The Carpe Diem Motif in To His Coy Mistress
"Seize the day." For cavalier poets, there seemed to be little else they found nearly as interesting write about than the carpe diem concept. The form of carpe diem poetry is generally consistent, almost to the point of being predictable. Though Andrew Marvell worked with the same concepts, his modifications to them were well-considered. In "To His Coy Mistress," Marvell makes use of allusion, metaphor, and grand imagery in order to convey a mood of majestic endurance and innovatively explicate the carpe diem motif.
Previous carpe diem poems (such as those written by Robert Herrick at the same time period) often took an apostrophic form and style which stressed the temporality of youth. The logical extension was to urge the recipient of the poem to take advantage of that youth to further her relationship with the narrator. They were often dark and melancholy in theme, underneath a light exterior of euphony and springtime images (perhaps to urge consideration of the winter to come).
Marvell chooses not to employ many of these techniques in the opening of "To His Coy Mistress." Instead, his images and tools stress how he wishes his love to be- tranquil and drawn out. Rather than beginning with a focus on the concept of death, he opens the poem with the lines, "Had we but world enough, and time / This coyness, lady, were no crime" (ll. 1-2) He will later take on the trappings of the carpe diem poem, but his focus will then be on the grandeur and passion of love, rather than its instability.
To begin to slow the passage of time in his poem, Marvell makes reference to past and future events on a grand scale. His allusions to religious scripture early on in the poem give the impression of vast ages passing, spanning most of time itself.
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews. (ll. 7-10)
The period from ten years before the flood (which occurs in Genesis some time after creation) until the conversion of the Jews (which was to happen at Armageddon) crosses a massive amount of time. This allusion is one of the several techniques Marvell uses to turn the focus away from impending death to an ideal world without it.
Another such technique is the metaphor. Lines 11-12 read, "My vegetable love...