To His Coy virgins
The popular poetic creed “seize each day” or carpe diam is the concept. Andrew Marvell’s and Robert Herrick’s carpe-diem admonish young virgins to avoid coyness, procrastination and other negative traits. Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress” (to his coy mistress) and Herrick’s (“To the Virgins” or “To Make Much of Time”) are unified in their urgency, despite the differences between them. This message stresses that young girls should take advantage of their youth, otherwise they will regret not having lived. In particular, the virgin must not stay chaste all her life. She must give up her virginity in her youth so that she can enjoy the benefits of being young.
Both poems are rich in imagery. Both poets portray the sun as a looming reminder of mortality. Marvell views time as the enemy of life and challenges his mistress by living with him. Herrick is less active in his approach to the Sun, viewing it as an indicator of the passing of time. Herrick’s and Marvell’s approaches to time are also different. In the second half of the poem “To His Coy Mistress”, a speaker promises to do great things if he had an eternity. The speaker then goes on to list his many noble intentions. However, he says that it’s impossible to follow through with them, because “…at the back of my head I hear/Time’s winged chariot rushing near/And all around us are deserts of vast eternality” (21-24). Herrick, on the other hand, does not manipulate time in any way. He tells the virgins that they can live the way they want, provided they accept the fact of time, and are willing to make use of it.
Marvell’s approach is negative and urgent, whereas Herrick’s is passive, calm and didactic. The two poets have opposing but different agendas. Herrick appears to be a wise woman, offering advice to younger women and not to one girl in particular. In Marvell’s verse, the speaker addresses his mistress in order to win her virginity. The poetry of Marvell, which is filled with promises, pleas and seduction, clearly has this intention. The speaker uses grotesque images such as the grave, worms and dust in the second half of “To his Coy Mistress” to try to intimidate her into submission. “…then the worms will try/That long-preserved virginity/And all your lust turn into dust and ashes. Marvell plays on the fear of his mistress to seduce him. His message was: The only thing that is worse than being killed, is becoming a widow.
In an unusual inversion of morality, he ignores any and all consequences of immediate sexual consummation. Marvell doesn’t mention marriage at all in his poem. Readers wonder if Marvell truly has noble intentions. In a philosophical sense, Marvell may be “seizing” the moment and living in the now, without any regard to the future. The speaker is not a mindless, hedonist, but a cheap and self-serving individual. Herrick warns virgins about coyness. However, he does have a point when recommending that virgins go and marry “…while you can” (14).
Both poets employ metaphors as well as a predictable and constant rhyme scheme. Herrick uses very traditional metaphors. He doesn’t use a simile, which is unusual. This makes the speaker seem less seductive than Marvell. Herrick uses a didactic tone. Marvell’s metaphors and similes are overflowing. Most of his images have a grandiose quality, like “My Vegetable Love should Grow/Vaster Than Empires and More Slow” (11-12). Marvell’s metaphors are often attributed to the metaphysical movement. Herrick’s rhyme scheme is abab while Marvell’s is a simple rhyming pairt, aabb etc. There are, however, two couplets that slant rhyme. This is in contrast to the near perfect rhyme found in the “To the Virgins …””. Lines 23-24 rhyme “lie” with “eternity”. Lines 27-28 couple “try” with “virginity.”
Both “To His Coy Mistress”, “To Virgins”, and “To His Coy Mistress” are concerned with the ideal of carpe-diem for young women who still have their virginity. The seductive approach in the former poem is self-interested. In contrast, the didactic approach in “To the Virgins” is more pronounced. Robert Herrick’s closing lines: “For you have lost only your prime/You will forever tarry”, (15-16), are a perfect example of this. They imply that coyness and excessive caution can result in death and loss of love.