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Comparison and Contrast Between Marvell’s and Eliot’s Poems



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    One of the most popular British poets is Andrew Marvell (1621-1678). “In an era that makes a better claim than most upon the familiar term transitional, Andrew Marvell is surely the single most compelling embodiment of the change that came over English society and letters in the course of the seventeenth century” (“Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)”). His work focused on surprising, and, at times, shocking and daring, use of language to explore questions about love, sex, the earth, the universe, and the divine (“To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell”).

    His lyric poetry and its metaphysical themes proved to last many centuries which inspired many writers such as Charles Lamb and T.S. Eliot.T.

    S. Eliot (1888–1965) sought inspiration from Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress for his work The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock which forever associated both works with one another. To His Coy Mistress and The Love Song Of J.

    Alfred Prufrock, though similar in a few ways, are poems both speaking of love, but in completely different contexts and forms and structures.Although Eliot developed certain differences from Marvell’s work, it cannot be denied that there are certain characteristics in the works that are quite similar. In fact, certain segments of Eliot’s work are seen right of as taken from Andrew Marvell’s poetry.Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress is a poem expressing “a plea from a lover to his lady love to forgo her coyness so that they can celebrate love as long as it lasts” (Mk).

    Written during the English Interregnum (the period of parliamentary and military rule after the English Civil War), the poem was not as popular as it is today. As the period was marked with many events, the British could not quite give as much emphasis to their literature as most of the writers would have liked. The poem, therefore, became quite forgotten.It was only after a few centuries that the poem was somewhat revived as writer T.

    S. Eliot popularized it as he used it for inspiration in his work The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock.The Love Song Of J.

    Alfred Prufrock expresses of Prufrock, the poem’s speaker, who addresses a potential lover, “with whom he would like to ‘force the moment to its crisis’ by somehow consummating their relationship” (“Eliot’s Poetry”).Certain similarities can be found between the two works. As Eliot sought inspiration from Marvell, certain characteristics of the latter’s work were retained. However, with the writers living in different eras, there was no doubt that there would also be much more differences in the works.

    Allusions are found in both works, more particularly, referring to biblical and religious allusions (“A Contrast of Lovers”).Marvell’s lines “Of Humber would complain…Till the conversion of the Jews” reveals a biblical reference to the story of Noah and the flood from the Book of Genesis in the Bible. The speaker says of his love existing since that particular time. As for the conversion of Jews, Jews are believed to very rarely convert their religions.

    In other words, the speaker tells his lady that he has and will love her for eternity—or at least until there comes a time when the Jews surrender their religion, which is believed to be impossible (Landry).Eliot’s work also refers to the bible, particularly in lines 15-22. This part tells a personification of “the yellow fog”. “This yellow fog makes him think that everything has the proper time to happen and it is so unbelievable, as if it were a hallucination of a mentally ill person” (Barva).

    This passage about time is very similar to Ecclesiastes 3:1-8, which says “To everything there is a season,/ and a time to every purpose under heaven:/ A time to be born and a time to die,/ a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted,/ a time to kill, and a time to heal, . . ./ a time to weep, and a time to laugh,/ a time to mourn, and a time to dance, .

    . ./ a time to keep silence, and a time to speak”.A sexual motif is also common between the two.

    Line 92 of The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock (“To have squeezed the universe into a ball”) was clearly taken from lines 41-44 of To His Coy Mistress (“Let us roll all our strength and all…Thorough the iron gates of life”). These express the “phallic penetration of the hymen”, or the actual act of sexual intercourse between the speaker and his lady (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock Study Guide”).

    This may also be associated with the actual relationship that the speaker is proposing. The idea of “being rolled up into a ball” signifies a unity and togetherness, in this case between a man and a woman.Both works refer to the more serious issue of life and death. Eliot mentions Lazarus in line 94.

    Lazarus is the man who is said to have been brought back from the dead by Jesus Christ. Marvell also deals with death in his poem. He uses an imagery of death, although he expresses this using sex and love and wordplay, which can take readers closer to the truth about life and death than they would ordinarily choose to go (Kelly).The allusion of time is also revealed in both works.

    The first four lines of To His Coy Mistress have great similarities and strong influences in The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock, particularly the lines “And indeed there will be time…There will be time to murder and create”.The slowness of the cat-like fog’s movement leads into the fourth stanza’s treatment of time.  The poet appears to be thinking of Andrew Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress” which he alludes to again later in the poem.

    The first paragraph of Marvel’s poem tells how he would court his sweetheart if they “Had. . .but world enough and time.

    . . .”   The second paragraph points out that time is short and after death it is too late and the third paragraph urges immediate intense action.

    The gist of Marvel’s poem and other carpe diem poems is that life is wonderful but there is limited time in which to enjoy it (Gibson).This issue of time, though, has also been a source of a contrast between the two. Although they do both refer time as being an important theme of their poems, they disagree in the sense that Andrew Marvell’s carpe diem or “seize the day” concept does not apply to Eliot’s poem. Prufrock believes that he and the woman have enough time, although it would not hurt to have more.

    The age of the speakers here is also an important factor because Marvell clearly showed his speaker to be one who is determined to not waste his youth.Another difference lies in the personas of the speakers. To His Coy Mistress is spoken of character who is believed to be a young man who is rather impatient in his pursuit of a lover. The Love Song Of J.

    Alfred Prufrock, though, shows a balding, middle-aged man. Such men are though of to be somewhat desperate. These men may also be those who are not fully trusting and are afraid to love as they are old and most women prefer men of a younger age.The way the speakers address show contrasts between the works.

    Eliot casts his speaker as someone who spent his whole life putting off his relationships with the world around him, especially those with women. Marvell, on the other hand, has a very direct way of speaking to his lady. This shows his being determined to be in a relationship with her, with no apprehensions whatsoever. Marvell’s character speaks very directly and straightforward.

    Eliot on the other hand, makes his character speak in a much more circuitous language. This language expresses Prufrock’s lack of determination, possibly because of Prufrock’s inability to trust women, as shown in lines 124 and 125 (“Essays on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: An Analysis”).Consequently, the issue of love is also tackled in both works.

    However, the personas have different ideas and feelings towards the matter. In To His Coy Mistress, the main character speaks very seriously to his lady. From the third line onwards, he speaks of what he would do out of love for his lady if they were both given the chance to live for much longer, as in “centuries” and “ages”. He uses imagery to illustrate this argument.

    “For example, he describes his life as a ‘vegetable’ love, which not only gives connotations of a slow, developing love to grow for his ‘mistress’, but also the description of a ‘vegetable soul’”(Gonzalez). The vegetable soul is said to be the lowest level of the soul in the Renaissance concept in the levels of reason. This suggests a kind of love that could exist without sensual enjoyment and suggests that it is a lower form of love than sexual love. He pertains here to its growing into to the ‘sensible soul’, which deals with passion and love.

    Another example is seen in the complete devotion as expresses in “I would Love you ten years before the flood./ And you should, if you please, refuse/ Till the conversion of the Jews” (Gonzalez).T.S.

    Eliot, on the other hand, showed the opposite of Marvell’s character’s determination and devotion. As mentioned earlier, the character of Prufrock disagrees with the character in To His Coy Mistress about “seizing the day”. He expresses this conviction in the line “indeed there will be time” to ask himself “‘Do I dare?’ and ‘Do I dare?’”. These questions refer to if he dares to make a declaration of love, and, if not, if he dares to flee down the stairs after he rang the doorbell, being conscious of the fact that his lady might spot the “bald spot in the middle” of his hair.

    The following passages also express Prufrock’s wonder if he dares “disturbing the universe” by expressing his love. He asks the rhetorical question “And how shall I begin?”. He strays from this topic in the five lines that are set off from the rest of the poem by a series of dots. Here, he explains how he is slowly becoming like the isolated men in the city, loveless and left to spend their evenings “watching the smoke that rises from the pipes”.

    Here he begins to feel dejection in love and thinks it would have been best if he had just become a sea creature (Pagnattaro).Also, his referral to peaches in the poem shows his cowardice in facing romance. He veers away from Marvell’s serious way of thinking and speaking and creates a ridiculous image of himself “with his hair slicked to cover his bald spot, trousers cuffed in youthful fashion, considering the act of high daring of eating a peach in easily stained white slacks” (Pagnattaro). His romance becomes merely a comparison to an act of ingesting a notoriously juicy piece of fruit.

    Near the poem’s end, Prufrock speaks of mermaids, which are believed to call on sailors and seduce them. But Prufrock claims that these belong to another world. The world in which he lives does not have mermaids to call on him and enchant him to do an act in the name of love. This, therefore, means that he will never be able to experience love and romance.

    On a final note in the works’ contrasts, certain figures of speech can be found in both works, but were used differently. Irony played an important role in expressing the true meaning of the poems. Andrew Marvell used irony in the actual poem. In the first lines of the poem, the speaker expresses his wish that if he and his lady only had enough time, he would take the conventional way to praise and court his lady.

    However, he somewhat refutes this himself by his exaggeration of time and space. Here he explains that the conventional way of courtship is simply impossible for them. This exaggeration serves as an irony to conventional ways of courtship (Chuang).On The Love Song Of J.

    Alfred Prufrock, however, irony was not much used in the actual text, but rather on the title and the theme as a whole. The title shows irony in the sense that when one actually reads the text, it will be apparent that there is a lot of humor, and such cannot really be called a love story. As for the themes, “the poem displays several levels of irony, the most important of which grows out of the vain, weak man’s insights into his sterile life and his lack of will to change that life” (Brians).To His Coy Mistress and The Love Song Of J.

    Alfred Prufrock are works tackling the same general idea—love. There were also certain similarities between the two, such as their uses allusions to other literary pieces. However—perhaps because the authors lived at different times, and influences were very much different—there are many contrasts between the works, particularly of how love is spoken of in the texts. T.

    S. Eliot sought certain inspiration from Andrew Marvell’s work, proven as it was Eliot who made To His Coy Mistress popular. Eliot may have disagreed on certain points with Marvell, and some people may not appreciate neither works, perhaps for the themes or the way the poems were written, but it cannot be denied that when t comes to the great influences, they were still able to produce great literary pieces that the shaped modern literature today.             Works CitedBarva, Laci.

    “Impersonality in T. S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. 2005. 07 May 2009.

    <http://www.literatureclassics. com/essays/1166/>.Brians, Paul.

    “T. S. Eliot: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1919)”.

    Department ofEnglish, Washington State University. 1998. 07 May 2009. http://www. ~wldciv/world_civ_reader/world_civ_reader_2/eliot.html>.Chuang, Sarita.

    “Analyses of Literary Techniques in ‘To His Coy Mistress’”. Platonic andSexual Love in Some 17th Century Poems. n.d.

    07 May 2009. <http://www.eng.fju.>.Gibson, Teresa.

    “T .S. Eliot’s ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’”.

    University of TexasBrownsville. n.d. 07 May 2009.


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    com/topic/to-his-coy-mistress-poem-8;.Landry, Peter. “TO HIS COY MISTRESS”. Blupete Poetry Pick.

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    com/Literature/Poetry/CoyMistA.htm;.Mk, Rukhaya. “Poetry analysis: To His Coy Mistress, by Andrew Marvell”.

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    com/a-contrast-of-lovers-an-analysis-of-to-his-coy-51975.html;.“Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)”. Poetry Foundation.

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    org/archive/poet.html?id=4423;.“Eliot’s Poetry”. SparkNotes LLC.

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    com/poetry/eliot/section1.html>.“Essays on The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: An Analysis.

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