Tag Archives: 17th Century Poetry

Old School Sundays: Seduction Poetry

This week’s Old School Sundays is dedicated to the original players—Robert Herrick and Andrew Marvel. Both 17th Century British Poets (Marvell being of metaphysical variety) seemed to know how to woe the ladies—as evidenced in their poems below.

TO THE VIRGINS, TO MAKE MUCH OF TIME.
by Robert Herrick

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying :
And this same flower that smiles to-day
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer ;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may go marry :
For having lost but once your prime
You may for ever tarry.

Nicolas Raymond → in Paper & Books

What better way to lure a woman to bed than to suggest that she’s not getting any younger? The first two stanzas delightfully use the notion of ‘time’ as a metaphor. And actually, Herrick may go a bit further than that. I wonder what “rosebud” is meant to represent…
The second two stanzas take that same notion of time and applies it to thou fair maiden who is likely making a silly mistake by not making use of said time.

In the last stanza, the speaker really hits the below the belt. Don’t be coy, he says? Coy. Interesting word choice. Notice that it is part of the title in the poem below? By don’t be coy, do we mean ‘don’t be a tease’? You’ll regret it, my dear, he says. Everyday you’re getting older and uglier. If you don’t do it now, while you’re young and beautiful, you may not have a chance later on. And boy how you’ll regret it…

TO HIS COY MISTRESS
by Andrew Marvell

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.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
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 winged 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 preserv’d 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 am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Botticelli. ‘Three Graces’ detail from ‘Primavera’ 1481.

Damn, Marvell’s pretty good at this. Had I been around nearly three hundred years ago, he might have convinced me…well, maybe. The first stanza here is filled with allusions, or shall I say, illusions of time. He’s comparing this very charged moment with his mistress to the sands of time.

I’d be willing to take things slow, he says, if we had the weight of the world’s time in our hands. If we did, I could admire your breasts for two-hundred years before we went any further.

But by the time Marvell gets to the end, he can barely contain himself:

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 will make him run

Instead of letting time dictate us, the seducer says, we can be the ones dictating time.

How could any woman resist? Move over John Mayer. You got nothing on these guys.

Interesting though, how Marvell takes so much ‘time’ to prove how much ‘time’ he and his mistress are supposedly wasting.

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