In this essay, I have chosen to compare and contrast the following two poems – ‘Even Tho’ by Grace Nichols and ‘To his Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell. These two poems were roughly written three centuries apart, and so the social factors and religious beliefs as well as other things were different. Therefore different ideas would be portrayed in the poems.
In the 17th century when ‘To his Cot Mistress’ was written, women were not known for writing poems about love let alone sex, as women’s opinions weren’t respected. If a woman was sent a poem like the one that Andrew Marvell wrote, then she would probably go weak at the knees and do whatever was asked of her. However, in the late 20th century, when ‘Even Tho’ was written, women’s opinions and rights were respected in society and more and more female poets emerged with some ideas that were once thought unacceptable for women.
One other main factor that affected the ideas portrayed in these poems is partly to do with religion and partly to do with what used to be thought of as socially acceptable and what is thought as socially acceptable now. At the time ‘To his Coy Mistress’ was written, women were expected to keep their virginity until they were married. This is why the poem is set out as an argument, trying to persuade his lover to have sex with him. This is different to the time when ‘Even Tho’ was written because women were not expected to stay a virgin.
I will now discuss the similarities and differences between the content of the first poem, ‘To his Coy Mistress’ and the second poem ‘Even Tho.’ The first poem ‘To his Coy Mistress’ is unusual for the time as it has an untraditional structure. It has no verses but it has three sections each with a different number of lines. The fact that it has no verses suggests that the subject of the poem never really changes, only the perspective of the poet. This is so, that the poet can present an effective argument. In the poem, some of the sentences carry on to the next line – this is to increase the pace and build up a good argument. Another reason for why it is unusual for its time is because of the purpose. At the time that the poem was written, women were expected to keep their virginity until they were married, but the poet is asking his lover to lose her virginity, although they aren’t married.
The three different sections separate the different parts of the argument that he is putting across. In the first section, we see the poet describing what he would do if he could spend eternity with his lover, A hundred years should go to praise thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze.’ In the second section, he is saying that although it would be nice to do the things which he said in paragraph one, he can’t because he wont live forever and she will eventually die with her ‘quaint honour.’ A quote to show this would be, ‘Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound my echoing song: then worms shall try that long preserved virginity.’ The final section concludes the argument by saying what they should do in order that his mistress does not die having never ‘expressed her love’ towards her lover.
I think, that from the perspective of the poet’s mistress, the poem is quite successful. This is because the poet uses some very effective methods to persuade his lover. In the first section, he sweet-talks his lover before scaring her into bed with thoughts of death in the second section. This is why the structure is very good as in my opinion, it allows the poet to separate the poem into three separate parts, creating an effective argument.
The second poem, ‘Even Tho’ by Grace Nichols is in many ways very different. Her ideas would have been seen as very controversial if they were expressed at the same time as ‘To his Coy Mistress’ was written. We can see this from the purpose of the poem, the intention being to inform her lover that she wants sex without the commitment. This is unlike the woman in ‘To his Coty Mistress’ as she has to be heavily persuaded to do such a thing. At the time ‘Even Tho’ was written, women were far more in control of their own lives and didn’t succumb to obsequiousness as easily.
A way that these two poems are similar is that they both have an untraditional structure. ‘Even Tho,’ is very much a free verse poem, in that it doesn’t have a set number of lines per verse or a set number of words per line. It also has very little punctuation. This enables it to highlight the untraditional ideas it contains. This is similar to the reasoning behind an unconventional structure in ‘To his Coy Mistress.’ Both of these poems are written in the first person, this means that both of the poets can reinforce their emotions by making the poem more personal. Again, ‘Even Tho’ and ‘To his Coy Mistress’ are partly similar in purpose; they both express emotion and give the poets view on their relationship.
The manner in which the poets express their emotions are quite different. In ‘Even Tho,’ the poet uses a positive and light-hearted tone to put across her feelings, whereas in ‘To his Coy Mistress,’ Grace Nichols uses more traditional ideas of love as well as his unorthodox views on his relationship with his lover.
In my opinion, both poems may well be seen as relatively offensive because they are very biased as they only take into account their own opinions. What about the other person in the relationship? They may desire something different! ‘To his Coy Mistress’ is especially offensive because the poet’s requirements are just sexual pleasure.
As is to be expected, the language of these two poems is very different in many ways. The vocabulary in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ is very dated as the poem was written in the mid 17th century. Unfamiliar words like ‘thou’ and ‘thine’ are used, which could be difficult to comprehend for the majority of people in this day and age.
There is a lot of imagery used in this poem to create a picture in our minds of the poet’s lover and the relationship that they share. The poet uses metaphors such as ‘Times winged chariot’ and ‘Iron gates of life.’ He also uses similes, for example, ‘the youthful hue, sits on thy skin like morning dew.’ In addition to this simile, this sentence shows us another technique, which is called personification. All of these techniques, plus some very elaborate descriptions build up some very apparent images.
The poem rhymes all the way through in couplets and this is one of the only regularities in this poem. This means that when you read the poem, as well as picking up the untraditional ideas, you also sense the regularity, which makes the poem easier to identify with. It also has the same alliteration in it, for example: ‘long love’ and ‘love at lower rate.’ These are both to be found in the first section, along with some assonance that gives similar sounds, for example: ‘should’st rubies find.’ These are all soft, sumptuous and loving sounds which comply with the messages in the first section. As you would think, the second section contains more hard sounds, for example: ‘turn to dust’ and the third section contains dramatic and indicative ideas and so uses sounds to back these up, for example: ‘instant fires’ and ‘rough strife.’
The poem appeals to a couple of the senses, mainly sight because of all the imagery used and sound because of the descriptions used associated to sound. The beat of the poem is also regular, as it has approximately 8 – 10 syllables per line; this suggests that it flows when read.
The vocabulary of ‘Even Tho’ is very different to that of ‘To his Coy Mistress,’ mainly because it was written much later, round about the 1970’s or 1980’s. This meant that the language was much more up to date. The time that it was written also means that it was possible for the poem to be written with a Caribbean dialect. An example of this is, ‘Keep to de motion,’ and ‘leh we go.’
It was very unusual to see a poem written in a Caribbean dialect from the period in which ‘To his Coy Mistress’ was composed, so this highlights a difference between the two poems. The dialect allows the poet to bring in some of her ethnicity and culture to her work.
A connection between the two poems is that they both use ample amounts of imagery. In ‘Even Tho’ metaphors are used, for example: ‘I’m all watermelon and star apple and plum when you touch me.’ This metaphor shows us what the poet is feeling. Grace Nichols uses juicy, soft fruits to describe it because that’s how she feels. The poem is very short, and due to this, we don’t find any similes or personification, but the poem does have some very interesting descriptions to create images, such as, ‘you be banana, I be avocado,’ which describes the male and female sex organs – the banana symbolizes the penis as it is very hard and long, whereas the avocado denotes a vagina as it is very warm, soft and in particularly red! This type of imagery is somewhat different to that used in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ as it is more intimate, light-hearted and humorous, unlike the romantic and sometimes frightening imagery of ‘To his Coy Mistress.’ The sounds to the poem are one of the keys to its success. Assonance such as ‘watermelon, strar apple and plum’ gives juicy and sumptuous sounds that appeal very much to the reader’s sense of taste and touch. The imagery used when talking about the male and female sex organs, ‘banana and avocado’ is quite amusing, and so appeals to the reader’s sense of sight.
Besides the poem being outwardly funny, it has a relatively fundamental underlying message about the poet’s relationship, which is shown in the poet’s choice of repetition. The reiteration of ‘Even Tho’ and ‘leh we break free,’ is what tells the poet’s lover exactly what she wants from their relationship. She wants to be an individual ‘even tho’ she enjoys having fun and spending time with her lover.
In my opinion, the poem is similar to ‘To his Coy Mistress’ when it comes to pace and rhythm as they are both irregular and so stressing their equally unorthodox messages.
In conclusion, I would say that these poems aren’t completely unrelated, and the main thing that influences their differences is the time in which they were written. They both have similar purposes, only the perspective changes. It is largely male in ‘To his Coy Mistress,’ but incredibly female in ‘Even Tho. Another way that time has made the poems more different is the way that they are presented. ‘To his Coy Mistress’ is presented as an argument that is trying to persuade the poet’s lover to give in to her passion for the poet and lose her virginity.
However, ‘Even Tho’ is more of a story than an argument. This is because she doesn’t feel that she needs to persuade men to do what she wants them to do, only tell them how she feels. Andrew Marvell felt that he needed to persuade his lover, as simply making a suggestion would not be enough. These are just a few examples of the ways that they are different, and of course, there are many more, but we must remember the simple similarities. Both poems are about sexual relationships, they are both written in the first person and to conclude, they both express emotions!
My particular favourite out of the two poems has to be ‘Even Tho.’ The reason being, it is so simple, but yet has so many layers of meaning and tone. It is also comical as the imagery is fairly explicit as it talks about ‘bananas’ and ‘avocados’ representing the sexual organs on a human’s body. The poem ‘Even Tho’ also has a far more informal style of writing than ‘To his Coy Mistress’ and communicates to more than just the poet’s lover. All of this is why ‘Even Tho’ is my favourite poem out of the two.