Monday, April 24, 2006

"To his Coy Mistress"

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

by Andrew Marvell


Having commented on Dreamer Idiot's Wordsworth post the other day that I find contemporary poetry easier to relate to ... here I am dipping back in time to the C17th! This is probably a poem you already know well, and much anthologised.

But this is my favourite of all favourites! I can't remember when I first encountered it, but I can remember suddenly needing to read it and driving all the way to Bangsar to rummage through the poetry books in Skoob to find it. I learned it off by heart, as I do with all the poetry I love.

I used it in the classroom too. I loved putting it in front of my Matriculation classes when I was in teacher-training. Quite naughtily, I wouldn't explain a thing about it, just tell the students to get into groups and work out for themselves what the poet is trying to say ... and I enjoyed the look on their faces when they got the message! (I loved teaching poetry as a subversive activity!)

I remember the whole class laughing one time when a student suddenly exclaimed "He's just trying to get into her pants!"

But that's more or less it, isn't it? A three hundred year old poem ... and we know exactly what's going on.

There was of course much debate in the classroom about how genuine the guy is. Does he really adore his girlfriend this much, or is he just using every trick in the book to get his leg over, so to speak? (I hate to tell you but , although I firmly believe the former, my Malaysian students were way more cynical than me and ... could justify their interpretation in the light of personal experience.)

The poem is a monologue of sorts, addressing a lady who is playing hard to get. I love the way the speaker builds his argument in the three stanzas (Marvell was a politician so one must assume used to penning persuasive speeches!) by following the proposition: If we had, but we don't, so then ...
Yes, yes, you deserve to be loved like this ...
he says in the first, gently mocking his loved one even as he declares the extend of his love for her.

If we had enough time, he says, you could spend all day looking for rubies by the Ganges (which must have represented the height of exoticism at that time) while he would mooch around by the much duller Humber river (in the chilly North of England). Has his time scale for adoring her body parts. (Only 2,000 years for each breast in the face of eternity? I'd want them adoring for longer, I tell you!)

Then in the second stanza, he reminds her:
... but time's running out ...
We are bound by our mortality. Our lives are but a tiny speck compared with "the deserts of vast eternity".

The speaker switches tactic:
... ... so what are you keeping your virginity for? the grave and the worms? ...
My goodness, that image of the worms taking her virginity (especially after all the worshipping that's gone on before)! Clearly, he wants to shock his lady.

But, the argument is persuasive - common sense tells us that.

The pace of the poem quickens in the third stanza:
... okay then let's do it NOW! ...
becomes as breathless as lovers in the heat of passion. Did ever a line of poetry describe lust better than "while thy willing soul transpires/At every pore with instant fires"? I love the image "tear our pleasures with rough strife/Thorough the iron gates of life".

The poem ends with the magnificent cry of triumph "though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run."

The poem is a pleasure to read aloud. I love the richness of the imagery. But I love it most because it strikes me as very very true - life is so brief and we must grasp whatever experiences we can.

But - let me be naughty here for a moment - just as I like to imagine Dorothy Wordsworth giving her brother a hard time, I imagine the lady receiving this letter, giving it a quick glance over and scrawling this reply to be delivered by next post:
Whether I submit or nay,
The worms will get me, anyway.

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Blogger madcap machinist said...

Carpe diem! I like this one better than the Wordsworth one, maybe because it doesn't sound so 'stilted'.

Can I go as far as say that it actually sounds more 'masculine'?

And I like it enough that I just might learn it by heart too... *wink*

1:35 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

Wordsworth's a wuss when it comes to women. This is the kind of smooth operator women need to be beware of ... but then again, the offer might just be tooooo tempting.

(Woo me with words and I'm yours, haha! Though no-one's likely to try it now ...)

I'm sure there's lessons you could learn here, machinist. is it the first time you've read the poem?

2:15 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger Sharanya Manivannan said...

Thanks for this one, Sharon! I'm generally not that fond of poetry (in English) that's more than a century or so old. But I do love it when I'm guided to something like this. I've come across it before, but thanks for the re-intro. :)

3:31 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

Yes this is the first time I read the poem, Sharon. Thank you for sharing.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun,

There's a nice little pun there, don't you think so?

Yes, there are definitely things to be learned in the art of wooing with this poem. Lull, shock and then a call to action. In a teasing, extravagant, and humourous way at that. I must say that I really do admire Master Marvell's style.

I admit that I cringed a bit reading the previous Wordsworth poem, much less thinking of writing one like it. This one, however, jives well and seems to be more instructive...

4:44 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

i like the way you talk about poetry, machinist - yes it certainly does "jive well" and after 300 years, that's something

Lull, shock and then a call to action.

very nicely put

not sure that the pun was intended ...

oh dear, after reading this you will be a dangerous man to know, and you will be trying out the marvell method on all the unsuspecting ladies around you ...

10:47 PM, April 25, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Haha, let me give a different take this time round. As Machinist has pointed out, this is indeed a very 'masculine' poem. Perhaps, I might go as far as to suggest, that this might be even sexist.

The first stanza which seems to be praising his desired lady is acually sharply ironic; in fact, insidiously so. The speaker's proposition to love and wait for his lady is tempered by the conditional 'Had we', while the hyperbolic use of time (centuries and millenias) mocks her modesty towards sex. Moreover, the speaker's fixation on virginity ("marble vault" as both the tomb and virginity; "quaint honour"), coupled with the "worms" undercuts any delicacy of feelings towards the lady. One might also note the violence of the third stanza.

However, if one takes the lady's modesty to a false pretence, then the poem becomes a playful repartee between the two lovers, and the poet a lover naughtily flirting /teasing her.

Actually, this poem could possibly have nothing about trying to bed the lady at all... (the lady used figuratively only). "Time's winged chariot", death and the other description of time points to, what Machinist mentioned, 'Carpe diem'

12:57 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger dreamer idiot said...

Common on and add your comments, please....

(I am begging)

1:00 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger madcap machinist said...

Haha Dreamer Idiot! you are right of course. He is gently mocking his lady's coyness.

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

Trans.: eleh, malu-malu kucing pulak dia! :-)

Well, I'm savouring this poem.

1:37 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

dreamer idiot - i wouldn't say "sexist" as much as "predatory" (like many blokes, much of the time!)... i think you can argue convincingly for both interpretions ... i saw the speaker in a very different light from my students, certainly

"marble vault" = virginity ... hadn't seen that before and i think you could argue it that way

eleh, malu-malu kucing pulak dia! love it, machinist!

try this:

Jika dunia dan masa mengikut kehendak kita
Kesipu-sipuanmu, tidak mengapa;
Kita boleh berdendang, berbisik berpantun,
berlenggang ke kota, berlenggok ke dusun;
kau di tepi sungai Nil mencari delima,
aku di tebing sungai melak meratap merana.
Kurela menyintaimu sepulu tahun sebelum banjir alam,
dan kau boleh menolakku sehingga Yahudi masuk Islam.

Salleh ben Joned translated the poem and his version (Kepada Kekasih yang Kesipu-sipuan appears in his Sajak Sajak Salleh ...)

7:35 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger desiderata said...

from an UN-Coy predator

but modern man has no time
to stand and stare
miss, i have the dime
thy beaut bod tonite can spare?

pick them up at yuppies haunt
bangsar, holiday villa
open up one's purse, answer all her wants
like Instant coffee, Ecstasy comes with the IceCream vanilla

tonight's already too far into the day
let's hit the hay not wait for May
that's the month for dumd asses like Wordsworth
DreamersI mayhaps some foolish Daisie

I want thy curvy body how
I've the time,
and it's NOW
You can have my dime
Sextify me, sanctify me,
with a wOw

PS: To host/tess

I'm being knotty this morn, took some liberties to UPDATE the spirit of your poem to Malaysia in the nu'e millennium:) I hope I didn't ruffle sensitive parts!

9:10 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

haha ... but the acid test desiderata is ... would one be sweet-talked into bed by it?

10:25 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger desiderata said...

Hi biblio:

one mGf and I were chatting on -- She on "Money 3X" by AbbA, and me on Beatles "Money Can't Buy Me Love".

I didn't elaborate, just singing (Ok, crowing) the mop-haired ditty when she butted in with "But Vitamin M can in deed buy love nowadays..." here Desio's using poetic licence putting her thoughts, I could read her mind wella enuff! -- "See the entries in Blogsworld by SPG ... and look at the Young&Swelte bodies at the night clubs... (hope I got the spell right!) You jest throw them some beers and joints, shjow your platinum card, then lead her to yuour limo..."

So nowadays, no need to wait for eternity like that poor blighter-poet 300 years ago. Nowaays, you don't need poetic come-on lines, it's what lines the pocket dude!

And dear hostess, I'm not speaking on my own behalf -- it's words from mGf now abroad.

11:43 AM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

vitamin M? what happened to romance? i was born into the wrong age ...

4:31 PM, April 26, 2006  
Blogger Jane Sunshine said...

Sorry I'm coming in a bit late in this but I always thought that Marvel used very strong imagery in this poem. Its one of those poems that stay in your mind long after you've read it. And I think its got a playful element.

7:22 PM, April 28, 2006  
Blogger bibliobibuli said...

jane sunshine - you're never late! playful, yes ... think that's a reason why i love it ... you can really hear the speaker's voice ...

9:02 AM, April 30, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to get hold of an English translation of the poem 'Kekasih' by Salleh Ben Joned. I am in Melbourne, Australia. Can anyone direct me to a likely source?


9:34 AM, February 27, 2007  

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