An Analysis of Time in Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” Essay

  I.         IntroductionAndrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” are both celebrated poems of love and expression, each avowing the author’s sentiments regarding the relevance of time to this utmost emotion.  However, while both poems discuss time as an important element of love, they operate in extreme concepts of time and its role.

Known for his lyrical yet satiric poetry and his use of metaphysics, Andrew Marvell’s career flourished in the 1650s, and further took on responsibilities and duties of political service.

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  William Shakespeare, on the other hand, is acknowledged as England’s most profound and prolific writer, authoring numerous iconic plays and poems in the late 1500s.II.        Coy vs.

Cloy:  Deciphering Marvell’s TimeThe poem starts with “Had we but world enough, and time,/This coyness, lady, were no crime.”  At once, in the first line, Marvell sets the clock in reference to a possibility; he immediately gives the beloved—presumably a young, coy woman, prone to exhibiting rehearsed shyness as a prelude to impending romance—his seemingly impatient opinion on the wastage of time.

  As it was common during the poet’s era of England in the mid-1600s for women to employ indifference to gain male admiration, the beloved’s behavior of extending the process of courtship appears to be understood by the poet, yet is perceived to be a “crime”.  Marvell then proceeds to enumerate specific measures of time as examples of length and the accompanying frivolity, even mentioning the period’s newfound penchant for exotic finds in the east that further emphasizes the context of time.

  The lines that follow pertain to religious and Biblical references—specifically Noah and the flood, and the “conversion of the Jews”—which both seem to be express eternity yet dealt with sarcasm, as Noah represents the beginning of time and the Jews’ conversion have no historical basis.  His references in the lines “My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires, and more slow” connotes exactly that—slowness, lack of urgency, the kind of love that grows through time; the succeeding lines, on the other hand, allude to the effects the indulgence of time would have on their love and relationship.  The next lines that sum up the poem delve into the intricacies of the awaited union of the poet and his beloved, a lyrical display of the choice of love in the here and now versus deferring to the ills of time.Marvell makes great allusions to time in his satirical style—employing concepts of history and nature—yet in the end he actually shuns the mere idea of it.

  It is evident how the poet uses vivid imagery and profound ideas of time to compare with the urgency of his love, which he argues to be more deserving of the lady’s attention than a preoccupation with other unimportant matters.  Because the ultimate goal of the poet is to consummate the relationship, or to unite with his beloved, the grandiose images relating to time and eternity appear laughable—as is the style of satire.  Clearly, the poet only sees time as an essential part of love if it referred to urgency and speed, rather than waiting and eternity.  Love, to him, needs to be expressed immediately, and time would only be a hindrance to its completion.

III.      The Ideals of Love and TimeCompared to Marvell’s piece. William Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116” is devoid of any satire or underlying sentiments about things other than love itself.  In fact, the pureness and honesty of the poet’s intent is stated from the first line, wherein he calls upon the true meaning of “the marriage of true minds”.

  He believed in such as being free of impediments, of parameters, and of rules—true love, for Shakespeare, should be thoroughly true and unconditional.  This is confirmed by the lines “Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds,/Or bends with the remover to remove;”, which is a veritable test of the purpose and intent of one’s love; if it is found to be changed by circumstances, then it is not true love at all.  The concept is further developed by the Shakespeare’s mentions about the unwavering strength of this love, expressed as “an ever-fixed mark/That looks on tempests and is never shaken”.  At this point, true love is measured against its degree of staunchness and perseverance, unaffected by any form of intrusion.

Then, Shakespeare brings forth the first allusion to time, as he qualifies love as not being its “fool”, notwithstanding the physical effects that time may carry with it.  This is a clear reference to youth and beauty, which is often incorporated with common ideals of love—that these are fully dependent on time, which alone can decide their expiration.  The concept of time is soon given specific measurements—in “hours and weeks”—which are but brief compared to the unchanging spirit of love.  Shakespeare contends that true love remains so until the end of time, or until one’s death—if proven otherwise, then he shall take back everything he had ever written on the subject.

  Then again, he immediately follows this thought with a statement about man not being capable of loving, which counters the previous phrase.Time, in this sonnet, is written as love’s adversary; if true love is unchanging and strong, then its counterpart in both qualities is time.  It will not change or bend for anything or anyone, just the way love refuses to vary from its original state.  Therefore, in Shakespeare’s terms, time is an acknowledged presence yet should not act as a determinant in the process and nature of love—which exists solely on its own.

IV.      ConclusionThe poems discussed both center on the effects of time on love, yet no two pieces of literature could be more differing.  While both uphold love as the end-all and be-all of life, the purposes are found on different levels.Marvell’s poem refers to time as something precious, not to be wasted—thus the feelings of urgency and immediacy clearly emanate from the piece.

  He does this by comparing time with various examples of grandeur and size, qualifying the wastage of such as a crime.  Of course, because of the satirical nature of Marvell’s work, it can also be deduced that the real objective of the poet is to persuade his beloved to a physical union, a moment that needs to happen as soon as possible.“Sonnet 116” by Shakespeare stands on the opposite end of the spectrum, being the bearer of the purest concepts of love.  Here, time is a major factor, yet should be no cause for change in love’s nature and intent.

  Love, according to Shakespeare, should remain the same—unchanging, unwavering, tried by time and its effects.  Other than that would reveal its untruth.Between the two poems, its is evident that “Sonnet 116” employs more of a utopian view of love compared to “To His Coy Mistress”, which almost mocks love as it hides its true purpose.  However, time is a concept more felt in the latter poem, as the poet uses comparisons of time to convince his beloved to urgently attend to their love—making it less profound, and rather shallow.

  Then again, the objective is for it to be satirical, which gives the poet reason enough to employ such strategies.Works Cited Marvell, Andrew.  “To His Coy Mistress”.  Luminarium:  Anthology of EnglishLiterature, 1996-2006.

   http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/marvell/>Shakespeare, William.  “Sonnet 116”.

  Shakespeare Online, 1999-2007.< http://www.shakespeare-online.com/sonnets/116.html>

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