Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Herrick’s “To the Virgins”
Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Herrick’s “To the Virgins” are both poems that are written in a carpe diem tradition, meaning these two writings praise the importance of the moment. Marvell’s poem is an author’s description of his feelings for the woman: firstly, he says that it will take him a century to praise each of her body’s parts, then, he concludes that they need to act right now because the time is running. Herrick’s poem encourages people to live today because tomorrow, it might be late to do it. The usage of carpe diem tradition in poems is different on the basis of detail, diction, imagery, and figurative language.
An interesting detail is the usage of coyness in both poems, which is similar to Marvell and Herrick. In Marvell’s work, the author claims that coyness will not be a problem for a woman if a couple has plenty of time (which they do not have): “Had we but world enough and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime” (lines 1-2). In the same manner, Herrick treats the shyness: “Then be not coy, but use your time, And while ye may, go marry” (lines 13-14), encouraging people to seize the day. Thus, even the poems themselves stand for a similar attitude towards virgins and coy mistresses: women should not be shy with men because of the lack of time they both have.
The first difference between the poems lies in their choice of words while describing the importance of seizing the day. For Marvell, the current time is “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near” (line 22). This diction stands for the perception of the moment as an omnipresent chariot which always somewhere nearby. At the same time, Herrick writes: “Times still succeed the former” (line 12), meaning that moments are changing themselves in a specific sequence, which will never be repeated.
“To His Coy Mistress” and “To the Virgins” are similar in their colors as part of imagery in poems. In his work, Marvell notions “love,” which is usually associated with passionate red color, four times. Then, the author also writes: “Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side Shouldst rubies find” (Marvell, lines 5-6), choosing ruby as a precious stone, which also has red color. Similar to this, Herrick chooses roses (also red) as flowers: “Gather ye rose-buds while ye may” (line 1) and emphasizes the warm blood in a young age: “That age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer” (lines 9-10). Therefore, both poems have chosen red as a background for their actions, probably highlighting the fleeting love, passion, and youth.
Another difference between the poems lies in the usage of carpe diem traditions through metaphors and comparisons. Marvell claims that he could praise the woman for ages and centuries to possess her, but he does not have much time during his life. That is why she should not be coy and needs to fall in love with him “while the youthful hue Sits on thy skin like morning dew” (Marvell, lines 33-34). Thus, Marvell wants a human to act in a current time because otherwise, it will be already late (because of wrinkles, oldness, and other reasons). On the contrary, Herrick, through the following words: “That age is best which is the first, When youth and blood are warmer” (lines 9-10), tries to encourage people to live in a moment. From Herrick’s point of view, this is so because it is the best time for them to act and achieve goals.
Though the poems are similar in their topics and messages to humanity, they are distinct and individual. The authors are different in positioning reasons people have to seize the day: either because tomorrow it will be late or because today is the most suitable time. The words chosen to describe the current moments also differ between the authors: for Marvell, it is an omnipresent chariot that is always somewhere nearby, and for Herrick, it is a strict sequence that will never be repeated.
Marvell, Andrew. To His Coy Mistress. 1681. Poetry Foundation, Web.
Herrick, Robert. To the Virgins. 1648. Poetry Foundation, Web.