In this essay I will discussing and comparing ‘To His Coy Mistress’ and ‘One Flesh’. Both poems talk about love and passion but they tackle the subject in different ways.
‘To His Coy Mistress’
To his Coy Mistress” was written in 1650, 17th century. It is set in a metaphysical poetry tradition. It is basically about a man who is persuading his girlfriend to sleep with him. He is older than his girl friend and is trying to force her and persuade her to sleep with him as soon as possible. In those days they believed in a convention which was no sex before marriage
In the first, third and fourth lines the ‘w’ sound is alliterated in ‘we’, ‘which’, ‘way’, ‘walk’ and ‘would’. This sound helps the poem flow. Also on line four there is alliteration in ‘long loves day’ which gives a relaxed effect, ‘long loves day’ is also a metaphor for eternity spent in love.
Also in line four Marvell says ‘long loves day’ the alliteration sound of the ‘l’ makes the poem seem more relaxed.
In line six the Marvell says ‘should’st rubies find’ the word rubies symbolises love and passion.
Then he says ‘my vegetable love will grow’ he is comparing his love to a vegetable meaning it grows naturally and slowly
From line fifteen he talks about time; ‘two hundred’, thirty-thousand’. He uses a metaphor to personify and create and image of time. ‘Times winged chariot hurrying near’ this is a metaphor for the speed and power of time. It’s also an image of time catching him up in life.
He wants to have intercourse with her so he tries to persuade her by saying ‘then worms shall try that long preserve’d virginity’ he’s telling her it’s not good to die a virgin and the worms will eat her.
In line 24 Marvell writes ‘desarts of vast eternity’ this is saying time is extremely long and he will wait this long for his love.
Next he is telling her how passionate it will be when they do it. He uses the phrases ‘at every pore with instant fires’, now let us sport us’, like am’rous birds of prey’ these phrases are trying to persuade his love to have sex with him.
He once again mentions time to try and persuade her ‘ rather at one out time devour’ he is making out that time is a monster chasing after them so they should hurry up and have sex
‘through the iron gates of life’ he wants her to smash through the restrictions of life.
At the end of the poem Marvell says ‘thus we cannot make our sun stand still , yet we will make him run, in the 1700s they believed the sun went around the earth so he is saying they canno stop time so they must hurry.
“One flesh” is a poem written in the 20th century by Elizabeth Jennings. It uses themes such as love and passion. The poem is about a couple whose marriage had been torn apart over the years and how they are separating more and more every day.
The title ‘one flesh’ is a biblical image that suggests bodily union, however In the first line Jennings uses the words ‘apart’, ‘each’ and separate’ this suggests that the subjects are not very together.
In the first few lines of the first stanza we see how apart they are. The first line reads ‘lying apart now, each in a separate bed’ this suggests they have separate and shows an impression of estrangement. The man is ‘with a book, keeping the light on late’ he may not even be reading the book he could just be avoiding communications. In the next line we see how they are doing separate things as while the man ‘reads’ the woman is ‘like a girl dreaming of childhood’ The last two lines show that he does not read the book and how the woman has ‘her eyes fixed on the shadows overhead’ this suggests troubles and shows how she cannot sleep.
The next stanza starts with ‘tossed up like flotsam’ this is a simile for their marriage covered with debris. The second stanza also says ‘how cool they lie’ and that ‘they hardly ever touch’ and it they do it is like a religious confession. Next the phrase ‘chastity faces them’ means celibacy
The first line of the final stanza begins with juxtaposition with the words ‘apart’ and ‘close together’. ‘Silence between them like a thread to hold’ in the second line is a simile expressing tension. In the third line ‘And not wind in. And time itself’s a feather’ shows how unaware the couple are of time.
In the last two lines the writer reveals that the couple are her parents, ‘my father and mother’ and shows how there passion used to burn by saying ‘whose fire, from which I came, has now grown cold’.
Throughout each stanza caesuras are used in the middle of lines to create a pause to emphasize the separation affect.
Comparison of the two poems
The two poems not only share the themes of time and separation but also love and passion too. Yet in many ways the poems are worlds apart, not only in terms of when they were written (some 400 years apart) but in their perspectives. This is not surprising being that One Flesh was written by a female and To His Coy Mistress by a male. It is interesting that the themes of time and separation (as well as love) are influenced by different periods of history and attitudes to love and being together.
Both poems are interested in the idea of two people being one. Jennings calls her poem “One Flesh”, a reference to the coming together of two people in marriage. On the other hand, Marvell hopes he and his mistress can roll all their “sweetness, up into one ball” which has a much stronger sexual connotation. In both poems `sex’ is what separates the couples. Marvell “would complain”, if he had the time, about their not sleeping together – instead he tries to persuade through clever arguments relating to time why she shouldn’t be so coy with him. In One Flesh a marriage that was once a “fire” has “now grown cold” and a sexless state, “chastity”, and silence is all that seems to hold them together.
Ironically, they are joined, by a metaphorical “thread” but it cannot be wound in because they no longer have their “former passion.” Age and the slow melting away of passion has separated them, the couple’s daughter sadly observes. Rather it is the mistress’ “honour” that separates her from Marvell, and one imagines traditional attitudes to love. Society then was much kinder to men who lost their virginity before marriage than it was to women.
Time is used by Marvell as his chief argument to win his mistress. The first section of the poem begins:
“Had we but world enough, and time”
Marvell goes on to express how, if life were eternal, he would worship her for thousands of years, “Till the conversion of the Jews.” But he relates in the second part, eternity for humans is a “desert”, that we cannot escape “Time’s winged chariot.” Time he argues will render them “dust” and although “The grave’s a fine and private place,…none, I think do there embrace.” So, while they have youth and beauty on their side, he concludes, they should make the “our sun…run”, in other words they should enjoy themselves!
Conversely, time is not expressed as a reason to bring two people together but as a reason why two people are apart. Jenning’s parents have had their pleasure, and now time has slowly changed them like:
.”.a feather / Touching them gently”
It could almost be as if One Flesh was a description of the couple in To His Coy Mistress who at one time with great energy made time hurry on and unnoticed they have grown old after years, and now their oneness now disintegrated “like flotsam.” Though in a sense, time does separate Marvell and his mistress – clearly her coyness is because she doesn’t want to be rushed into a physical affair – and Marvell at this stage hasn’t got what he wants!
Techniques in the poem-
Both poems use imagery to show time as a feather, chariot and a journey, nature as rivers, jewels and feathers
Both poems are from different ends of the spectrum, ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is before passion is indulged and ‘One Flesh’ is After passion has faded.
The tone is different- in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ the tone is urgent and persuasive because the speaker has a mission but in ‘One flesh it is cooler and observational as the speaker is outside the couple.
I don’t like either of the poems as I see them as boring and pointless but I would say I prefer One Flesh by Elizabeth Jennings as it is shorter and seems to make sense on the first read.