The two poems, Robert Herrick’s To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time and Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress, both employ the “carpe diem” (seize the day) theme. Using both stock and original imageries, they effectively send the message across the reader that Time runs and keeps running so that one should enjoy the pleasures of love and romance while in one’s youth. However, the manners in which the two poets express this theme differ from each other.
The tone, metaphors and other poetic devices present in the two poems convey varied effects to the mind of the readers as to how the carpe diem theme should be considered.
Herrick’s poem is the simpler and more urgent of the two. Throughout the 16 lines comprising the piece, Herrick consistently paints through his metaphors the image of impending death and loss thus creating the sense of urgency in favor of his cause, which is for the virgins, to whom he is addressing the poem, to get married while they are young.
The images of “Old Time…a-flying (line 2) followed by a “flower (that) smiles today/ Tomorrow will be dying (lines 3-4)” both allude to the temporariness of beauty and youth. In contrast, To His Coy Mistress is a more complex way of expounding the theme.
While Marvell also exhorts the woman, by whom the poem is being addressed to, to hurry and seize the available opportunities while she is still young, there is a tone of hopefulness and optimism accompanying the sense of urgency. The poet begins by presenting hyperboles as to how he would like his love to be—growing through time, from “ten years before the Flood…Till the conversion of the Jews (lines 8 and 10). He would like to leisurely enjoy the romantic experience, spending “An hundred years…to praise/ Thine eyes…Two hundred to adore each breast,/ But thirty thousand to the rest (lines 13-16).
” He states that the reason for this is that his lover “deserve this state/ Nor would I love at lower rate (lines 19-20). ” Only in the second stanza does Marvell present the carpe diem case by presenting a similar personification of Time present in Herrick’s poem. In Marvell’s Time rides a “winged chariot hurrying near (line 22). ” He follows this with frightening imageries of death such as how, if the woman keeps resisting, in the end “worms shall try/ That long preserved virginity (lines 27-28).
” This sudden shift from beautiful romantic metaphors in the first stanza to the images of death in the second stanza actually makes the theme more effective and urgent to the reader. The shock element of death makes the young reader consider the theme and really hurry to enjoy love’s pleasures while it is too late. Finally, while Herrick’s poem suggests that life and love is only worth it “when youth and blood are warmer/ But being spent, the worse (lines 10-11)”, suggesting that everything is downhill after youth, Marvell thinks that love is a consolation for humans against the ravages of Time.
The final lines, “Though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run (lines 45-46)”, suggest that although death is inevitable, loving is a way by which we can forget thinking about old age and death. Carpe diem poems all seek to send the same message to the reader: to grab the opportunities present in youth for once these are gone, they can never be reclaimed nor repeated.
Herrick and Marvell both wrote poems to illustrate this point using varied metaphors like the personification of Time rushing by, the rising and dying of the Sun and other temporal objects like flowers and birds. Herrick’s poem is the classic carpe diem poem, urging the reader to enjoy youth and make much of it because everything is temporary, while Marvell incorporates an additional point about how seizing love during one’s youth is a way to distract one from thinking about how temporary youth is in one’s life.