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June 10, 2017

To His Coy Mistress as a Love Poem

Andrew Marvell (1621–1678) is a strong embodiment of the transitions that came over the English society in the course of the 17th century. Marvell is deemed by many as one of the greatest love poets and is praised extravagantly for his Metaphysical wit and finely balanced lyric verse. His love poems generally deal with the spiritual as well as the carnal properties of love. The following commentary attempts to undertake a critical inquiry into his attitude towards love along with a special reference to his most celebrated poem To His Coy Mistress.

To His Coy Mistress

Marvell’s romantic tour-de-force To His Coy Mistress is a rigorous representation of the spiritual and physical aspect of love.  It is a great poem on carpe diem tradition wherein we are confronted with a passionate speaker or lover who is requesting his beloved to forsake her shyness or modesty and submit herself to his embraces. The lover repeatedly offers a series of arguments in support of his proposition. With thoughtful wit and humour he justifies that human life is essentially short-lived and thus it is wise to gratify sexual passion while they still have time at their disposal. Hence, he appeals to his beloved to stop the lingering and expedite the pleasures of the flesh.

In the very beginning of the poem spiritual courtship is presented with a similar style and manner found in the poems of Petrarch. This is noted especially when the lover commends his beloved’s physical beauty. Just akin to a typical Petrarchan lover, the speaker praises the beauty of his beloved’s eyes and limbs in an extravagant manner:

“A 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;”

Afterwards, the speaker’s spiritual love subsides and he tends towards physical relationship. This urge for physical love has been reinforced through the carpe diem concept. By presenting the images of death and decay the speaker tries to justify the futility of resistance towards carnal pleasure:

“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,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.”

Through the above coarse imagery the speaker throws an implication towards his beloved to sacrifice her virginity to him rather than foolishly saving herself for the "worms" when buried. Then he also adds that after demise her virginity will be transformed into dust along with her body. He further adds that although the grave is a peaceful place none does make love there. Hence, death would definitely cease their opportunity to make love.

Then the lover draws a conclusion to his arguments by stating that they won't be young forever and thus should take advantage of it while they can. To emphasise the aforesaid statement he makes the following comparison which is quite animalistic and hints at his barely-controlled desires:

“Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour”

Here the lover becomes extremely impatient and passionately requests his beloved to “seize the day” and enjoy the present moment. The poet advises his beloved not to wait for death and urges her to gratify the pleasure of love like amorous birds.

Soon the lover moves away from all the negativities and reaches the zenith of his passion when he invites his beloved to have the pleasure of the flesh. He maintains that physical intercourse is the way to enter into another world, a way to break out of the confinement of time. He also feels that bringing the "strife" of life into the bedroom will enhance the sexual experience:

“Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:”

In the end of the poem the lover appears somewhat calmer since he admits that sex is a compromise. He also admits that sex cannot be employed to stop time but they can use it to make time go faster:

“Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.”

To conclude, Andrew Marvell did an outstanding job in presenting the heart-felt emotions of a passionate lover from both spiritual and physical point of view. Although certain images seem a bit coarse and vulgar, To his Coy Mistress is still able to receive the reader’s admiration due to the speaker’s intense devotion to his beloved. Thus it won't be an overstatement if we call it one of Marvell's best love poems.

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June 3, 2017

Robinson Crusoe as an Allegory

The Eighteen century English novelist Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731) was part of a Protestant culture that was vigorously intellectual and energetically literary. Separated from the life of the upper classes and their erudite writers, he produced, amongst many pieces of commissioned writings, a series of purportedly true but actually fictitious memoirs and confessions, which made him one of the great masters of realistic narrative. His skillfully crafted fictions, presented by specific and well – chosen details create the illusion of exact truth, tricking the reader into suspension of disbelief.

Robinson Crusoe (1719) is an allegorical story of conversion employing metaphoric symbols readily recognisable to an audience familiar with a similar set of symbols found repeatedly in the sermons, tracts, and other religious writings of both Anglican and dissenting divines. Defoe’s novel does not simply chronicle a practical man’s continuous strife and struggle for adjustment of life on a deserted island; rather it is the record of a notable spiritual pilgrimage across the sea of life, from a lawless course of living to true Christian repentance.

Crusoe’s wandering in desolate and afflicting circumstances stresses the allegorical and figurative meaning of the novel. Crusoe’s journey advances through suffering, repentance and realisation. Finally, he finds atonement by exploring himself and God. Each adverse situation makes Crusoe realise that it is a punishment for him given by the God for his wicked deed of ignoring the good advice of his parents and defying his duty to God. Each time he promises and vows to God that he will not continue his journey and return to home. However, when he is saved from the danger, he forgets all his repentance and repeatedly makes the same mistakes. He learns almost nothing. His emotionally volatile mind entirely kept him aloof from becoming spiritually enlightened.

Eventually, under the stress of the hardships of life on the island, and more specifically under the severe strain of his illness, Crusoe realises his sin and undergoes a spiritual transformation. During his illness he sees a frightening dream in which a man, having descended from a cloud, threatens to kill him with a spear. This dream may be considered as a kind of divine warning or a divine guidance to him. On waking up from dream, Crusoe recalls the excellent advice which his father gave him at his desire to set out for the journey. But it is the irony of his fate that Crusoe did not pay any heed to his father’s advice. He now remembers that during the past eight years since he left home, he had not looked upwards to God with any sincerity of feeling even once. During these eight years he has been guilty of a certain ‘stupidity of soul’ without any desire for goodness and without any repentance of evil. Tears now begin to flow from his eyes, and he prays to God for help. This, Crusoe tells us, was the first prayer which he had ever addressed to God for many years. Here we have the turning point in Crusoe’s spiritual life. From this time onwards, his mind is essentially at peace and entirely free from spiritual apathy.

Thus, Robinson Crusoe allegorically treats the theme of transgression, punishment, and repentance. Crusoe suffers from his sin and he is salvaged through his repentance and prayer. In this way, the novel becomes essentially a religious tale. Crusoe ultimately possesses the infinite knowledge. He becomes spiritually enlightened by believing in God. Like the journey of the Christian hero in Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, the journey of Robinson Crusoe in not merely a physical journey but a religious journey too.

Robinson Crusoe
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