Andrew Marvell and Robert Browning were both great love poets in their time, and although the times were very different, their attitudes to love were sometimes very similar. Marvell’s poem, ‘To his Coy Mistress’, was written in a very romantic period where many hyperboles were used, and sex out of marriage, which is partly the main context of Marvell’s poem, was very much frowned upon, and the woman was tainted. Very little is known about Marvell’s personal life, although it is stated that he wasn’t married, but after he died a woman claimed to be his wife so that she got rights to his property and manuscripts.
He was writing in the metaphysical era. Robert Browning, on the other hand, married Elizabeth Barrat, who also composed poetry, and had a son. He was writing in the Victorian era, which was a time of high morals, values and religious scepticism, and at this time this kind of poetry would have caused great excitement. Both of the poems look at love in different ways, but they both portray the same element; time, or ‘carpe diem’- seize the day. Marvell has a very physical attitude to love, focussing on appearance and age, whereas Browning looks very much at psychological love.
In ‘To his Coy Mistress’, the main content of the poem is that the writer, who isn’t necessarily Marvell, is trying to woe his mistress into sleeping with him. He is telling her that they should stop talking about it, and actually get on with it. In contrast, ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ concentrates on how Porphyria’s lover is trying to preserve the moment, as it can’t get any better, therefore killing her. As with ‘To his Coy… ‘ it is highly unlikely that it is Browning’s viewpoint portrayed in the poem.
Both poems are written from a male perspective. ‘To his Coy.. is written in a very persuasive way, with lots of romantic metaphors, and quite a pressurising tone. On the other hand, ‘Porphyria’s.. ‘ is quite psychotic, with a constant sense of foreboding up to when he kills her. Both poets use a wide variety of language techniques in their poems, some the same and some different. In ‘To his Coy Mistress’, Marvell uses a lot of metaphysical conceits to try and persuade his mistress that he is the best and only lover for her; “I would love you ten years before the flood”; “For lady, you deserve this state, nor would I love at lower rate”.
In both of these stanzas the character is exaggerating his love, saying that it knows no bounds, and that his mistress will not find better love anywhere. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is not a metaphysical poem, yet it still contains hyperboles and the components found in one; “at last I knew Porphyria worshipped me; surprise made my heart swell”. The attitude to love portrayed here is definitely male-dominated, with both characters showing off their love. Both poems use a lot of personification; in ‘To his Coy’ he personifies his love, “my vegetable love should grow vaster than empires”; this is obviously also a hyperbole.
In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the character too personifies love by saying “for all her hearts endeavour to set its struggling passion free”. By personifying love this shows that both poets have a very strong attitude towards it, as they are expressing and exaggerating it, making it into a real thing which they can embrace and care for. At the beginning of ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, there is a lot of personification of the weather, “the sullen wind was still awake”, and a pathetic fallacy.
It continues to say “… and did its worst to vex the lake” which, as the poem continues, is exactly what Porphyria does to the character; he is sat at home quite calmly, but when she comes in he is stirred up, like the wind whipping at the lake. The attitude to love expressed here is that when you’re in love with someone everything changes as soon as they are around you. In ‘To his Coy Mistress’, Marvell uses a lot of persuasion to try and get his desired affect (his lady to sleep with him).
Firstly, he excessively flatters her; “an hundred years should go to praise thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze” which is obviously a hyperbole, as it would be impossible to worship her eyes and forehead for 100 years. Secondly, he scares her; ” Nor, in the marble vault shall sound, my echoing song; then worms shall try that long preserved virginity”, basically warning her that if she doesn’t hurry up and get together with him she will die a virgin because no-one will want to sleep with her when she’s old and has lost her beauty.
Finally, he embraces her love, saying that if they do get together they will have the best time of their lives together; “Now let us sport us while we may, and now, like amorous birds of prey”. The poet has a very open and overdramatic attitude to love, which is typical of the metaphysical era due to the hyperboles. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the poet uses caesuras every time Porphyria’s name is mentioned, for example “When glided in Porphyria: straight…. I knew Porphyria worshipped me: surprise…. Porphyria’s love: she guessed not how”. I think this shows that he thinks of her, treasuring her whenever he says her name.
However, in ‘To his Coy.. ‘ we never learn the woman’s name, and neither women get a say in either of the poems. This shows how male-dominated love is, and that there were many sexist attitudes to love in the past that the man had authority over the woman. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the characters roles are reversed halfway throughout the poem. In the first verse, Porphyria is very active; “she shut the cold out from the storm and kneeled and made the cheerless grate blaze up” and the character speaking is very passive, doing the barest minimum apart from watching her; “and, last, she sat down by my side and called me.
When no voice replied, she put my arm about her waist”. When Porphyria rests upon the character, and upon his realisation and his killing her, the roles are reversed and obviously she is passive because she’s dead and he is active; “I propped her head up as before, only, this time my shoulder bore her head, which droops upon it still”. This portrays a casual attitude to love, that only one of the two people is active, showing that one has control over the other at any time.
The last rhyming couplet in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ quotes “thus, though we cannot make our sun stand still yet we will make him run” which I interpreted as him saying that although their time together isn’t infinite they will make most of it. There is also a pun on ‘sun’ to ‘son’, maybe saying that it would be a bad idea for the woman to become pregnant if they aren’t married as she will be tainted for life. In the rhyming couplet at the end of ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the character is assuring himself that he has done the right thing by killing her; “and all night long we have not stirred, and yet God has not said a word! this is an ambiguous statement because it could either mean that he thinks God doesn’t mind as he isn’t being punished or that he doesn’t think God exists. I have already briefly mentioned the structure of ‘To his Coy Mistress’, but although it has three clear sections it may be one long stanza. In ‘Porphyria’s Lover’, the main structure is in two stanzas, one in which Porphyria is active and the character is passive and they are then reversed in the second stanza. ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is octosyllabic, in lyric form, with a regular rhyme and rhythm and enjambment at the beginning.
The character is also telling the story after it has happened. In ‘To his Coy Mistress’, the character is telling the story as it happens. In both poems, subjective thoughts are expressed. In conclusion, I think that the main attitudes to love are preserving the time the lovers have together. However, ‘To his Coy Mistress’ is about seizing the day and getting on with it, whereas ‘Porphyria’s Lover’ is about seizing the moment and preserving it, even if it is in a psychotic way.