their precious youth. Therefore, while Marlowe's poem centers more on love for love's sake and expresses no worry at all, Marvell's poem is actually really about the terrors of mortality and old age, expressed within the context of a love poem.

There are many more interesting similarities and differences between these two poems. To read both poems and extensive contextual notes, check out the links below.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How can I compare and contrast the themes of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd to His Love"?

The major similiarity between the two poems is that they both speak of love and they both do it in pretty extravagant terms.  Marlowe's shepherd talks about all the things that his love will enjoy if she will just be his.  Marvell's speaker talks in hyperbole about how much he loves his love -- he talks about how, if he had time, he would love her since before Noah's flood.

The major difference is in the degree of explicitness in the two poems.  Marlowe's is pretty staid -- come with me and be my love.  But Marvell's is very sexual.  He tells his love that, since they do not have all this time, they ought to start having sex now, while they are still young.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Compare and contrast the themes of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" and Christopher Marlowe's "The Passionate Shepherd, To His Love."

The two poems you ask about share the same theme.  They are both, in effect, carpe diem (Latin for "seize the day") poems, though "Shepard" is not the classic, traditional carpe diem poem that "Mistress" is.   

The speaker in "Mistress" and the shepard of the second poem are trying to talk their lovers into something.  The speaker wants his lover to make love with him now instead of waiting, and the shepard wants his lover to come live with him in the country and, presumably, do the same thing.  The emphasis in "Shepard" isn't on time (right now) like it is in "Mistress," but he still wants his lover or would-be lover to seize the day and come share bliss with him.

"Mistress," though, is what we today call a metaphysical poem.  It is somewhat of an intellectual game of words, featuring, among other things, stretched metaphors such as "vegetable love." 

"Shepard" is a pastoral poem.  It features the beauty and treasures of rural, "pastoral" life. 

Though the speakers of both poems are trying to talk their lovers or would-be lovers into something, they do it in different ways.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on