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His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell -- A D Hope

Guest poem sent in by William Grey
(Poem #1567) His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell
 Since you have world enough and time
 Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
 Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
 You think to have persuaded me?
 Then let me say: you want the art
 To woo, much less to win my heart.
 The verse was splendid, all admit,
 And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
 All that indeed your poem lacked
 Was logic, modesty, and tact,
 Slight faults and ones to which I own,
 Your sex is generally prone;
 But though you lose your labour, I
 Shall not refuse you a reply:

 First, for the language you employ:
 A term I deprecate is "coy";
 The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
 May simper and be coy at will;
 A lady, sir, as you will find,
 Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
 Means what she says and scorns to fence
 And palter with feigned innocence.

 The ambiguous "mistress" next you set
 Beside this graceless epithet.
 "Coy mistress", sir? Who gave you leave
 To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
 Or to imply, as sure you do,
 I had no other choice than you
 And must remain upon the shelf
 Unless I should bestir myself?
 Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
 By hints that I must soon decay?
 No woman's won by being told
 How quickly she is growing old;
 Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
 Serve to stampede us into bed.

 When from pure blackmail, next you move
 To bribe or lure me into love,
 No less inept, my rhyming friend,
 Snared by the means, you miss your end.
 "Times winged chariot", and the rest
 As poetry may pass the test;
 Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
 Till you and I and they are dust;
 But I, your destined prey, must look
 Less at the bait than at the hook,
 Nor, when I do, can fail to see
 Just what it is you offer me:
 Love on the run, a rough embrace
 Snatched in the fury of the chase,
 The grave before us and the wheels
 Of Time's grim chariot at our heels,
 While we, like "am'rous birds of prey",
 Tear at each other by the way.

 To say the least, the scene you paint
 Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
 And on this point what prompted you
 So crudely, and in public too,
 To canvass and , indeed, make free
 With my entire anatomy?
 Poets have licence, I confess,
 To speak of ladies in undress;
 Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
 In verses this is common stuff;
 But -- well I ask: to draw attention
 To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
 And prate of dust upon it too!
 Sir, was this any way to woo?

 Now therefore, while male self-regard
 Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
 May I suggest, before we part,
 The best way to a woman's heart
 Is to be modest, candid, true;
 Tell her you love and show you do;
 Neither cajole nor condescend
 And base the lover on the friend;
 Don't bustle her or fuss or snatch:
 A suitor looking at his watch
 Is not a posture that persuades
 Willing, much less reluctant maids.

 Remember that she will be stirred
 More by the spirit than the word;
 For truth and tenderness do more
 Than coruscating metaphor.
 Had you addressed me in such terms
 And prattled less of graves and worms,
 I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
 But, as things stand, must bid adieu
 (Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
 And wish you better luck next time.
-- A D Hope

An effective rejoinder to a great poem requires a poet of greatness, and one
who appreciates and respects the genius under attack. No poet was able to do
this more effectively than Australian poet A.D. Hope (1907-2000). In his
introduction to this rejoinder Hope commented:

  This most famous of all Marvell's poems is deservedly so. Yet it is a
  brilliant tour de force in which the poet's imaginative language triumphs
  over the fact that his arguments to the lady are a set of worn-out clich├ęs,
  which were never very persuasive even when they were new -- but the lady can
  best speak for herself.

Marvell's most famous poem was an early contribution to Wondering Minstrels
(Poem #158). 'His Coy Mistress to Mr Marvell' was published in Hope's Book of
Answers (Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1978), which includes a number of gems --
though none more brilliant than this Marvell parody. (It includes a fine parody
of Gerard Manley "Hop-skip-jump-kins" -- which I may submit at some future
time.) The power of Hope's language, and the range of genres which he
commanded, were immense. He is a poet of considerable stature not just within
Australia, but globally.


51 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Alan Kornheiser said...

I'm sure I recall a contemporary reply to the poem, something about "if
shepherds could be trusted." Ring any bells?


Anustup Datta said...


Great poem. It is number 1568 though, not 1567 - so you may want to update
the link.


John K. Taber said...

I like Hope's sensitivity to women, to those forced to shut up and say
"yes dear", to scarcely ever be able to express one's thoughts, of all
those, men or women who "have to knuckle down."

Here is another, drawn from his classical education. A. U. C.
means ab urbe condita, "from the founding of the city" in our
terms 753 BC. Note the bitter humor of burying the convicted
alive after a "fair trial". A fair trial for liveliness?

John K. Taber

Advice to Young Ladies
Alec Derwent Hope

A.U.C. 334: about this date,
For a sexual misdemeanour which she denied,
The vestal virgin Postumia was tried;
Livy records it among affairs of state.

They let her off: it seems she was perfectly pure;
The charge arose because some thought her talk
Too witty for a young girl, her eyes, her walk
Too lively, her clothes too smart to be demure.

The Pontifex Maximus , summing up the case,
Warned her in future to abstain from jokes,
To wear less modish and more pious frocks.
She left the court reprieved, but in disgrace.

What then? With her the annalist is less
Concerned than what the men achieved that year:
Plots, quarrels, crimes, with oratory to spare-
I see Postumia with her dowdy dress,

Stiff mouth and listless step; I see her strive
To give dull answers. She had to knuckle down.
A vestal virgin who scandalized that town
Had fair trial, then they buried her alive;

Alive, bricked up in suffocating dark;
A ration of bread, a pitcher if she was dry,
Preserved the body they did not wish to die
Until her mind was quenched to the last spark.

How many the black maw has swallowed in its time!
Spirited girls who would not know their place,
Talented girls who found that the disgrace
Of being a woman made genius a crime.

How many others, who would not kiss the rod,
Domestic bullying broke or public shame?
Pagan or Christian, it was much the same:
Husbands, St. Paul declared, rank next to God.

Livy and Paul, it may be, never knew
That Rome was doomed; each spoke of her with pride.
Tacitus, writing after both had died,
Showed that whole fabric rotten, through and through.

Historians spend their lives and lavish ink
Explaining how great commonwealths collapse
From great defects of policy - perhaps
The cause is sometimes simpler than they think. 40

It may not seem so grave an act to break
Postumia's spirit as Galileo's, to gag
Hypatia as crush Socrates, or drag
Joan as Giordano Bruno to the stake.

Can we be sure? Have more states perished, then,
For having shackled the enquiring mind,
Than those who, in their folly not less blind,
Trusted the servile womb to breed free men?

JeanMcK9 said...

Very good and very correct. Certainly written from a feminist gentlewomans'
perspective. Gently chiding Marvel for his ignorance of women.

Marvels poem was published after his death. I wonder if he had any success
with women!

Cheers Gerry

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Anonymous said...

Tries too hard. Hope is no Marvell. The conceit became old very quickly.

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