Sonnet Number 18 by William Shakespeare and To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell
Both poems were written in the seventeenth century, though their subject matters differ. The Sonnet’s subject matter is intended to be an ode of love to a woman, saying how he will love her even when she is old. Contrastingly, To His Coy Mistress is more about lust. It is quite crude, with the poet imploring the woman to have sex with him, and saying how she will die a lonely virgin if she does not. However, there is also an element of humour, with it being clear that he knows his argument is not strong. It could be intended to mock male attitudes, female attitudes or possibly both.
The voices of both poems are the poet, both trying to seduce a woman. However, they do it in very different ways. Shakespeare is very romantic, for example, he starts off with,
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”
Marvell however, seems more concerned with the physical attraction, saying
“Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;”
Here he is saying how much her body is worth in a more lustful way than Shakespeare. He also humorously concentrates on her breasts and lumps the rest of her body together. Both poets use hyperbole to get their point across.
The theme of nature runs through both poems. Shakespeare in particular keeps returning to the theme of summer, for example saying,
“But thy eternal summer shall not fade,”
He uses the brightness of summer as a metaphor for her beauty, saying it will never die. Marvell also uses the sun, although in a different context. In his poem, he uses it to describe the passage of time, but also as a clever pun for “son”. This is in the final lines of the poem:
“Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
The passage of time is another theme running through poem. The poet is quite impatient and her hesitancy annoys him, as shown by the opening lines:
“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime,”
The structures of both poems differ considerably. Sonnet No. 18 is quite short with only one stanza. It is also in iambic pentameter, with an ABAB rhyming pattern, apart from the last two indented resolution lines:
“So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.”
To His Coy Mistress is much longer, with an AABB rhyming pattern and three stanzas of varying length. These are thesis, antithesis and synthesis, which was a popular way to structure poems at the time. The thesis puts forward an argument, in this case how beautiful the woman is:
“For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.”
Here he is saying that he would settle for nothing less than her.
The antithesis then presents a predicament: The woman is too shy and as time goes by she will only get older and uglier:
“But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;”
Finally, the synthesis comes up with a solution, which, in this poem, is encouraging the woman to throw caution to the wind and have sex with him while she is still young and beautiful:
“Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew….
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball,”
The pace also quickens in this stanza, making it the most exciting and reflecting his desires.
Both poets use language to get their point across. Andrew Marvell uses wit and wordplay. For example, in the first stanza he says:
“Thou by the Indian Ganges side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain.”
This is witty as he is comparing the exotic River Ganges with the boring River Humber in Hull, maybe trying to entice her.
However, he also gets quite graphic and dark in the antithesis, saying,
“…then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,”
Quaint was a word for female genitalia at the time, which now translates to what is considered to be the most offensive word in the English language. This shows how crude he was.
Shakespeare creates a more romantic poem by using a lot of imagery and metaphors. He starts by comparing her to a summer day, then goes on to list the faults of summer and nature. This is shown when he says:
“Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,”
In doing this he is trying to woo her by making her seem perfect- even better than a summer’s day. Once again, hyperbole is used.
The overall message of Sonnet No. 18 is Shakespeare’s true love for the woman and how she will always be beautiful in his eyes. Because of this it is very serious and sincere. Marvell’s poem focuses more on physical attraction. However, it is slightly tongue in cheek, maybe poking fun at the narrow mindedness of men, the coyness of women, or possibly both. I think this is possible because of the overdramatic language he uses, calling her chastity
“the iron gates of life.”
These poems differ in their views towards women, but ultimately have the same goal: to woo the object of their affection. Since they were written by contemporaries there are similar themes that were popular at the time, most notably nature. They try to persuade their targets using language, pace, humour, imagery and hyperbole, and you could say Marvell almost uses scare tactics.
Nowadays, a woman being coy is not such an issue and men would be less likely to write romantic poems to their love interests. I was surprised to find that men could still be quite dirty-minded back then.
In conclusion, I think both poems accurately convey the times in which they were written and use a variety of techniques to get their points across.
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