Dec 13, 2017 in Literature

Analysis of “To Virgins, To Make Much of Time” and “To His Coy Mistress”

In the world we are living today, opportunities do not wait for long if we do not take advantage of them quickly. Love has been considered by many people as a very crucial subject. Some people believe that loving and the feeling of being loved is the best thing that happens in life. It is for this reason that humans try to get love through activities and possessions that do not satisfy their dreams. Love has been the subject of hot discussions, articles, books, and poetry since ancient times. Robert Herrick (“To Virgins, To Make Much of Time”) and Andrew Marvell (“To His Coy Mistress”) are the poets who evoke the feeling of love in their works.

In the poem “To Virgins, To Make Much of Time” Robert Herrick focuses on the idea of marriage and indicates that since time does not wait for any one, people should get hold of opportunities as much as they can. The poem recapitulates the old advice carpe diem (“Robert Herrick (1591-1674)” 108). Herrick has used visual imagery by citing “gathering rosebuds”, rosebuds are used to symbolize innocence and purity whenever they are used. The poet believes that virginity is the gift that should be not wasted; it is purity and innocence that will bloom. He insists that the virgins should remain pure and holy until the right time arrives. After blooming, it is the best time to enjoy life as the innocence disappears. He explains that people should enjoy life having sex, getting married and having a family because in many cases life is not lived to the fullest at the young age. Herrick uses colorful imagery and personification which help the reader to detect a sense of duty and urgency for the virgins to go forth and marry creating the overall carpe diem idea.

The author also uses personification in his poem to convey his message. For example, he writes “The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,/ The high he’s a getting,/ The sooner will his race be run,/ And nearer he’s to setting” (lines 5-8). These lines are used to personify the idea of the sun running a race against time. The sun has been given the character of a human being which is “running a race”. The poet writes that the sun moves higher during the day and then begins to descend and the night enters, the same case happens to life which also reaches a peak when one has warm blood. Just like the sun begins to rise high and then starts to descend, the life of a human being also begins from birth and reaches a peak before starting to decline slowly until death. As life reaches the peak, just like the sun does each day, everyone moves closer to death due to ageing. After the sun has risen and faded, the day ends and a new one is born. Also, for human beings, every day people die while others are born. After ending the day, it is not possible to go back in time and do things which one wanted to do but did not do them. Once an opportunity is gone, it goes with time and time cannot be rewound. Following this cycle, no one should take life for granted as no one really knows their exact time of death. A rose in the first stanza symbolizes life and its beauty. The author describes the life of a rose which is a metaphor. Herrick says that “And this same flower that smile today, tomorrow will be dying” (lines 3 and 4). The life of a rose has a positive and negative perspective. At first, when a rose blooms, it is usually strong and beautiful and is admired by many people. However, the same rose becomes frail and loses its beauty quickly where no one admires it any more. In comparison to the life of human beings, there is a time when a person is strong and energetic and later they become old and weak. In his poem, Herrick compares the beauty of young people to roses in lines 1-4. He also explains that life is full of uncertainties which cannot be foreseen. Just like the death of a rose that has bloomed, human beings can also die unexpectedly, and may be they were expected to live longer.

The first stanza persuades the readers to do their best to achieve what they want now instead of waiting for a later time, since they may not have that chance again in their lifetime. In the second stanza, the poet states the already mentioned idea of rising and setting sun. In the third stanza, Herrick ascertains that youth is the most precious time in lives. At the youthful age, human beings are beautiful and strong hence they are able to enjoy life better than at any other time in their lives. When one is a child or a young adult, they have little things to worry about hence they are carefree. As they get old, responsibilities tend to increase, life becomes tougher and time is lost. In the last stanza, the poet recommends that every individual should take control of the life. There is a need to seize the opportunities that present themselves in life, and no one should persuade you otherwise. In the world we are living, each person has a limited number of opportunities hence one should make the best out of these opportunities before it becomes too late. Herrick focuses on the life briefness an importance of living. The poet responds to the inevitable death prospect by affirming life and its modesty and perceives it an ultimate oblivion (“Andrew Marvell” 783).

In the poem “To His Coy Mistress”, Andrew Marvell focuses our attention on a man and a woman having sex. The poet develops the theme of the earthly life mutability and is considered to be a representative example of carpe diem poetry (“Andrew Marvell” 1041). He acknowledges the fact that there is never enough time to live in this world since death is always nearby. It is for this reason that he insists that a man and a woman should have sex due to uncertainties in life. In the first stanza, he states that “Though by the Indian Ganges' side/ Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide/ Of Humber would complain” (lines 5-7). Here, he implies that the mistress would search for rubies a couple of miles away from the poet who would wait for her in his home town. The meaning he wants derive here is that his mistress would leisurely trek miles away and take vacations as if they have all the time in the world. He uses allusion by relating the “flood” to Noah’s ark from the bible. Marvell also says “Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady were no crime” (lines 1-2). Here, the impression portrayed is that there is never enough time to live on earth, and if there was enough time, it would not be a crime for the coyness lady to maintain her innocence. In the second stanza the poet states “But at my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near;” (lines 21-22). Here, he tries to explain that death is always near hence he urges the mistress to seize the day through surrendering her innocence to a man. This is an allusion to the Roman sun God, Apollo. From this story of the Roman sun god, Apollo would draw the sun across the sky daily with a flying chariot. Marvell indicates that as the sun moves in the sky, time also moves hence they must act as time is always moving. In this allusion, Marvell demonstrates a pessimistic tone. He also expresses sympathy for the mistress by giving condolences to the mistress who dies a virgin.

In both poems the poets use a variety of metaphors, personifications, and visual images to express the idea of seizing opportunities in life which would have been beneficial and he calls this "Carpe Diem”. The poets also explore a similar subject through a contrasting negative idea. Indeed, the poem "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time" by  Robert Herrick and "To his Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell revolve around the idea of seizing opportunities in life and living life to the fullest, though the assertion may be different on negative or positive perspectives. The poets encourage people to take the opportunities that come in their ever day’s life and emphasis on love.

Both poems address the theme of seizing opportunities in life, but in two different perspectives. Herrick is optimistic and positive while Marvell is pessimistic and negative. Herrick, in his last stanza expresses optimism by saying that if one does not live now, he or she will never, and he also says that one should live now keeping in mind that they will not remain forever young. After living well at the youthful age, one will be able to get someone who will be there at old age. It has been considered that central device used by Andrew Marvell conjures not vivid images, but abstract concepts (“Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)” 260).

In conclusion, the two poems are able to challenge the reader on his or her take about life. Personally, I never had any interest in poetry until I came across “To the Virgin, to make much of time” which aroused my interest. I first read this poem while in senior high school and after sharing it with my girlfriend, she also liked it. I chose the two poems since they have a common message or theme which is in different perspectives. Also, the poems are able to challenge the readers on the issue of love and life. The two authors have expressed their views about life and the need to exploit all available opportunities in life. Even though one of the authors is pessimistic about life and the other is optimistic, the common message in the two poems is seizing opportunities in one’s life. The reader should analyze the two poems and challenge his or her own views about life. My perception towards poetry changed after encountering these poems among others, and I now believe that poetry is one of the best ways to communicate to a target audience.  

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