Metaphysical poetry was originally a style of poetry to describe the poet John Donne’s work, but then later extended to a school of 17th century poets. The verse deals with the use of philosophy to explain the human drama in the universe. Their poetic style and method is what linked the poets together. Here, the poets Andrew Marvell, who wrote ‘To His Coy Mistress’, George Herbert who wrote ‘Love’ and John Donne who wrote ‘The Sun Rising’ all fit into the metaphysical grouping. All the poems include an argument within themselves.
The poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is structured within a syllogistic framework – which begins with an initial premise, then introduces a qualification to the premise, and ends with a resolution to the conflict. In addition, Marvell manages to marry a syllogistic framework with a passionate poem of seduction. He firstly argues that if the couple had all the time in the world, he would woo his lady so slowly her coyness would be irrelevant. “Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. ”
He proceeds to outline what he would do out of love for his lady if they were both to live for much longer, mentioning such lengths of time as centuries and ages. Throughout this initial premise of ‘if’, he uses esoteric imagery to illustrate his argument. For example, he describes his life as a ‘vegetable’ love, which not only gives connotations of a slow, developing love to grow for his ‘mistress’, but also the description of a ‘vegetable soul. ‘ The vegetable soul is the lowest level of the soul in the Renaissance concept in the levels of reason.
Therefore, this suggests a kind of love that could exist without sensual enjoyment and suggests, by its association with the vegetable soul, that it is a lower form of love than sexual love. This is because the middle soul – the ‘sensible soul’ deals with passion and love. This use of metaphysical conceit is common in all the poems, and Marvell’s technique of drawing upon philosophy to illustrate his argument gives the poem an intellectual appeal, not just a visual one. There is also complete devotion displayed in this first stage of the argument, namely: “I would Love you ten years before the flood.
And you should, if you please, refuse Till the conversion of the Jews. ” Here, this deals with the extremity of his argument. He is prepared to love her ten years before the ‘flood’ (presumably Noah’s Ark), and would not be at all insulted if she refused to love him back until the conversion of the Jews, seemingly until the end of time. Once his opinions have been established, he then continues to the second stage of his argument. Beginning with the conjunction of ‘But’ – a word that prepares us for an alternative argument, Marvell’s second stage in his syllogistic framework refutes the initial premise by addressing the concepts of reality.
He now asserts that time is an issue, having already established that if it wasn’t, his method of seduction would be different. By firstly shifting to the present tense, which creates a sense of immediacy, he then uses more stylistic devices to convey the sense of urgency that is necessary when he is discussing the lack of time that the couple possess. For example, he firstly describes the ‘winged chariot’ that is ‘hurrying near. ‘ The winged chariot metaphor gives the reader connotations of a fast and furious speed, which is then neatly juxtaposed with the ‘Deserts of vast eternity’ which gives an atmosphere of a slow, fruitless future.
Marvell then has a pronoun switch, which draws the woman directly into the argument and enhances the sense of intimacy, with the intimate form of ‘you’ – ‘thy. ‘ Marvell then uses grim, humorous, phallic imagery to demonstrate how lust will inevitably die, and the consequence of there being no lust in death. “Thy beauty shall no more be found; …. then worms shall try That long-preserved virginity. ” There is a grim, dark humor present, not only with the phallic imagery of the worms, but also the use of ‘quaint’, which also had a crude, underlying meaning at the time when the poem was written.
The third and final stage is the resolution of the argument in the syllogistic framework. Marvell asserts that due to him being unable to love her slowly and realizing that time is precious, he resorts to the logical conclusion of a quickening of affection: “Now let us sport us while we may… ” This hurried tone is present throughout the final stage, however Marvell also uses the realities of life to subvert the premise of the first part of the argument.
To do so, he uses extremely strong imagery again to conclude his argument with the last part of the argument concentrating on sexual imagery, such as the ‘amorous birds of prey/Rather at once our time devour’ (which can also be extended to an image of the couple seizing control of the issue by devouring time) and ‘the iron gates of life’. Also, adverb use enhances the intensity of his emotion, such as ‘Now.. ‘, being an imperative – conveying his sense of urgency to the reader, and ‘Let us’ (also asserting their mutual, joint enterprise), and ‘willing’ – insinuating a sexual eagerness.
The use of metaphysical conceits here make the argument much more than a brief sexual encounter, but a vigorous sexual union where Marvell wishes to defy barriers and the concept of time, which is summed up in a crescendo in lines 45 and 46: “Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run. ” The last couplet sums up the whole argument – Marvell expresses that although they cannot stop time, they as a couple can control how fast the time goes. This is reminiscent of the carpe diem theme and the poem by Herrick: ‘Gather ye rosebuds’ – celebrating the enjoyment of life and the need to ‘seize the day.
Furthermore, the words ‘Stand still’ can be related back to Joshua in the Old Testament, where he commanded the sun to stand still whilst he did heroic deeds. This is clever, ironic humor, as earlier in the poem he implies the lack of an afterlife, as the woman is destined to lie in the marble vault and only vast deserts (implying nothing) of eternity lies before them, instead of the spirit being reborn into an eternal life. Marvell also uses the rhyme scheme of the poem to re-emphasize this union of two parts.
The entire poem consists of rhyming couplets, which takes two separate lines and make a matching pair out of them. In addition, the concentrated style of the poem and the frequent use of enjambment demonstrate the compression and intensity of Marvell’s argument. Marvell’s uses learned and diverse reference to not only the Bible but also to philosophy, combined with the logical structure (unusual for a love ballad, as the structure almost takes on a business-like arrangement), frank emotion and sexuality and humor (although still with a light tone).
Although the basic argument is a sexual conquest, it also is an assertion of human capability to defy the imperatives of time. All the metaphysical poets have drawn on the same key features of not only using logic and reasoning to explain intense emotions, but also draw upon specialized areas such as law, religion, and philosophy to describe their love, often in conceits an unusual tactic to adopt, which produces a witty and humorous style to many pieces of work in this particular school of poets.