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Alliteration in "To His Coy Mistress"

The speaker uses alliteration to make his words more alluring when wooing his lover, but he dispenses with it when contemplating the reality of death in order to make his words even more chilling.

- lines 1-4 - "Had we but world enough...pass our long love’s day"
There is a striking amount of alliteration throughout the poem, especially throughout the first section. Each of the first four lines contains alliteration: “We”/“world” (1), “coyness”/“crime” (2), “we would”/“which way” (3), “long”/“love’s” (4). This alliteration adds to the speaker’s playfulness and the poem’s beauty in the sections in which he is trying to woo his lover; it appropriately disappears in the gloomy middle section, when the speaker contemplates the grave.

- lines 16 and 18 - "But thirty thousand...last age should show"
As at its beginning, the end of the poem’s first section contains a lot of alliteration. “Thirty thousand” (16) and “should show” (18) are emphatic and unusual sounds, repeated for emphasis and, as above, for playfulness. The speaker is showing off to his lover here, trying to hold her attention just before his argument shifts into its next phase.

- lines 45-46 - "Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run."
Leaving aside the repeated “m” sound of “make,” there are three examples of alliteration in the final two lines. Having abandoned the device of alliteration during the middle section of the poem, the speaker returns to it here and ends with a flourish. “Thus” and “though” (which also alliterate with “Thorough” in line 44), “sun”/“Stand still,” and “we will” are a dazzling flourish of alliteration that conclude the poem and are meant to impress the listener. Also, because the tempo of the final section is faster at the end of the poem than it is at the beginning, it makes sense that devices such as alliteration become even more compressed. The effect is like the grand finale at a fireworks display.

Questions for response

1). How does this examination of alliteration change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole?

2). Find other examples of alliteration in the poem. What do they contribute to the work?

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