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Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”

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Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is a lyric poem, couched entirely in the form of an argument, in which the male speaker tries to persuade his reluctant mistress to accept his proposal of physical love. This essay will demonstrate that historical-biographical is a valid approach to a critical analysis of this poem. Simply put, this approach views a literary work almost exclusively as a reflection of the life and times of the author or the characters in the work (Guerin, et al. 22). According to Professor John J. Han, it is “one of the most rewarding approaches to “To His Coy Mistress.” He claims that “investigating the author’s life and times is an essential step toward a fuller understanding of the text; it is almost impossible to disconnect a literary work from its creator and his/her milieu.” This is a particularly valid argument in a critical analysis of Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” since one cannot understand the deeper meaning behind the allusions and obscure references in the text without understanding how they reflect various aspects of the author’s life and times.

In investigating Marvell’s life and times as a reflection of “To His Coy Mistress” we find facets of both that are reproduced in the context of this poem. The four major examples discussed here will be Marvell’s Puritan upbringing and his father’s influence, as reflected in the title “To His Coy Mistress”; the emphasis of classical logic in Marvell’s education as reflected in the logical framework of the male suitor’s argument; Marvell’s religious and classical background reflected in the allusions having to do with the passage of time; and the historical character of the seventeenth century, in which Marvell lived and wrote, as reflected in the doubts and beliefs of the speaker (Guerin, et al. 30-33).

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