Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” from a historicist point of view has a deep political as well as social meaning that was rooted in the seventeenth century. This essay seeks to explain the political and social happenings at the time Marvell wrote the poem as well as its relation to the events at the time. The entire poem depicts a systematic rejection of authority and shows the fantasies of the author of autonomy (MacLean).
In 1649, the execution, of Charles I, was an occurrence that affected English history. The monarch was appointed through the doctrine of divine right that implied appointment by divine ordinance. This doctrine established the fact that any wrong against the king was a sin against God and this principle was taken very seriously (Guerin).
However, the same year proved the wavering loyalty to the monarch, not as strong as it was before when the Protestant Reformation was just beginning as the king’s subjects began to have a new sense. King Charles execution was because of his absolutism and encouragement of his anti reformism in the English church. His subjects condemned him for his marriage to Henrietta Maria who was a catholic and having an alliance with William Laud a proponent of catholic practices (MacLean).
The author of the poem Marvell supported the anti royalists such as Oliver Cromwell whom he worked for as a tutor and at the same time showed some sympathy to the executed king (Marvell). In “To His Coy Mistress”, he clearly rebels against the monarchial figure as depicted in the first twenty lines of the poem (Guerin). In the beginning of the poem, he writes, “Had we but world enough and time” praising his coy mistress symbolizing that he is willing to wait for the monarch’s return. The following lines 7-12 show praise for Queen Elizabeth I representing her as beloved. Despite the monarch portrayed in the poem being omnipotent, it also shows that King Charles was denied this power showing the vulnerability of the King’s mortality. His fawning over his mistress could depict the placating of an indecisive claimant to the throne (Guerin).
In the lines 21-30, the speaker warns his beloved of the “time winged chariot” which describes the experience of human mortality giving a crude description of her dead body in the grave. He creates an image of chaos and at the same time implies sympathy (Marvell).
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song, then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honor turn to dust
And into ashes all my lust (25-30).
Throughout the poem, the speaker is aware of his disempowerment and in the final stanza, he suggests a rebellious overthrow of time itself. Marvell also describes love as a type of mutiny comparing it with birds of prey that will eventually turn on time. The mistress in the poem describes the assertion that morality is not of any value after death (Guerin).
The poem also relates to Charles II who succeeded his father when the monarchy was later restored in 1660 through symbolism. He uses the “sun” itself, which is a pun for the “son” of the monarch when he and his beloved provoke the sun, which is an emblem of the monarch’s divinity (MacLean).
The subject in the poem is depicted as one who is dangerous, evokes the friction of the political moment, and challenges all forms of authority. This also shows critique of the restored government. Knowing that Marvell worked for Cromwell, he was well aware of his position as a dependant subject. His fantasy of autonomy through the poem, showed that he was a rebellious figure despite being governed by the sun, he has no problems whatsoever in acting against the powerful sovereign (MacLean).
Through the poem, one can deduce the everyday experiences of the people in the seventeenth century. It appeared there to be a lot of antagonism between the English church and the Catholic Church, which brought about alight of conflict in the state enough to execute their King. Authority was respected and feared in the earlier years although the subjects began to portray rebellious attitudes toward the authority later (Guerin).
One can also tell form the poem that in the seventeenth century, some of the men that had some success would maintain a mistress. Despite this, it was still not socially acceptable, and it was never out in the open that it occurs but the members of the society somehow understood and accepted the fact (Marvell).
In conclusion, it is clear that from the new historicist perspective, Marvell lived at a time of social unrest in England, and one would say that he was a supporter of what he thought to be the true monarchy. This was perceived as somewhat of a way of the power that they had at the time and wanted the return of the Tudor line in the monarch. It is noted that the political climate contributed to his style of writing, and he could not write the poem bluntly (Guerin).