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Huda Altarek
Dr. Khalid Al-Ahdal
Stylistic Analysis
1
ST
Sep 2014
Stylistic Analysis:
Diction in the poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell
The difference between the right word and almost the right word is like the difference between
lightning and the lightning bug. (Mark Twain)
I ntroduction
Stylistics is the study and interpretation of texts from linguistics perspective. In this paper a
stylistic approaches are taken to analyze Marvells poem To His Coy Mistress, analyzed in the
aspect of diction, register and tone which combined with the content to make clear how the
Marvells poem is an argument for capturing the moment in the face of lifes brevity (Carpe
diem).
To his Coy Mistress
1. Had we but world enough, and time,
2. This coyness, lady, were no crime.
3. We would sit down and think which way
4. To walk, and pass our long love's day;
5. Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
6. Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
7. Of Humber would complain. I would
8. Love you ten years before the Flood;
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9. And you should, if you argumentse, refuse
10. Till the conversion of the Jews.
11. My vegetable love should grow
12. Vaster than empires, and more slow.
13. A hundred years should go to praise
14. Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
15. Two hundred to adore each breast,
16. But thirty thousand to the rest;
17. An age at least to every part,
18. And the last age should show your heart.
19. For, lady, you deserve this state,
20. Nor would I love at lower rate.
21. But at my back I always hear
22. Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
23. And yonder all before us lie
24. Deserts of vast eternity.
25. Thy beauty shall no more be found,
26. Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
27. My echoing song; then worms shall try
28. That long preserv'd virginity,
29. And your quaint honour turn to dust,
30. And into ashes all my lust.
31. The grave's a fine and private place,
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32. But none I think do there embrace.
33. Now therefore, while the youthful hue
34. Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
1. About the poet:
Andrew Marvell, an English poet, politician, and satirist, probably wrote "To His Coy
Mistress" between 1650 and 1652. It was first published in 1681 (by his housekeeper!)
several years after his death. Since then, it has become one of the most famous poems of its
kind.
2. Synopsis about the poem
2.1 Theme and Summary To His Coy Mistress presents a familiar theme in literature
Carpe diem (meaning seize the day), a term coined by the ancient Roman poet Horace. In
response to a young mans declaration of love for a young lady, the lady is playing. But
dallying will not do, he says, for youth passes swiftly. He and the lady must take
advantage of the moment, he says, and sport us while we may. Oh, yes, if they had
world enough, and time they would spend their days in idle pursuits, leisurely passing
time while the young man heaps praises on the young lady. But they do not have the
luxury of time, he says, for time's wingd chariot is ever racing along. Before they
know it, their youth will be gone; there will be only the grave. And so, the poet pleads his
case: Seize the day.
2.2 The Title The title suggests (1) that the author looked over the shoulder of a young man
as he wrote an argument to a young lady and (2) that the author then reported the
argument exactly as the young man expressed it. However, the author added the title,
using the third-person possessive pronoun "his" to refer to the young man. The word
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"coy" tells the reader that the lady is no easy catch; the word "mistress" can mean lady,
manager, caretaker, courtesan, sweetheart, and lover. It can also serve as the female
equivalent of the master. In "To His Coy Mistress," the word appears to be a synonym for
lady or sweetheart. In reality, of course, Marvell wrote the entire poem.
2.3 The Persona (The Young Man) Although Andrew Marvell writes "To His Coy
Mistress" in first-person point of view, he presents the poem as the argument of another
man (fictional, of course). The poet enters the mind of the man and reports his thoughts
as they manifest themselves. The young man is impatient, desperately so, unwilling to
tolerate temporizing on the part of the young lady. His motivation appears to be carnal
desire rather than true love; passion rules him. Consequently, one may describe him as
immature and selfish.
2.4 Setting The poem does not present a scene in a specific place in which people interact.
However, the young man and the young lady, presumably live somewhere in England
(the native land of the author), perhaps in northeastern England near the River Humber.
The poet mentions the Humber in Line 7.
2.5 Characters Young Man: He pleads with a young lady to stop playing hard to get and
accept his love.
Young Lady: coy woman.
3. Diction:
(Word choice of a literary text): A study of diction is the analysis of how a poet uses
language for a distinct purpose and effect, including word choice.
The speakers vocabulary shifts as his argument goes through the three phases that make up
the three sections of the poem. When the reader tries to understand the position of the
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listener, the poems occasionally difficult language becomes simpler and easier to
comprehend. The speakers diction changes, depending on whether he is trying to appeal to
his lover, to flatter her.
- Line 5 - "Thou"
Poetry was more formal in the seventeenth century than it is today, and we need to take that
fact into account when we assess the diction of Marvells verse. Much of what we find
difficult in Marvells language can be attributed to the simple fact that the nuances of
language change over time. We may be struck by the formal-sounding Thou and the use of
thy throughout the poem, but again, this was common in seventeenth-century poetry.
- Lines 5 and 7 - "the Indian Ganges and Humber"
Initially, the speakers words are meant to impress his lover, so the speaker alludes to world
geography. He also flatters her by placing her in an exoticand ruby-ladenlocation (the
Indian Ganges) while he remains in England (Humber).
- Lines 8 and 10 - "the flood and the conversion of the Jews"
Because the speakers objective during this part of the poem is to impress his lover, he
alludes to biblical history (in addition to geography) as if to assert his worldliness and his
word. Such loftiness is absent from the next ten lines, when his objective is to flatter his
lover.
- lines 13, 15, and 16 - "An hundred, Two hundred, thirty thousand"
The speakers use of numbers in this section of the poem demonstrates a shift in the
speakers objective: He now wants to flatter more than impressed. Consequently, his
numbers only increase, until finally it requires an age . . . to every part (17).
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- Lines 24, 27, 29, and 30 - "Deserts, worms, dust, and ashes"
In this second section of the poem, the speaker reveals his awareness of times encroachment.
He chooses words that might appeal to the listeners emotions rather than her mind. These
languages are much more physical and visceral than the distant, abstract language of the first
two parts, whether the speaker is flaunting his knowledge of geography and biblical history
or using numbers to stoke the fires of his listeners vanity.
- Line 34 - "Sits on the skin like morning dew"
In the final section (once the speaker has made his point), the speakers diction reverts to the
relative ease of the first section, and he chooses words that are more playful and ornamental
than those in the second section. The language in the final section is characterized by
sweetness and, by the very end, a flaring passion.
4. Register (level of language)
In the first stanza there are humorously exaggerated references to traditional romantic
ideas. He speaks of spending "An hundred years" to "praise/Thine eyes"and "Two hundred to
adore each breast". This is all undermined by the poem's opening words: "Had we but world
enough, and time". He is presenting a courtship which may sound wonderful, but is one he
states from the outset is impossible. Persuasively he tells his lover "you deserve this state",
even though he knows it is all an exaggerated fantasy.
Images of death and decay are used in the second stanza to show the lover the pointlessness
of resisting. Once dead "then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity". This image is
intended to encourage his lover to give her virginity to the speaker rather than foolishly
saving herself for the "worms" when buried. He also makes a pun of her "quaint honor",
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which could be seen as a reference to her nave preservation of her virginity even though
death ("turn to dust") is inevitable. It is also a reference to her body - "quaint" and the idea
that in death we become "dust".
The second stanza also echoes words from the Christian burial tradition:
"dust"and "ashes" are both referred to and act as a reminder to the mistress that life only has
one outcome, so waiting is pointless. The rhyming of "dust" and "lust" on lines 29 and 30
effectively summarizes the choice the mistress must make.
The final line of the second stanza uses parenthetical commas (commas used to enclose
thoughts) to convince us (and the lover), that the speaker has logically reached a
conclusion: "The grave's a fine and private place, /But none, I think, do there embrace".
The final stanza, in which the speaker grows impatient to convince his mistress, is full of
references to speed, urgency and passion. The simile "while the youthful hue/Sits on thy skin
like morning dew" restates the speaker's desire, with a focus on his mistress' body.
The"morning dew" is also an effective simile in that dew very quickly disappears as the day
advances, like her youthful appearance.
5. Tone
To His Coy Mistress is a Carpe diem (or seize the day) poem in which the speaker
tries to convince the listener to accept his love. As such, we might expect the anything to
argue his case. Yet the lighthearted tone of the poem suffers from the introduction of the
concept of death in the midsection, and the overall tone is more melancholy than it would
have been otherwise.
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The poem in many ways challenges religious, particularly Christian, ideas. He speaks of making
the most of life because "yonder all before us lie/Deserts of vast eternity". Afterlife, he suggests,
is nothing. Waiting and resisting urges in life is pointless, he suggests.
In poetry, especially love poetry, time is personified as being the enemy of lovers. Time will
bring death, the awareness of which is always with the speaker: "at my back I always hear/Time's
winged chariot hurrying near". A chariot is an old type of carriage pulled by horses, commonly
associated with war.
- Line 15 - "Two hundred to adore each breast"
As throughout the entire first section of the poem, here the speaker sounds as though he might be
wearing a sly smile. He is flattered his lover to the point of exaggeration, and he is careful to
point out that he would spend twice as much time adoring her breasts than he would spend on her
eyes and forehead. The tone in this section is thus insincere and ribald.
- Lines 27, 29, and 30 - "worms, dust, and ashes"
These words alter the tone introduced in the first section of the poem through imagery associated
with decomposition. These words firmly establish the chilling reality of death. The tone here is
sincere and melancholic, and its effect on the overall tone is enduring.
6. Lexical semantics
Lexical semantics concern the meanings of words. Lexical semantic relations play an
essential role in lexical semantics and intervene at many levels in natural language
comprehension and production
Synonyms: coy lady / adore - love
Antonyms:
Hyponymy: world Indian gangs /quaint heart
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Metonymy: - None
Polysemy: back-hear
Plesionymy: None
Philonymy: None
Tautonymy: None
Xenonymy: my echoing song worms /marble sound /vegetable love
Notes
1. Coyness: Evasiveness, hesitancy, modesty, coquetry, reluctance; playing hard to get.
2. Witch. . . Walk: Example of enjambment (carrying the sense of one line of verse over to
the next line without a pause).
3. Ganges: River in Asia originates in the Himalayas and flowing southeast, through India,
to the Bay of Bengal. The young man here suggests that the young lady could postpone
her commitment to him if her youth lasted a long, long time. She could take real or
imagined journeys abroad, even in India. She could also refuse to commit herself to him
until all the Jews convert to Christianity. But since youth is fleeting (as the poem later
points out), there is no time for such journeys. She must submit herself to him now.
4. Rubies: Gems that may be rose red or purplish red. In folklore, it is said that rubies
protect and maintain virginity. Ruby deposits occur in various parts of the world, but the
most precious ones are found in Asia, including Myanmar (Burma), India, Thailand, Sri,
Lanka, Afghanistan, and Russia.
5. Humber: River in northeastern England. It flows through Hull, Andrew Marvell's
hometown.
6. Flood. . . Jews: Resorting to hyperbole, the young man says that his love for the young
lady is unbounded by time. He would love her ten years before the great flood that Noah
outlasted in his ark (Gen. 5:28-10:32) and would still love her until all Jews became
Christians at the end of the world.
7. Vegetable love: love cultivated and nurtured like a vegetable so that
it flourishes prolifically
8. This state: This lofty position; this dignity.
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9. Time's wingd chariot: In Greek mythology, the sun was personified as the god Apollo,
who rode his golden chariot from east to west each day. Thus, Marvell here associates the
sun god with the passage of time.
10. Marble vault: The young lady's tomb.
11. Worms: a morbid phallic reference.
12. Quaint: Preserved carefully or skillfully.
13. Dew: The 1681 manuscript of the poem uses glue (not dew), apparently as a coined past
tense for glow.

Conclusion
''To His Coy Mistress'' by Andrew Marvell has been used for stylistic analysis that''
Focusing in diction, register and tone. There are lots of examples in the aspect of lexical
semantics. Those enrich the poem and give it a value. The poem is a famous example of
the classical idea of "Carpe diem" or "seize the day." The speaker is urging his mistress to
make the best of life by living it to the full and not simply waiting - pointlessly denying
argument shares - for death. This idea clashes with one of the popular movements of the
17th century, Puritanism, which emphasized the importance of denying personal
argumentsures (especially those considered in any way sinful), and the simple
worshipping of God.