Diction in "To His Coy Mistress"
As with other poetic elements,
the speakers vocabulary shifts as his argument goes
through the three phases that make up the three sections
of the poem. When the reader tries to understand the position
of the listener, the poems occasionally difficult
language becomes simpler to comprehend. The speakers
diction changes, depending on whether he is trying to
appeal to his lover, to flatter her, or to persuade her.
- line 5 - "Thou"
Poetry was more formal in the seventeenth century than
it is today, and we need to take that fact into account
when we assess the diction of Marvells verse. Much
of what we find difficult in Marvells language can
be attributed to the simple fact that the nuances of language
change over time. We may be struck by the formal-sounding
Thou and the use of thy throughout
the poem, but again, this was common in seventeenth-century
- lines 5 and 7 - "the Indian Ganges and
Initially, the speakers words are meant to impress
his lover, so the speaker alludes to world geography.
He also flatters her by placing her in an exoticand
ruby-ladenlocation (the Indian Ganges) while he
remains in England (Humber).
- lines 8 and 10 - "the flood and the
conversion of the Jews"
Because the speakers objective during this section
of the poem is to impress his lover, he alludes to biblical
history (in addition to geography) as if to assert his
worldliness and his intelligence. Such loftiness is absent
from the next ten lines, when his objective is to flatter
- lines 13, 15, and 16 - "An hundred, Two
hundred, thirty thousand"
The speakers use of numbers in this section of the
poem demonstrates a shift in the speakers objective:
He now wants to flatter more than impress. Consequently,
his numbers only increase, until finally it requires an
age . . . to every part (17).
- lines 24, 27, 29, and 30 - "Deserts, worms,
dust, and ashes"
In this second section of the poem, the speaker reveals
his awareness of times encroachment. He chooses
language that might appeal to the listeners emotions
rather than her intellect. These words are much more physical
and visceral than the distant, abstract language of the
first two sections, whether the speaker is flaunting his
knowledge of geography and biblical history or using numbers
to stoke the flames of his listeners vanity.
- line 34 - "Sits on the skin like morning dew"
In the final section (once the speaker has made his point),
the speakers diction reverts to the relative ease
of the first section, and he chooses words that are more
playful and ornamental than those in the second section.
The language in the final section is characterized by
sweetness and, by the very end, a flaring passion.