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Write a critical appreciation of ‘To His Coy Mistress’


 Write a critical appreciation of ‘To His Coy Mistress’. [NU-‘15,‘17]

Ans. ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is the best known love poem of Andrew Marvell. The poem deals with the ‘carpe diem’ theme which is a Latin phrase. The full implication of the phrase is “enjoy the present moments without caring for the future”. The poem is written in the first person despite the third person inference in the title.

The poem is about the beloved’s coyness which makes the love more critical. The poem is written in the form of what is known as a syllogism which means an argument developed in a strictly logical form, having two premises followed by a conclusion. Thus, in a syllogism, there are three stages which may be indicated in the poem by three word initiating each stage in the argument. These three words are – if, but, therefore. These words indicate that the poem is argumentative.

The poem divided into three sections. The first section begins with – “Had we but world enough and time”. Here the word ‘had’ conveys the sense of ‘if’ and in this section, the lover says that the lady’s coyness or indifference to physical enjoyment would have been justified if they had enough space and time at their disposal. Having enough space and time at their hands, she could have occupied herself on searching for rubies on the banks of the Indian river, the Ganges, while he would complain about the unfulfilled love on the banks of the river Humber in England. The lover argues that if they had enough space and time, he would have spend hundreds and thousands of years in admiring and adoring various parts of her body.

The second section of the poem begins with – “But at my back I always hear”. In this section, the lover refutes in an argumentative way as in a syllogism, the premise of the first section. The lover says that all his propositions are not practically possible. Time is fleeting fast and eventually they have to face the vast eternity. After a few years, her beauty will decay and she will die. Then her dead body will be eaten by the worms. Although she will be in her private place in the grave, yet nobody will embrace her there.

The third section of the poem begins with – “Now therefore, while the youthful hue”. As in syllogism, on the basis of the arguments in the first and second sections, the lover draws a conclusion in the third section. He says that in present time, she is young, beautiful and active, so they should amuse each other. They should gather all their strength and sweetness. Although they cannot stop the time, they can enjoy the present time.

However, the poem begins with an ironic tone but the voice of the poet becomes serious in the concluding lines. The tonal variations are in conformity with varying moods of the poet. In fact, the whole poem is saturated by wit and streaks of irony. The lover is mocking at his mistress’ coyness.

The poem is written in a lyrical form and indeed it is unique love-lyric which by virtue of its intensity of passion ranks higher than the bulk of his other verse. As for technical devices employed in this poem, we find a lot of figures of speech such as – wits, conceits, metaphors, Biblical references, allusions, epigrams and abundant of hyperbolical expressions. There is a number of concrete pictures in the poem and a whole series of metaphysical conceits. 

The poem is written in iambic tetra-metre lines and the first line rhymes with the second, the third with fourth and so on. This metrical pattern seems to suit the passion of the poet and this is what gives the poem a kind of lyrical grace. The diction of the poem is very simple and lucid.

We can conclude by stating that ‘To His Coy Mistress’ gives us one of the great traditional themes of European literature. The poem is rich in vision and imagery, conveyed through intellectual and far-fetched conceits. Finally, the passionate appeal and the lyrical grace have added to the literary and artistic value of the poem.

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