Using persuasive and powerful imagery and language, Andrew Marvell writes a highly emotional poem of love. The person in the poem seems to be trying to court the love of a lady. The highly descriptive, at times even horrific detailing and imagery are his attempt to convince this lady that there is nothing he would not do for her affection. The poem is therefore an attempt to seduce the lady.
In the opening lines, Marvell laments “Had we but World enough and Time” then this “coyness” or seduction would not be a “crime”. He goes on to describe what he would do if he only had the time of a “long Love’s Day”. Using exotic locations such as the “Indian Ganges”, he talks of how he would love her forever. However, he vows that he will love her from “ten years before the Flood” which ended the first period of the Earth, “till the Conversion of the Jews”. This encompasses a colossal amount of time, further exemplifying the undying quality of his love – an eternal love.
At another level, perhaps it is the inaccessibility (in that time period) of this location that urges him to draw parallels between it and the inaccessibility of her love to him. Additionally, the Ganges is an important place of worship and religion for the people of Hinduism. In the same way, he discusses the Biblical Floods and the conversion of the Jews. This helps to give his professions of love a spiritual and religious quality.
Continuing on relentlessly, he describing his love as “vegetable love” that would grow “vaster than Empires”. By using such a symbol, he seems to be giving his love a life of its own. Therefore, like a vegetable, his love needs sustenance to grow, although it may grow slowly. This creates the effect of eternity and time passing slowly, as he has been describing throughout the first stanza.
“A hundred years should go to praise
Thine Eyes, and on thy Forehead”
Continuing with the same exaggerated imagery to create a feeling of slow moving time – these lines seem to serve their purpose of illustrating the hugeness of the poets love for his “coy mistress”. Furthermore he voices his opinion that at least “An age” should be devoted to examining or gazing at her every part. He truly seems to believe that she deserves all the attention he talks about, and that his love for her should not be “at lower rate”. Once again echoing his declaration of eternal love.
While in the first stanza time is moving slowly and the poet seems to have an endless era to describe his love. In the second stanza, the poet seems to have woken up from his reverie. He now recognizes that he does not have all the time in the world to seduce his lady, as he realized that “Times’d winged Charriot (is) hurrying near” while his back is turned. Eternal love is not possible, because he is a mere mortal.
With this realization, time now turns into an enemy for the poet. His vision now changes to into “Desarts of Eternity” where his lady’s beauty “shall no more be found”. The imagery now transforms to one of unhappiness and death. Using graphic imagery of the “marble vault” in which they will be buried and “worms” eating their dead bodies – Marvell is trying to convey his message of urgency and mortality.
The urgency is that of time flying by. He seems to be trying to remind his lady that time is of essence in this life. Thus, his seduction moves into a higher gear as he pressures her with dire warnings of what time will do to them. He visualized being dead and lying in a grave with worms everywhere. Their bodies “turn to dust” and “into ashes all my lust”. He is in a sense warning her too return his mortal love or face having never loved before she dies and turns to dust.
The talk of deserts and turning to ashes and dust implies a total lack of water. This is opposite to the first part of the poem that is awash with images of flowing water. Perhaps it is symbolic of his ever flowing love and a never-ending life that he dreams of, where time goes on forever. The dry imagery here seems to be denoting a sort of end. The knowledge that he is not immortal and his life will not go on forever. It serves to enhance the urgency of his love being requited.
The Grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
In these last lines, Marvell seems to be once again asserting the importance of their love and feelings now that they are still living. Death is an end – not only of life but of their love as well. At another level, He seems to be celebrating the beauty of this lady, against the unavoidable background of death. Therefore, they should quickly “embrace” and accept each other as lovers. This romantic insinuation sets the mood for the last part of the poem.
The final stanza and the seduction moves into top gear. The pressure on the lady to return his love in full is increases. With horrific images of death grinding them up in its jaws, Marvell seems determined to make the lady understand that her “youthful hew” will soon be gone, and she must therefore make the most of it now.
And now, like am’rous bird of prey,
Rather at once out time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.
These lines are decisive – he is saying that they must choose now whether to be amorous and devour time or instead have the jaws of time devour them. This terrifying and severe image seems to be Marvell’s method of presenting the absoluteness of death. While death is inevitable, we do not have to spend out time waiting for it. We can choose to make the most of our lives instead; he offers his love as one way to make the most of the time they have left on Earth.
Marvell wants them to “roll all our strength” and “sweetness” together, as one, as a union – he wants to make her his wife. He wants to guide her through the “Iron gates of Life” as her husband. While they cannot command time to “Stand still”, it cannot stop them from loving each other. However, they can make “him run”, by living their life to the fullest and happiest possible. Which he implies is by fulfilling their love. The reader is left with an image of the two lovers fleeing the sunset and the night. An image of darkness that is possibly symbolic of the end of time or perhaps even Armageddon.
A close reading of this poem allows us to realize the lengths that the poet will go to for the love of this woman. He tries all methods of seduction. He muses about a beautiful and undying eternal love and a wonderful life together. Then he rejects the notion of eternal love as he realizes he is mortal and that life passes by quickly and ends in death. He stresses that moral love will die with death – therefore he pleads with his love to respond to him. He tried to seduce her with images of death as an alternative to his love. He wants her to live for the moment because life ends too soon. Thus using such persuasive and powerful imagery, Andrew Marvel piece is one of intense seduction.