The Synchrinicity of Pen and Type


At first, there would appear to be little in common between a poem that attempts to persuade a mistress and one that commemorates an anniversary. Indeed, there are few sentiments that "The Anniversary" and "To His Coy Mistress" share. Yet, these are love poems and there must be some common ground that unites them on some plane. There is, of course, such a common point of reference and it lies in the attitudes towards time that we find expressed in these poems.
Marvell\'s conception of time is ever changing in "To His Coy Mistress," but this is only to be expected in a poem that seeks to convince by constructing an ideal and proceeding to demonstrate its utopian nature. In the world of would and should that we are immersed in before the pivotal "But" in the second stanza, Marvell presents an idyllic view of lovers engaged in a slow waltz that stretches on for centuries. In this snail-paced ritual Marvell feels he can do justice to his mistress, who "deserve this state." Things become a little more complex in the next line, "nor would I love at lower rate." This is where we begin a question what has up till now progressed so smoothly, as all good fantasies must if they are to be successful. We begin to question this world of Marvell\'s creation and see the enigma that lies within the term "lower rate." We have been hearing of an agonizingly slow mating ritual, Marvell has been patiently dancing around is a mistress, praising her every aspect with a devotion that approaches what one would offer to the divine. How, we ask, can he slow down to a "lower rate?"
This is not the only striking aspect of the first stanza. We know that Marvell is speaking of a state we are unfamiliar with and in its unfamiliarity lies the force of his argument. The unfamiliar weaves in and out of our notion of the familiar as we seek to understand Marvell\'s position. We know, on one cognitive level, that in this state an aeon is insignificant, yet we lay on it the import we would ascribe to an aeon in the human sense. For the beings Marvell speaks of, ages pass by as minutes; indeed we acknowledge that they must, or else why would one devote "An hundred years" to "praise thine eyes." Though Marvell suggests that centuries could be spent admiring every aspect of his mistress, we cannot imagine such prolonged ritual unless centuries mean less than what they do to us, as indeed they must be beings who love for millennia. It is necessary, if one is to be convinced by this argument, to occupy two positions simultaneously. The first is the acceptance of Marvell\'s illusion, of a state where one can spend aeons in a single activity, and yet it is essential to evaluate this period of time in human terms. If we waver too much in either direction, Marvell\'s persuasion would fail.
It is a testament to Marvell\'s skill that even when he breaks the spell, we continue to live in his illusionary time. We have been maintaining a delicate balance between two realities, two conceptions of time. Marvell makes us walk a tightrope between them and we comply. The fascinating thing is that even when he finds it necessary to destroy the illusion he has created, bring us back to the ground as it was, he does it in such a way that we do not sense it. Marvell lifts us gently from our precarious position on the tightrope we have been pacing on, the bridge between realities and gently places us on the ground. In this manner the beginning of his lament at the fleeting nature of time does not jar us as it wakes us from our daydream in the land of the eternal.
We find Marvell now occupying the role of a pharmacist. He has become one who is aware of his mortality and of the advance of time. Time now becomes an enemy to be feared, an enemy who is closing down on us, and the eternity that he earlier facilitated the requisite offering to his mistress now becomes a vast desert. It