Marvell's Use of Sound in "To His Coy Mistress"



At first glance, Andrew Marvel's poem "To His Coy Mistress" is a fairly typical carpe diem poem, in which the speaker tells his beloved that they should "seize the day" and have sex now instead of waiting until they are married. Today, the speaker's speech may seem sexist in its attitude toward women and irresponsible in its attitude toward the coy mistress (the speaker doesn't explain how he would seize the day if the woman became pregnant, for example). Still, if we look beyond the limited perspective of the speaker himself, we can see that Marvell is making a statement about how all of us (regardless of gender or
involvement in relationships) should savor the pleasures of the moment. T.S. Eliot also justifies Marvell¹s belief on ³seize the moment² when he incorporates Marvell¹s theme in ³The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock². T.S. Eliot is reminding himself that time is running out, and with his allusion to Marvell, he suggests living life to the fullest today, because tomorrow you may be dead. Both poets are ³wanting² love (sex) and are running out of time, For Andrew Marvell, there are two kinds of attitude toward the present: (1) activities in the present are judged by their impact on the future, and (2) there is no future state--all activities occur in the present and can only be enjoyed or evaluated by their impact at that moment. The mistress would like to postpone sex (theoretically until she and the speaker are married). The speaker wants to consummate their physical relationship now. Each viewpoint has its reasons, and certainly the woman in the poem would stand to lose practically from premarital sex. Marvell, however, isn't suggesting that unbridled lust is preferable to moral or ethical restraint; sex is the subject matter, not the theme of the poem. Marvell's actual point here is that instead of dividing our lives or our values into mathematically neat but artificial categories of present and future, we should savor the unique experiences of each present moment; to convey this theme, the poet uses irregularities of rhyme, rhythm, and meter to undermine the mathematically neat but artificial patterns of the poem.

Although the rhyme scheme of the poem follows a simple couplet pattern (AA, BB, and so on), two couplets use slant or irregular rhyme, not simply to vary the monotonous pattern but to reinforce the poem's theme. Lines 23 and 24 use the approximate rhyme "lie/eternity"; lines 27 and 28 repeat this irregularity: "try/virginity." The first couplet suggests that the future that lies before us is in no way desirable: "deserts of vast eternity" imply a menacing rather than consoling future state. The irregularity of rhyme draws us back to the uneven but human irregularities of life in the present. The irregular rhyme that follows echoes the same pattern and reinforces the previous image with a more grisly example: "try" rhymes exactly with "lie," just as "virgínity" repeats both the rhyme and metrical pattern of "etérnity." The pairing of irregularities suggests that just as the seemingly desirable eternity of the future is actually a frightening desert, so is the conventional virtue of virginity actually an empty, hollow ideal based on a notion
that postponing pleasure is better than enjoying it. "You may keep me from taking your physical chastity," the speaker implies, "but the worms will devour it anyway, so what have you gained?"

Even more numerous than irregularities of rhyme, the variations from conventional rhythm also suggest that we should avoid the strictures of conventional morality. In general, the meter of the poem is iambic tetrameter, a light, lyrical rhythm suitable for love poetry. The poet uses pauses and enjambment (running one line into the next without a pause) to break up the neat pattern that the couplet rhyme scheme would impose. The first two lines, for example, contain internal pauses that break the tetrameter into shorter units. The third line contains no pauses and runs on into the fourth, where there is a pause after the first foot, so that the rhythm (a long, twelve syllable line, followed by a short eight syllable line) runs counter to the rhythm of the couplet (two lines of ten syllables each). In fact, there