In the poems “Ode on a Grecian Urn” by Jonathan Keats and “To His Coy Mistress” by Marvell the notion of time is very significant. In “To His Coy Mistress” Marvell discusses a control over time, and this control over time is for the most part a theoretical and imaginative concept that was conjured by the writer. Marvel is also fascinated by the control over what truly exists. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats is portraying the control of things that are not subject to time. The writer strongly believes in a control of the imagination. These two poems come to teach the reader that although one should physically “seize the day”, one should also use his imagination to unleash the true beauty of things. Although these two poems seem very different, especially in their style of writing they are actually quite similar. Both Keats and Marvel are trying to unleash the true beauty of humanity, but each uses its own approach. Keats approach involves using irony and opposites; contrasting things of action (like time) to things of stillness (like the urn). Marvel is interested in a “carpe diem” outlook on life using the ideal if time had no end and contrasting it to the chariot of death that follows each and every person.
One can see the control of time as Marvel discusses in “To His Coy Mistress” most clearly in the first two lines of the poem, “Had we but world enough, and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime” (1-2). Although on a basic level it seems obvious that Marvel is saying that “only if we had the time, we could be coy with each other for as long as we please”, on a deeper level these lines have a greater significance. Marvel is establishing the fact that he believes in a control over time, and even more so that time is a concept that is conjured by the writer. Marvel goes on and attempts to woo the woman in the poem with this “time” that he has created. As Marvel stated “I would / Love you ten years before the Flood; / And you should, if you please, refuse / Till the conversion of the Jews” (7-10). He is in control of this theoretical time. This is supported even more by the amount of time he would spend 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” ( 15-18). But then towards the end of the poem he destroys this control over the theoretical time he has created in order to take this woman into bed. “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” (37-40). He believes that time has no presence, and no purpose.
Keats portrayal of the control of things that are not subject to time in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” can be seen throughout the poem. This control of time is accomplished by using images that can never be fulfilled or that seem hypocritical. In the first two lines he compares the urn to an “unravish’d bride of quietness” and a “foster-child of silence and slow time”. Then in second stanza he creates this image of “Fair youth, beneath the trees”. Then Keats tells the reader that ” Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss, / Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve; / She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss, For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (17-20). In the third stanza Keats goes to the extent of stating the feelings of the trees, and the eternalness of their boughs, as demonstrated in the following two verses. “Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu; (21-22).
In addition to being a believer in control of time, Keats is also a strong believer in the control of the imagination. Many of the images he creates require our imagination to unleash the inner beauty of the urn. He asks many questions that he does not give answers to in order to make the reader think. “What leaf-fring’d legend haunts about thy shape// What men or gods are these? What maidens loth?// What pipes and timbrels? What wild ecstasy?” (5-10). As Keats wrote in his poem “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; (11-12), and indeed one should use his imagination to do so.
“To His Coy Mistress” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn” demonstrate to the reader that although one should physically “seize the day”, one should also use his imagination to unleash the true beauty of things. Keats and Marvel convey this fact in the course of their poems. As Keats indited, “Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; / Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,” (11-13). Listening to music is wonderful, but the music that one imagines is even more amazing. He goes even deeper into the reader’s imagination by combing the thought of the action and the impossibility of it being fulfilled.
As Keats said in regard to one “Bold Lover,” never, never canst thou kiss,” (17), and goes on to say that “She cannot fade,”(19) and “For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!” (20). When one thinks in what context the poem is truly being said the images created are just downright impossible. Theses impossibilities allow the mind to start thinking deeper. Marvel’s technique is a bit different. He is very realistic for he knows that “at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;” (21-22), and thus one should enjoy life to the fullest. But he also wishes for the reader to realize that the imagination is an excellent channel for making life more enjoyable. In “To his Coy Mistress” though he does the imagining for the reader as demonstrated by the following lines, “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” (6-7).
The technique in which Keats and Marvel make use of to unleash the true beauty of humanity is quite different. But in fact they are trying to demonstrate the same idea, using their own approach. Keats’s approach involves use of irony, impossibilities, and opposites. He compares the urn to a “Sylvan historian, who canst thus express / A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:” (3-4). It seems to be ironic that the urn, which is silent, can tell a better tale than a historian can. Later he creates and image of “More happy love! more happy, happy love! / For ever warm and still to be enjoy’d, / For ever panting, and for ever young;” (25-26). In reality it is impossible for love to be “for ever warm” and for “ever young”. Keats creates images like these to make sure the imagination kicks in upon reading.
Marvel on the other hand is interested in seizing the day, and facilitates for this by using the ideal if time was endless and contrasting it to the truth of life, death. In the beginning of his poem he goes on to say that if time had no boundaries and no end that “My vegetable love should grow / Vaster than empires, and more slow” (11-12). He later contrasts the eternalness of his love to the fact that “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.” (25-30). He practically spits in the woman’s face saying that your going to die soon, and you wont be beautiful forever in this world so better I take your virginity then the worms. He goes on to say that “The grave’s a fine and private place, / But none I think do there embrace.” (31-32). This might seem to be very crude upon a first reading, but Marvels approach is ingenious. He is telling the reader that even if life is to short, it should be enjoyed to the fullest extent possible physically and mentally.
In “To His Coy Mistress” Marvell discusses a control over time, which is a theoretical and imaginative concept that was conjured by the writer. In “Ode on a Grecian Urn” Keats discusses the control of things that are not subject to time and a control of the imagination. These two poems show the reader that one should physically “seize the day” and use his imagination to unleash the true beauty of things. Both Keats and Marvel are trying to unleash the true beauty of humanity, but each uses its own approach. Keats uses irony and opposites whereas Marvel is interested in a “carpe diem” outlook on life using the ideal if time had no end and contrasting it to the reality of death.