Compare and contrast the poetry of seduction through the work of Andrew Marvell and Wendy Cope Paper

Published: 2021-09-10 23:40:10
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‘To His coy mistress’ was written in the 17th century by Marvell (a man). In complete contrast ‘Message’ was written in the 20th century by Cope (a woman). It is not just the viewpoints of the two poems which are hugely different, the purpose of each are equally so. The purpose of Marvell’s poem was to try and cajole his ‘coy mistress’ into giving up her ‘long preserv’d Virginity’, while Cope’s was to try and ease her frustration because the man she likes has failed to phone her. The difference in purpose is reflected in the type of communication in the two poems; Marvell’s is a direct address to his mistress while Cope is essentially airing her frustrations on paper, she is not directly communicating with this man but merely trying to somehow telepathically communicate with him. It is ironic that in a world full of modern communication she seems to have lost her ability to express herself.
Although there are some inherent differences between the poems, there are some common themes. There is a sense of getting tired of waiting in both poems; Cope is obviously tired of waiting for the man to phone her, while Marvell is tired of waiting for his mistress to lose her coyness. There is also a sense of a lack of control in both poems, in Cope’s she is completely dependent on the man picking up the phone and calling her, in Marvell’s he is completely dependent on his mistress giving him what he wants; her body. Thus in both poems both Cope and Marvell assume passive roles. Their respective partners seem to dictate what will happen i.e. whether Marvell will make love to his mistress or whether Cope will receive that phone call.
Both Marvell and Cope seem to think that time is a major issue, they both think that you have to act while you can or else it will be too late. This desire to act so quickly in both poems in my opinion stems from the fact that they aren’t in control, they want immediately to have what they crave. They view waiting any time at all as an eternity and so both use over-exaggeration regarding the consequences of not having what they want now. Cope would like ‘to consumate our friendship while we’ve still got teeth and hair’and Marvell describes how ‘at my back I alwaies hear Times winged Charriot hurrying near’.
As we have seen both Cope and Marvell are in a similar predicament, their partners both seem to be in control. However the way they respond to their dependency on their partners is vastly different. Marvell takes an active role by writing a poem which is essentially an argument suggesting why his mistress should give herself to him. Cope on the other hand does precisely nothing, she sits there and pours her emotions onto a page and telepathically urges her partner to ‘pick up the phone’. A reason why their attitudes are so different is that their relationships are at very different stages. It is possible that Cope isn’t even going out with this man, but has seen him only once or twice and has exchanged numbers. Even if she is in a relationship, it seems to be at a very early stage where Cope doesn’t feel able to communicate with him. Marvell’s relationship seems to be much more advanced and this is highlighted by the fact that he uses humour such as ‘My vegetable love should grow vaster than empires and more slow’.
This is a very phallic image and is very tongue in cheek. It is unlikely that he would use such humour if he did not know this woman quite so well. Another reason why Cope doesn’t ‘carpe diem’ and follow Marvell’s example is that she is a traditionalist, she believes it is the place of the man to phone. This is a throwback to the chivalric code, which Marvell is adhering to in his poem by taking the lead in communicating with his mistress. Finally although Cope complains that he his taking too long and time is a major issue, the more she is forced to wait for his call, the more she loves him, this is very paradoxical. Therefore she probably doesn’t want to phone him, she wants to enjoy the uncertainty of if and when he will phone her.
In terms of structure the poems are very different, Marvell uses rhyming couplets, this is a classical but simple structure that holds the poem together. Cope uses regular verse in the form of quatrains. In terms of style the poems also differ, the vocabulary of Marvell is flirtatious, seductive and urgent while the vocabulary of Cope is worried, desperate and confessional. The way in which the poems are set out are also hugely different. Marvell’s poem is set out like a barrister would set out one of his speeches. He uses three basic elements: flattery, shock and finally suggestion.
In lines 1 to 20 he describes how if time were no issue, he would understand her coyness and he would spend years to adore each and every part of her body. In describing how he would do this he is not only flattering her but there is also the embodiment of the sexuality and physicality which runs all the way through the poem. Marvell says a ‘hundred years’ should go to her eyes and her forehead but ‘Two hundred to each breast’. In this section he also offers the phallic .
image of the vegetable which I mentioned previously but this also fits in with the sexual and physical nature of the poem.
Then in lines 21 to 32 he shocks and terrifies her, he says that they don’t enjoy the benefit of time, quite the opposite in fact, time is fast catching up with them. In this section he also describes how ‘worms shall try that long preserv’d Virginty’. This image is meant to be taken quite literally and has been used by Marvell in order to try and shock his mistress into losing her virginity now or else this is the horrible way that she will end up doing so. Finally he uses death as a method of shocking her, her ‘quaint honour will turn to dust; and into ashes all my lust’.
The final section is almost a conclusion he suggests what should be done now. This section is a sort of combination of the two previous sections. He suggests ‘while the youthful hew sits on thy skin like morning dew’, ‘let us roll all our Strength and all our sweetness up into one ball’. Here he is simply saying while you are so beautiful, let us make love, this is really the true sentiment of his poem.
Cope ‘s poem is written in six verses, in the first two verses she starts off very confident and self-assured. The reader thinks that she is ringing this man and is urging him to answer the phone. However in the third verse the sense of desperation starts to come through, here the reader starts to realise that she is actually urging this man to phone her. This desperation is heightened in the fourth verse, especially when she says ‘one day is more than I can bear’. By the fifth verse the reader has fully realised Cope is just talking to herself. Finally in the sixth verse the desperation culminates when Cope describes how she won’t ring him again but instead she’ll ‘concentrate on sending thought-wave through the London air’. The poem is not structured or as organised as Marvell’s, it is more sporadic. Marvell’s poem may be like a barrister’s speech but Cope’s is more like a tragic love song which starts off confident and happy but builds up more sadness and desperation as time goes on.
In terms of imagery Marvell’s poem contains much more, this is due to the fact that Cope’s poem is less seductive, more desperate, more sombre and less humorous. Cope’s poem is less seductive because unlike Marvell she is not trying to cajole because she is not strictly speaking addressing her partner, therefore less romantic and poetic language and imagery are used. A lot of Cope’s poem is filled with desperation ‘please don’t hesitate- Pick up the phone’ is just one of many examples. Cope’s poem is quite sad in nature, a middle-aged woman who refers back to past failed relationships is eagerly and desperately waiting for a man she truly likes to phone her. Such a sad and desperate poem doesn’t contain any humour so not suprisingly jovial images aren’t included. The only real imagery in the whole of Cope’s poem is the consumating of the friendship ‘while we’ve still got teeth and hair’ this is simply over exaggeration stemming from the frustration and desperation that he hasn’t phoned.
However Marvell’s poem has a rich array of imagery. He uses imagery for different reasons and in different contexts. As we have seen Marvell sets his poem out in to three main sections, but uses two main ideas shock and flattery. A wonderful flattering image with many ideas used by Marvell is where he talks about the Ganges and the Humber, ‘Thou by the Indian Ganges side Should’st Rubies find: I by the tide of Humber would complain’. There are a number of ways of interpreting this image but the principal idea is that he is the modest Humber while she is the magnificent Ganges, i.e. he is flattering her. The other main idea is that her coyness is represented by the Ganges and although it bores him and he disagrees with it (hence the idea of him complaining by the Humber) he respects it. An image which is used to shock is ‘yonder all before us lye desarts of vast eternity’. This image is clever as it contains two meanings, deserts are empty, dry and sterile thus we have the sense of infertility. Secondly we have the more obvious image of the vast expanse of time.
Marvell doesn’t just use imagery for shock and flattery. He uses imagery for humour and also to heighten the sense of physicality and sexuality in the poem. The images which are humorous and sexual are the phallic image of the vegetable, the description of how he would spend hundreds and even thousands of years worshipping every part of her body especially each of her breasts and finally the worms taking her virginity. Marvell uses such tongue in cheek images firstly because his poem was a parody of other love letters written at the time, so he is vastly over-exaggerating his flattery of her body for this reason. Secondly one gets the sense that his mistress wasn’t completely na�ve and so his metaphysical imagery was included for her own amusement. Finally I think he includes such physical images to convey how much he physically yearns for this woman.
After looking at these two poems I think that Marvell’s poem is much more effective. It has a clear purpose which is carried out in a very intelligently structured way. This is in contrast to the sporadic airing of frustrations which Cope’s poem ultimately seems to be. Furthermore Marvell uses a great quantity and variety of imagery which helps his poem tremendously. The imagery helps him flatter, shock and suggest. At the same time the imagery is doing this it also lightening up the poem, giving it more humour. It also gives the poem a more sexual and physical feel which in the context of its purpose is very useful and effective. He also uses wonderful extended metaphors and biblical references all of which add to its effectiveness. Cope’s poem for me was too plain and simple, it only did one thing while Marvell’s did several. It was a depressing and desperate poem so there wasn’t as much colour or imagery as Marvell’s. However more imagery could have been used to help better convey the feelings of Cope.

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