Marvell – (To His Coy Mistress)

Allen Ginsberg on Andrew Marvell continuing from here

AG: So his “The Dialogue Between Soul and Body” is fine and “The Nymph Complaining for the Death of Her Fawn” is long but fine.

Then you get to his “(To His) Coy Mistress.”  Is (there) anybody know that poem? [show of hands] And how many do not? How many do not know Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”? Well how many do then? – one, two.. well most all do now.. Okay, then, shall we go through it? – I think yes… because this has, I think, (the) two greatest lines of the century, or any other. Who will do that one? Who hasn’t read yet? – Okay  [to Student] You’re the man. Firmly, now. Have you read it before? Did you do your homework?

Student: Tonight?

AG: Had you read it?

Student; No, I never read it before


Student; I’ll do my (best)

AG: Just, mind the commas

[Student: reads Andrew Marvell’s “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….”

AG: “refuse/ Till the conversion of the Jews” -You know, the Jews are supposed to, you know, some day, (to) accept Christ. So, he’s being funny – “You should if you please, refuse/ Till the conversion of the Jews” – Go on.

Student: “My vegetable love should grow/ Vaster than empire.”

AG: No, no, “vaster than empires” –  Go do it one more time..

Student: ”My vegetable..”

AG: No, start with “My vegetable..”

Student: “My vegetable love..

AG:”My veg-etable love should grow”?..He’s right – “My vegetable love”

Student” “My vegetable…”

AG: “My veg-etable!

Student: My veg-etable love should grow/vaster than empires and more slow…”

AG: Right.

Student: “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 wingèd 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-preserved 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 amorous birds of prey….”

AG – “And now like amorous birds of prey…”

Student: “ like amorous birds of prey/Rather at once our time devour/Than languish in his slow-chapped power./ Let us roll all our strength and all/Our sweetness up into one ball,/ And tear our pleasures with rough strife/ Through the iron gates of life:/ Thus, though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run.”

AG: Yeah. You understand the end? In other words, We can’t stop time, we can make time go really happy and fast.

But did you notice “But at my back I always hear/ Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;/And yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast eternity.” – That’s really great. The first time I heard that the hair rose on the back of my neck, because that is..  It’s the most literal statement of the vastness of.. of eternity!  (I don’t know, it’s about “deserts of vast eternity”).  It’s amazingly clear. I think almost anybody has had that experience of the sensation of the endlessness of time. And that line seems to capture it.

Also, again that little..  what was that word again? for a little picture? – hologram – a little hologram of the “Time’s wingèd chariot” – ”But at my back I always hear/ Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near”.  That kind of “Time’s/ winged/ chariot/ hurrying/ near” – (Marvell was) also – dig – the greatest Latin poet of his age. He knew Latin, he knew quantitative prosody – “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near” – It’s…  A poet who knew Latin could write that iron-hard-like verse. See, you get an iron-hard, thick, substantial sound in your line,  (which you get in Robert Lowell, also, in modern days – in Lowell’s line like, “I saw my city in the scales/  the pans of judgment rising and descending”., he gets.. It’s a little bit like, ““Time’s wingèd chariot” – ”At my back I always hear/ Time’s/ winged/ chariot/ hurrying/ near” – ““I saw my city in the scales/ the pans of judgment…- (you know, the scales, the balances of the Last Judgment) –“ (T)he pans of judgment/ rising and descending” – (that’s really something, the city, the whole city of Boston) – “I saw my city in the scales/ the pans of judgment..” – (“pans” is weird – pans? – is this some kind of frying pan, or pan? – you know, you’d think it would be some heroic word, but it’s just a “pan”).

Student: That’s what you have on the scale?

AG: Yes, literal,  yeah… The right word – turns out to be the.. terrific, you know, like the last word

Well, and also, “quaint” – “quaint” I believe, in those days.. (it has the sound of “cunt” – “And your quaint honour turn to dust,/ And into ashes all my lust;” – “quaint’

And then remember – “And while thy willing soul transpires/ At every pore with instant fires”? – ( It’s a little bit reminiscent of John Donne’s poem, whether to,,,(when) the soul transpired out of the eyes and hung between them, when they were lying in bed together).

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at approximately fifty-seven minutes in and concluding at approximately sixty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]

One comment

  1. Rather in depth analysis for a hippie, anti-war protester. But Gins is a writer of some memorable poetry himself. Seems as though all the commotion is long dead and buried. Will it repeat itself?

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