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    Metaphysical poetry and the Concept of ‘Carpe Diem’ Essay

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    Challenge conventions and conservative ideology are common preoccupations of artists and Just as Done champions the libertine ideal in To His Mistress Going to Bed”, so Marvels “To His Coy Mistress” celebrates the metaphysical belief of “Carper diem” or grasping the day. Both poets see man as a spontaneous and pragmatic being, destined to live one life only and needing to make the most of it. This need to satisfy one’s earthly urgings is most clearly expressed by Marvel.

    In To his Coy Mistress Marvel presents to his lover an argument for lowering her defenses and to give free reign to her desires, while at the same time allowing him to satisfy his own. The poet argues that “coyness” is, in fact, criminal since we are not alive long. The long, drawn-out vowel sounds of the opening stanza – “our long love’s day;” – mimics the painful process of his “mistresses” refusal and a series of ironic references underscores his frustration.

    An allusion to the “conversion of the Jews” foregrounds that her preciousness will go on forever, and among other biblical references becomes a surprising mechanism to persuade her to yield up to him her virginity. In the seventeenth century, we might have expected the opposite! A further technique used to this end is that of the traditional blazon, but again the convention takes on an unconventional twist.

    Instead of a discreet head-to-toe description, Marvel focuses his attention on his women’s breast and nether regions: “An hundred years should go to praise Thin eyes and on thy forehead gaze; Two hundred years to adore each breast But thirty thousand to the rest… ” At the next stanza, Marvel plunges into a metaphysical conceit; that is, a couplet reminding us of our mortality: “And at my back… /… Hurrying near. ” The conditional ‘but’ serves as a structural and rhetorical ‘hinge’ in the poem – contrasting indefinite patience and naive virtue against our march to a certain death

    And the very next couplet presents a sobering reminder of the permanence of this: “And yonder… Lie/Deserts… Eternity. ” The prospect of death, proposed by Marvel through the metaphor of a “marble vault”, is an attempt to convince the woman that her decision to conserve her virginity is a wasteful one. The option is also made distasteful through the phallic reference of worms trying her “long preserved virginity”. This is where Marvel attempts to highlight the folly of “holding out” and signals the ideal of “Carper Diem” introduced in the opening stanza.

    The final stanza provides a positive solution to the robbers stated in the previous one. His answer to death and mortality is passion. Marvels solution involves living the now as though life is short; to act instead of waiting. By personifying time, Marvel places desire into perspective. The satisfaction of primal urgings is a means of escaping the inevitable: “Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still, yet we will make him run. ” This need to quench one’s lust in order to truly live is similarly portrayed in Donna’s To His Mistress Going to Bed.

    In order to make himself as appealing to her as she is to him, and in order to serve is wishes, Done aims to praise his “mistresses” beauty and intellect. Done shows his lady that “the game” is over; that he has waited long enough to have her. He uses the comparison of his waiting to that of a woman in labor. “All rest my powers defy Until I labor, in labor I lie” This argument is not meant to be blunt, and Done emphasizes his more sophisticated approach through the use of suggestive words such as ‘rest’ and ‘lie’.

    They not only point to coitus but slow down the pace of the poem and set the female on the back foot as the “attack” begins. In this second stanza Done uses imperative orbs as his weapon, to chip away at the cold outer shell of his “mistress’s” armor: “Unpin… ” Unlace… ‘ License my roving hands… ” This is achieved through reference to the women’s intellect rather than emotions; an approach typical of metaphysical poets. Metaphoric comparisons are used to objectify the woman. References to “America” and a “Newfoundland” are used to instill the image of a great discovery that has yet to be made; underlining desires yet to be satisfied.

    The end of the extended metaphor is proposed by the use of an exclamation mark, emphasizing the just that has consumed Done. Reflecting the social perspectives of the time, Done also suggests that a woman’s beauty is profound; like a guilt book cover, but the subtle suggestion is that it is a book that should be open! For Done, beauty is not an end in itself: “Like pictures, or like books’ gay coverings made For laymen, are all women thus arrayed.. What needs then have more covering than a man. ” Always, with Donna’s love poetry, the emphasis is on the use of rhetorical devices that point to the unleashing of repressed desire.

    So it is with Andrew Marvel who sees a similar range of techniques to express his lust and to highlight the importance of the here and now. The metaphysical poets certainly believed in seizing the day! As the foregoing analysis of To His Coy Mistress and To His Mistress Going to Bed illustrate, Marvel and Done, two of the greatest exponents of metaphysical endeavor, offer a new perspective on living. They posit no religious promise of a hereafter, but suggest that heaven may be found on earth; that our faith, if we have any, is much more profitably placed in the temple of the body.

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