Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Syllogistic Structure in “To His Coy Mistress”
Syllogistic Structure in “To His Coy Mistress”
Richard Von Mise in his book ‘’positivism’’writes ‘’it is a common place that poetry and logic have nothing to do with each other ,that they are often opposite to one another’’. Poetry deals with passion than with reason, its method is imaginative and implicit rather than explicit,symbolical rather than discursive, concerned with what its terms suggest rather than with what they state. The kind of poetry which most fully exhibits these concerns are lyric poetry and hence lyric poetry is generally thought to be most antithetical to reason , logic and science. But this is not always the case. It was T.S.Eliot who discovered ‘’ a tough reasonableness beneath the slight lyric grace’’ in Marvell which distinguishes him from the the Elizabethan and Cavalier poets. Joan Bennett in his ‘’Five Metaphysical Poets’’ concludes that both The Definition of Love and To His Coy Mistress are argumentative , ‘’pressing towards a conclusion by seemingly logical steps’’. Joseph h. Summers in his ‘’Andrew Marvell:Private Taste and Public Judgment’’ confirms that in ‘’To His Coy Mistress ‘’the traditional plea to give up coyness and seize the day for love is given a syllogistic form’’. Like The Anniversarie, Twicknam Garden, The Dreame, A Valediction: of Weeping,To His Coy Mistrss is structured into three fairly long stanzas. The tri-partite divisions suggests the form of the syllogism, an old logical form used from Greek time onwards, which consisted of a major premise, a minor one and a conclusion. The poem can be divided into three sections. The first section from lines 1-20 sets up the way the man would want to court the lady; lines 21-32 present the problem and also a threat whilst lines 33-46 supply the resolution.
In the first proposition the "speaker-seducer" makes concrete the abstractions of "Had we but world enough and time" –and what follows is a series of conceits and witty hyperboles to build up a make-belief state of love experience. He proceeds to outline what he would do out of love for his lady if they were provided with infinite youth and indefinite life span. It they had all the time in the world, they could pass it any number of ways--She could amble along the Ganges River in India looking for precious gemstones, while he would go crumbling to himself, waiting for her by the Humber River in England.. Temporally, he would sue for her affections beginning ten years before the Flood of Noah and his ark and she, on the other hand, could delay her response ‘till the Conversion of the Jews’, an idea which Marvell uses to symbolise an unknown future timescale. His love could be ‘vegetable’: which will keep growing and reproducing itself - slowly..Marvell parodies the Elizabethan love convention of listing the mistress's bodily parts, and praising each one separately – eyes, forehead, breasts – by giving absurd amounts of time to be spent in praising each part. Each shall have an ‘age’, referring to Greek mythology in which human history could be divided into ‘ages’: gold, silver, bronze.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
Section two of the syllogism is enlivened by arresting imagery of sound and sight. "At my back I always hear/ Time's winged chariot hurrying near;/ And yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast eternity." . ‘Times winged Charriott’ sounds quite military, in pursuit of the lovers. With the prospect of ‘Desarts of vast Eternity’, the vegetable image is replaced by total barrenness. This leads on to talk of dust, to which her ‘quaint Honour’ will be reduced .The tone switches from earlier whimsicality to seriousness. Unfortunately, they do no have thirty thousand years, not even a hundred years for him to admire and drool over her various body parts. They face only death and “deserts of vast eternity” when there will no longer be such beauty for him to ogle. He then tries to appeal to her sense of logic by saying that if he cannot have the honor taking her virginity, then “worms” will do so.He insults her common sense by calling her notion of notion of honor “quaint
Thy Beauty shall no more be found
Nor, in they marble Vault, shall sound
My echoing Song; then Worms shall try
That long preserv'd Virginity;
And your quaint Honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my Lust.
This is a powerful section on time and death. The carpe diem (‘seize the day’) theme is strong, as it is in Marlowe's The Passionate Shepherd, or more genteelly in Robert Herrick's Gather ye Rosebuds. ‘Quaint’ contains a play on words. In the seventeenth century it meant proud and also ‘whimsical’, as it does today; it may also be a pun on ‘queynt’, which in the medieval period, referred to a woman’s sexual organs. Her ‘Virginity’ in death will be as barren: it has produced nothing but a facade. The reality of the grave confronts us as bleakly as it does in Shakespeare's tragedy Hamlet or some of the Jacobean dramas that followed.
This segment of the syllogism is memorably summarized by its ironic concluding couplet. It describes a location that offers seclusion, darkness, privacy, and security from observation or interruption by third parties. There is, however, one serious drawback.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.
It is now time for part three of the syllogism which could be stripped down to its essentials as "Now therefore, . . . let us sport us while we
." Let's have none of this "vegetable love": let us rather couple fiercely like amorous hawks or eagles. Let us not be devoured by the slowly grinding molars of time and age, but do the devouring ourselves. Rather than the geographical separation of the Ganges from the Humber, let us not merely unite but
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
In language more plain, let us love actively and passionately. Though we can't stop time's passage ("make our Sun/ Stand still"), we can make it fly by enjoying sexual fulfillment (we will make him run).
, he then uses more stylistic devices to convey the sense of urgency that is necessary when he is discussing the lack of time that the couple possess. For example, he firstly describes the 'winged chariot' that is 'hurrying near.' The winged chariot metaphor gives the reader connotations of a fast and furious speed, which is then neatly juxtaposed with the 'Deserts of vast eternity' – which gives an atmosphere of a slow, fruitless future. Marvell then has a pronoun switch, which draws the woman directly into the argument and enhances the sense of intimacy, with the intimate form of 'you' - 'thy.' Marvell then uses grim, humorous, phallic imagery to demonstrate how lust will inevitably die, and the consequence of there being no lust in death. "Thy beauty shall no more be found; ....then worms shall try That long-preserved virginity."
There is a grim, dark humor present, not only with the phallic imagery of the worms, but also the use of 'quaint', which also had a crude, underlying meaning at the time when the poem was written.
The third and final stage is the resolution of the argument in the syllogistic framework. Marvell asserts that due to him being unable to love her slowly and realizing that time is precious, he resorts to the logical conclusion of a quickening of affection: "Now let us sport us while we may..."
This hurried tone is present throughout the final stage, however Marvell also uses the realities of life to subvert the premise of the first part of the argument. To do so, he uses extremely strong imagery again to conclude his argument with the last part of the argument concentrating on sexual imagery, such as the 'amorous birds of prey/Rather at once our time devour' (which can also be extended to an image of the couple seizing control of the issue by devouring time) and 'the iron gates of life'. Also, adverb use enhances the intensity of his emotion, such as 'Now..', being an imperative - conveying his sense of urgency to the reader, and 'Let us' (also asserting their mutual, joint enterprise), and 'willing' - insinuating a sexual eagerness. The use of metaphysical conceits here make the argument much more than a brief sexual encounter, but a vigorous sexual union where Marvell wishes to defy barriers and the concept of time, which is summed up in a crescendo in lines 45 and 46: "Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run."
The last couplet sums up the whole argument - Marvell expresses that although they cannot stop time, they as a couple can control how fast the time goes. This is reminiscent of the carpe diem theme and the poem by Herrick: 'Gather ye rosebuds' - celebrating the enjoyment of life and the need to 'seize the day.' Furthermore, the words 'Stand still' can be related back to Joshua in the Old Testament, where he commanded the sun to stand still whilst he did heroic deeds. This is clever, ironic humor, as earlier in the poem he implies the lack of an afterlife, as the woman is destined to lie in the marble vault and only vast deserts (implying nothing) of eternity lies before them, instead of the spirit being reborn into an eternal life. The obvious conclusion for this speaker is that because they have so little time, and nothing lies before them but the fading of beauty, then they should begin their sexual experiences now. The speaker fantasizes that the woman is as eager to begin intercourse as he is: “while thy willing soul transpires / At every pore with instant fires, / Now let us sport us while we may.”
He then imagines their sexual congress to resemble “am’rous birds of prey” and fancies that they will, “roll all [their] strength, and all / Out sweetness, up into one ball.” Further, they should, “tear [their] pleasures with rough strife.” He does not just suggest intercourse, but he also wants it to be rough, and hints at even further perversion in his final comparison, “though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
Marvell also uses the rhyme scheme of the poem to re-emphasize this union of two parts. The entire poem consists of rhyming couplets, which takes two separate lines and make a matching pair out of them. In addition, the concentrated style of the poem and the frequent use of enjambment demonstrate the compression and intensity of Marvell's argument.