Comparing Courtship in “To His Coy Mistress” and “A Married State” 

“To His Coy Mistress” was written by Andrew Marvell in 1650 and “A Married State” was written by Katherine Philips in 1648. These two poems were written during the same time period, but two years apart, so there are similarities and differences when comparing these works. Even though the societal norms were the same for Philips and Marvell, each writer had their own individual outlooks on common issues in their societies. Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” and Katherine Philips’ “A Married State” compare and contrast the values of a woman’s purity, seizing the day, and their interpretation of courtship in the 17th century.

“To His Coy Mistress”

Women in the 17th century had a very narrow niche in society. Joining the workforce, receiving an optimal education, and even an everyday life outside of the house was difficult to accomplish because women were controlled by their fathers until they were married off, relinquished to their husbands, were expected to start giving birth to his children, and then raise them.

Women were expected to have remained pure until they were married; this expectation lasted beyond the 17th century. Marvell had a different opinion on purity than Philips, he stated, ¨that long preserved virginity, and your quaint honour turn to dust, and into ashes all my lust:¨ (Marvel, lines 28-30), which means that in the end there is death and the importance of being pure will cease to exist because no one loves or, ¨embrace[s]¨ (Marvell, line 32), in or past the grave.

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Marvell made references towards time fleeting to support why purity should not matter in their relationship. In other words, waiting forever or until marriage is not a clever option because humans are mortal.

However, Philips believes that it is best for a woman to remain pure because she can avoid the hassle and pain that comes with destroying it. She states that the, ¨pangs of childbirth¨ (Philips, line 8), are one of the many sufferings that will come from a woman losing their virginity and if women remain pure this pain can be avoided and their virginity which is, ¨crownʼd with much content¨ (Philips, line 5), will remain intact. Therefore, if a woman remains pure her life will continue to be carefree and she would be content with it. Additionally, she can also be relieved that since she kept her faith and continued to pray she would not run the risk of, ¨leading apes in hell¨ (Philips, line 16), because there is no punishment for remaining pure throughout her life.

Marvell’s urge for the woman to accept his requests regardless of the consequences can be attributed to his belief in the concept of seizing the day, or carpe diem, therefore numerous shifts in the poem illustrate why the couple should engage in a risky behavior, such as sex, now instead of later. Marvell uses death as a way to stop time and says that a grave is inevitable, ¨but none, I think, do there embrace¨ (Marvell, line 32), meaning that sex is not possible beyond physical life, which is temporary. He continuously urged the woman, the subject of his letter, to accept his offer now while they still have a, ¨youthful hue¨ (Marvell, line 33), and, ¨thy willing soul transpires¨ (Marvell, line 35), because he knows that they both want this physical embrace, but she may be waiting too long. He blatantly states, ¨now let us sport while we may¨ (Marvell, line 37), which means let’s have sex while we still can.

“A Married State”

Marvell believes in seizing the day by accepting his love and affections now, before it is too late, but Philips believes in seizing the day a different way. She believes in seizing the day by focusing on a woman’s self and not letting herself stray from her righteous path by getting married and having to take care of children and a husband who is never happy. She mentions that husbands, “create your fears” (Philips, line 7), giving birth will, “extort your tears” (Philips, line 8), and the children’s cries will, “offend your ears” (Philips, line 9), to accentuate her message of rebelling against the normative behavior of getting married and losing their virginity to raise his children and entertain his person. Her idea of seizing the day is that commiting to matrimony is not worth all the negative consequences and if the women can avoid being distracted by men, they will be free in life and their afterlife. She states that sex and love is, “wild nature” (Philips, line 15), and if women suppress that natural instinct there is no chance that they will end up in hell because being pure is not a sin. These two poems are juxtaposed due to their completely different takes on carpe diem, Philips’ take and Marvell’s take.

Courtship was seen as a formality in the 17th century, although the process was long, prejudice, and ended in a lifelong commitment. Marvell expressed a strong desire to take charge and live in the moment in his poem “To His Coy Mistress” and his views on courtship were negative mainly because of time’s restrictions and a human’s immortality. He states that his lover deserves, ¨an hundred years¨ (Marvell, line 13), for him to admire her face, ¨two hundred¨ (Marvell, line 15), for him to appreciate her bosom, and, ¨thirty thousand¨ (Marvell, line 16), years more for him to worship the rest of her. Marvell utilized multiple hyperboles to illustrate how people perceive time as a way to express how much they love someone, and this is effective because it extends the poem beyond a literal meaning and emphasizes a reflection on how relationships were perceived as well.

However, Marvell believes time is limited and if it was unlimited his, ¨vegetable love should grow¨ (Marvell, line 11), in a leisurely way that his lover deserved. A shift from a romanticized and exaggerated ideal of courtship to the reality that time is unforgiving occurs in line 21 of the poem. Marvell’s allusion, ¨at my back I always hear timeʼs winged chariot hurrying near¨ (Marvell, lines 21-22), creates the visual that time goes on forever, but a human’s mortal life has an end by alluding to Apollo the Greek God of time. This supports his claim that they should physically embrace each other whenever they can, because waiting will only lead to growing old and death.

Similarly, Philips thinks that courtship is a hassle that wastes too much time, however, her solution to courtship is different than Marvellʼs solution to disregard the consequences and live in the moments they have. Philips believes that the solution is to, ¨turn apostate to loveʼs levity¨ (Philips, line 14), in other words, she believes women should not be blinded by the fabricated happiness that love offers, such as children or a husband. Marriage was presented as an opportunity to enhance life, but Philips is telling women not to believe society’s misrepresentation. Philips concurs with Marvell that women want to engage in sexual activity, except she argues that in order to avoid the hassle of children and husbands, women need to, ¨suppress wild nature if she dare rebel¨ (Philips, line 15), meaning ignore their natural desire to have sexual intercourse with a man, in order to avoid the suffrage brought by marriage. The two distinct solutions to the courtship process are different because of their individual audiences; Marvell is writing this declaration of love to a woman, while Philips is writing to guide and advise other women.

In conclusion, Marvell and Philips explore relationships and illustrate the complications they believe relationships will encounter by offering two different solutions for these issues. Their differing solutions are influenced because Marvell was a man, while Philips was a woman in the same time period; therefore, the societal norms impacted each poet differently and was reflected in their work. “A Married State” portrays marriage in a negative way, while “To His Coy Mistress” portrays waiting to marry in a negative way; however, they both portray courtship in a negative way because of the hassle of time, according to Marvell, and hassle due to a husband and children, according to Philips.

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Comparing Courtship in “To His Coy Mistress” and “A Married State” . (2022, Feb 02). Retrieved from

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