Tuesday, 13 September 2011

TO HIS COY MISTRESS as a metaphysical poem

Marvell’s achievement in English poetry is supported by very few poems, which focus on things relating to Renaissance understanding of love as a pervasive metaphysical principle, a faculty or even a potential fulfillment implied, an understanding of the magic on which the whole universe seems to have been constructed. The Renaissance concept of love follows from Platonic premises, which are explained by Diotima in Plato’s Symposium. But we also discover the synthesis of classical and medieval forms of literary artifacts in the Elizabethan poetry. Again Marvell had the supreme command of the comic medium of poetry, which characterizes such distinguished writers of metaphysical school as Herick, Lovelace and Suckling, whose poetry was comparatively free from more serious moral concern; on the other hand, Marvell’s poetry has a genuine transcendental bias, even a doctrinal tension in love as in Donne, and finally a masculine strength in the verbal articulation of poetry.
To His Coy Mistress consists of separate sections or stanzas linked in syllogistic chain, and employs those standard terms of reference, which were used by Aristotle to illustrate the validity of truth in Inductive Logic. The first movement of the poem is introduced by the supposition “had we”and continues to enlist a series of hyperboles, which suggests that, if they had a sufficient expanse of time and space in their hand—the lovers could desist consummation wit sweet admirations and shy denials. The fundamental opposition to amorous dallying is posed by the consciousness of the brevity of human life. The anxiety generated by the sense that life is short, dismissive of human interest, provides some of the basic themes for poetry in classical antiquity. Horace introduced the carpe diem theme in his odes, one of which contains the famous lines including the phrase, which translated stands for an appeal to “seize the day,”
“Carpe diem of credula …minimum posters.”
What Horace actually suggests is a need for the stoical endurance of life, an ascetic possession of the self. But in Marvell’s poem the stoical carpe diem has been transformed and grafted on to the context of love.
In the first section, however, the persuasion to love is mildly stated. The poet says: “My vegetable love should grow Vaster than empire and more slow.”
That Marvell understands that his love for the ministers is not merely of vegetative nature but also of a spiritual one is indeed significant for the proper understanding of the poem. This is a love, which is cosmic and eternally oriented, as Donne had also stated in The Extasie:
“Love’s mysteries in souls do grow But yet the body is his book.” Donne is here speaking of Platonic love in its purest definition, that is, a graduation from the bodily to the universal, and from particular to general love.
The deliberate emphasis on the absurd statements in the first stanza is countered by the opening couplets in the second:
“But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Not only this Time’s devastating march is conceived in ghastly terms in an almost existential annihilation: “And yonder all before us Deserts of vast Eternitie.”
It is this counterargument, which provides the emotional basis for the poet’s attitude to love in the poem. The conclusions of things are, after all, negative and negating—the termination of life in the grave offers no hope. From the perspective of the non-believer, the decision to make best possible use of time is merely hedonistic. But Marvell’s intention is fraught with more philosophical suggestiveness. We are reminded of Donne’s remark that there is no working in dark night, meaning that spiritual self is helpless without the body and it is only on our existence as flesh and blood that we can exert our will power.
The proposition that the lovers should concentrate their energies “up into a ball”—is, in fact, a reference to emblematic imagery common throughout the Renaissance. The fired cannon ball symbolizes wisdom or prudence—wisdom, especially of the kind that suggests a freedom from the operation of transient natural form. In pleading to the mistress to be constituted as a ball and fired, the speaker hints at an usual sexual consummation of their love, but this is not the only wisdom, which the lovers are capable of achieving. Consistent with the Platonic form f the poem, it may be inferred that Marvell is also thinking of harnessing the spiritual potential in order to give to it a meaningful release at a proper time. According to some Neo-Platonists, the mode of conserving and employing one’s energies in consonance with the forces of permanence and eternity in nature was one of the primary awareness of wise man. Marvell embodies this idea in the last image and significantly the lovers seem to have defied time:
“Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still yet we will make him run.”
The defiance is not in the fact that the functional property of time has been retarded, but in the fact, which is more insulting to time’s capacity. The lovers will make the sun run with more speed, but the passage of days achieved by this will not have its effect on the permanence, which the prudent lovers will have in their possession.

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