Kathleen M. Bartlett
Poetry Comparison Both written in the seventeenth century when life expectancy was much shorter than it is today, Robert Herrick’s “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time” and Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” convey a carpe diem (seize the day) message using similar and different elements of style and structure.
The theme of both poems is a shortage of time. Herrick’s poem suggests that young women should hurry and get married before it is too late. The tone is gentle, like that of an older person sharing his wisdom a group of women, as in the line “Then be not coy, but use your time” (Herrick 813). Marvell’s theme is similar yet more intimate, manipulative, and lustful as he tries to persuade one particular woman to be his lover but makes no mention of a promise of marriage. The lines “And now, like amorous birds of prey, Rather at once our time devour” suggests a more urgent, anxious tone (Marvell 815).
Herrick and Marvell use metaphors and figurative language to create images of aging and time passing. In “To the Virgins…,” Herrick creates a metaphor for death as he personifies a flower that blooms beautifully today “tomorrow will be dying” (812). Another image is that “glorious lamp of heaven, the sun” racing across the sky, a metaphor for time passing (Herrick 813). In a similar fashion, in “To His Coy Mistress,” Marvell’s speaker compares his love to “vegetable love,” meaning it would grow slowly and be long-lasting if only there was time (814). Death is always right behind him in the form of “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near” (Marvell 814).
An obvious way that these poems differ is in their structure. “To the Virgins…” is a sixteen-line poem made up of four stanzas each having four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB alternating iambic tetrameter and iambic trimeter with catalexis (Schmoop Editorial Team).
This along with the repeated use of older pronunciations and words ending with “ing” such as “a-flying” and “a-getting” give the poem a sing-song quality and make it easy to read (Herrick 812-813). “To His Coy Mistress” is a forty-six-line dramatic monologue constructed of