In his poem To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvel uses sound to great effect, employing a wide range of techniques to create an engaging and memorable poem.
The poem begins with a description of the speaker’s love for the mistress, using alliteration to create a strong sense of emotion: “Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, Lady, were no crime” (1-2). The use of alliteration in these lines emphasizes the speaker’s passion for the mistress and helps to create a strong first impression.
Sound is also used later in the poem to create a sense of urgency. For example, in the line “But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” (13-14), the sound of the words “winged chariot” creates a sense of speed and urgency. This helps to convey the speaker’s feeling that time is running out and that they need to act quickly if they want to seize the opportunity to love the mistress.
Overall, Marvel uses sound in To His Coy Mistress to great effect, creating a poem that is both emotionally powerful and engaging. By using a variety of techniques, he manages to create a poem that is truly memorable.
Still, if we remove ourselves from the speaker’s limited viewpoint and expand our perspective, we may see that Marvell is making a statement about how everyone of us (regardless of gender or involvement in relationships) should enjoy each moment. When T. S. Eliot references Marvell’s concept in The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, he encourages people to seize the time by reminding himself that time is running out and urging them to live life fully now because tomorrow they may be dead.
In To His Coy Mistress, Marvell is able to create a sensual and suggestive poem with his use of sound. By incorporating alliteration, onomatopoeia, and assonance into his work, Marvell is able to produce a poem that is not only visually appealing, but also orally pleasing. In the following lines, for example, alliteration is used to create a sense of urgency in the speakers words:
“Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness might be cured with a switch.”
Here, the repetition of the /w/ sound in “world,” “would,” and “with” emphasises the speakers desire for more time. Similarly, onomatopoeia is used to create a sense of urgency in the following lines:
“But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.”
By using words that sound like the things they describe, Marvell is able to create a vivid picture in the readers mind. Finally, assonance is used in the following line to create a sense of longing in the speakers words:
“Amorous delay, wounding disdain,
Fainting hopes, and happy hours slain.”
Here, the repetition of the /ai/ vowel sound emphasises the speakers pained emotions. In total, Marvells use of sound helps to create a sensual and suggestive poem that is not only visually appealing, but also orally pleasing. By using alliteration, onomatopoeia, and assonance, Marvell is able to produce a work that is both creative and meaningful.
In contrast to the smooth couplet structure of the poem (AA, BB, and so on), two quatrains employ slant or irregular rhyme to accentuate the poem’s message. Lines 23 and 24 utilize a rough rhyme “lie/eternity,” while lines 27 and 28 repeat this pattern: “try/virginity.” The first quatrain states that the future in front of us is not only undesirable but also devastating: “deserts of broad eternity” suggest a threatening rather than soothing future condition.
In addition to the rhyme, sound is also used to create an atmosphere and tension. The consonants “s” and “f” are used prominently at the beginning of words throughout the poem. For example, in line 1 we find “Seed-time and harvest, heat and hoar frost,” while in line 9 we read “And ten thousand years will have no more effect/ Than to delay for a day my inevitable end.”
These hard sounds work together with the images of decay and death that are pervasive in the poem to create an oppressive mood. In particular, the repetition of “f” in lines like “Frost and fire, flood and famine,” emphasizes the speaker’s sense of doom. The use of sound in To His Coy Mistress is masterful, and it helps to create an overall feeling of unease and tension.
“Virgnity” rhymes with “lie,” just as “try” repeats the rhyme and metrical pattern of “etrnity.” The pairing of anomalies alludes to the fact that just as the seemingly desirable eternity of the future is in reality a terrifying desert, so is conventional morality.
The sound of the poem underlines the speaker’s arguments. The long i’s in “try” and “eternity” stretch out the vowels, while the short a’s in “coy” and “virginity,” quickly snap shut. The consonants are also carefully chosen to underscore the points the speaker is making. The hard g in “grisly” contrasts with the soft y in “desert,” while the hissing sibilant in “sex” emphasizes the sliminess of that activity. In each case Marvell’s use of sound underscores and strengthens his argument.
The third line is also devoid of any pauses, and it goes on to the fourth where there is a pause after the first foot to make sure that the rhythm (a long, twelve-syllable line followed by a short, eight-syllable line) runs in opposition to that of the couplet (two ten-syllable lines). In reality, there’s just one iambic tetrameter couplet composed entirely of end-stopped iambs, lines 31-32: The graves are a lovely and secluded place; but I doubt if they embrace anyone.
The first line of the poem introduces the central conceit: that, if given infinite time, the speaker would happily spend it all with his lover. However, since they live in a finite world and time is short, he must act now. The second line shifts the focus from time to death, and how mortality creates a sense of urgency.
When Andrew Marvel wrote To His Coy Mistress, he used sound to create a poem that would be remembered for centuries. The poem is full of sexual metaphors and innuendos, which are enhanced by the use of sound. For instance, the line “Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime” uses alliteration to create a smooth and sultry tone. The repetition of the letter ‘c’ sounds helps to convey the idea of something being ‘coy’ or playful.
Similarly, the line “But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” uses onomatopoeia to create a sense of urgency. The sound of ‘hurrying’ is emphasized by the use of alliteration and assonance. By using these techniques, Marvel is able to create a poem that is not only lyrical, but also sensual.