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Literary Devices in To His Coy Mistress
Tone and Enjambment: The poem opens with two closed couplets, or couplets which are formed by one full sentence. This adds a sense of urgency but also indicates a degree of thoughtfulness on the part of the speaker. For most of the first stanza, punctuation falls on the ends of lines, expressing a degree of controlled thought. However, moving into the second and third stanza, the poem begins to enjamb more frequently, with lines running into others and with punctuation becoming more scattered. The second and third stanza express the speaker’s mounting passion as well as the sense of urgency he is trying to create. This is demonstrated through the enhanced use of commas, which extend thoughts and give the stanzas a more stream-of-consciousness feeling.
Pronoun shift: In the final stanza, the speaker shifts away from first-person singular pronouns and instead begins utilizing first-person plural pronouns. The shift away from “thy” and “I” to “us” and “our” symbolizes the union between the speaker and his mistress in their metaphorical fight against time—as well as the more literal consummation of their love.
Meter and Rhyme: The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, a meter featuring four sets of two syllables per line for a total of eight syllables per line. It is structured as a series of rhyming couplets with a simple AABBCC rhyme scheme. The poem opens on two “closed couplets,” couplets representing a completed sentence, which give the poem a clipped but measured beginning. In the second stanza and continuing into the third, the line organization becomes increasingly erratic— the punctuation shifts from periods and semicolons to commas—giving the poem a rushed feel and possibly modeling the speaker’s increasing passion as he speaks. Marvell also flexes some of the pronunciations (e.g. rhyming “lie” and “eternity”) in order to fit the rhyme scheme.
Literary Devices Examples in To His Coy Mistress:
Text of the Poem
"Now let us..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
In the final stanza, the pronouns shift from primarily first-person singular to first-person plural. This symbolizes the metaphorical as well as the longed-for, literal union of the speaker and his lady: they become an “us” rather than two distinct individuals. The speaker shifts his tone away from the gloominess of the second stanza to focus on empowering himself and his lady to live their lives to the fullest as partners in the battle against time.
"like amorous birds of prey..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
The third stanza focuses on taking action, and this simile, which compares the lovers to birds of prey, creates a more violent feeling in the poem, turning love into a battle against time. The speaker urges his lady to join him in “devouring” time through shared pleasure, shifting the tone away from the gloominess of the second stanza and instead becoming more determined as the couple prepares to do battle.
"the Flood, And you should, if you please, refuse Till the conversion of the Jews...." See in text (Text of the Poem)
The speaker alludes to both the biblical flood, which represents the “rebirth” of the world, and the “conversion of the Jews,” a figure of speech in Marvell’s time referring to the end of the world. The two events represent a large span of time: the courtship began in the past and the mistress can refuse the speaker’s advances until the end of the world, in the far future. The biblical allusions add a sense of grandeur to the speaker’s declarations, giving their love some sense of the divine.
"The grave’s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace...." See in text (Text of the Poem)
The speaker employs dark humor to lighten the mood set out by the previous lines’ death imagery. His goal is to convince his lady to consummate their love, but the previous lines contain gloomy images that do little to inspire romance. This couplet shifts the tone away from the dreariness of death, employing some gallows humor to refocus his argument in favor of consummating their love while they are still alive.
"worms..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
The poem shifts away from leisurely, romantic visual imagery, like rubies and rivers, and begins to reference death and the process of bodily decay. The concept of the union of lovers is contrasted with the stark imagery of the union of worm and corpse, indicating that since death is inevitable, the postponement of earthly pleasures is a waste, not a virtue.
"Time’s wingèd chariot..." See in text (Text of the Poem)
The personification of time as a pursuer adds a sense of urgency to the speaker’s arguments. Since time is cast as the villain within the poem, equipping it with a “winged chariot” contributes to the idea that the passing of time is not only inevitable, but also sinister.
"We would sit down and think which way To walk and pass our long love’s day...." See in text (Text of the Poem)
The poem is made up of rhyming couplets. The opening four lines are made up of two “closed” couplets, or couplets that each represent full sentences. This beginning adds a sense of measured urgency to the poem as the statements are succinct rather than extended or open.