Wednesday, June 20, 2012

To His Coy Luco

Today I am reading homework responses for the poem "To His Coy Mistress," by Andrew Marvell. The poem was published in 1681, which I find hard to believe, much less conceive of. 1681? It seems perhaps a different dimension.

What would I do in 1681? Mouse, I suppose, or dart desperately from booted feet. There would have been, of course, no outlet for my lamentations, my creativity, my grasping at shadows.

How did creatures do it? Existent avant l'Internet?

You might have noted the wine, the glass which reads Paris (an obsession, I will admit - the cemeteries, churches, nightlife, ennui, le metro - Paris, je t'adore).

And perhaps I have had too much of it, but really, Marvell? He writes (a strange aspect of MLA, is it not? The use of the present tense so that the written word, no matter its age, is constant, alive. We are always of and in the moment): "My vegetable love should grow / vaster than empires, and more slow" (11-12) as he attempts to convince his maîtresse effarouché to, you know, "like amorous birds of prey, / rather at once our time devour" (37-18).

He is so, pray pardon the expression, lame. I would love you forever, blah blah blah, but we are going to die one day, so love me now in a carnal way (ah, see? I am a poet approaching Fremlin's caliber now).

I do love "vegetable love," however. It makes me swoon a bit. Perhaps I would have been convinced by his syllogism. 

But what must the maîtresse effarouché be thinking? Does she feel special, or does she see that  Marvell is manipulating her, that whispers of "though we cannot make our sun / stand still, yet we will make him run" (45-46) are meant to win her complicity and (although maybe I am simply a lonely cynic) nothing else?

Does she believe their love blurs time, speeds life, perhaps even feeds existence itself?

Is it really only one or the other for her - tenderness or manipulation - could it be both? And, you know, I do not believe I can read another of these responses - I am too perturbed at Marvell to take him seriously at the moment.

Perhaps I shall take this wine more seriously instead.

Please. I need just a moment to gather myself.

Marvell, you crazy carpe diem lover, you are right, let us "roll all our strength and all / our sweetness up into one ball, / and tear our pleasures with rough strife / through the iron gates of life" (41-44).

"Rough strife?" "Iron gates?" Is Marvell hinting some kind of BDSM thing here?

No, I jest!

The wine is not helping my homework-headache, it is not easing my solitude, it is not gentling my tiger's heart; if anything it is singeing my "every pore with instant fires" (36). Alack! A rare kind of fire this, and intense. I certainly feel less serious than I would want - a lesson: take wine too seriously and it will seriously vous fera bête.

I should get back to grading, back to reading. Give me some Daphne Gottlieb or even Sylvia Plath (maybe my favorite line in all of poetry: "Love set you going like a fat gold watch" from the poem "Morning Song"), but I shall instead finish this glass.

Why not? Even though Marvall was consumed by natural lust, and I may lust thusly no longer since my "fixing," still I might make my sun run. Yet I might abandon myself to this moment, and none need convincing save my own gullet.

Carpe vinum.


  1. I love this! When I teach Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress", I usually read it along with John Donne's "Elegy 19..To His Mistress Going to Bed" and Robert Herrick's "The Vine" (same kind of vegetable love that Marvell talks about!). Despite his attempts to woo her via carpe diem, Marvell calls the girl's virginity her "quaint honor," belittling the only thing she's got left. If she were real, I hope she didn't give in to his desires, but slapped him on the cheek instead. As for the wine, let's get together one of these days/nights :)

    1. Thanks for this comment, M. I'd love to get together when you're free. Text me sometime! :)