The first thing that strikes when you read these 17th Century poems is the theme of pre 19th century gentlemen’s attitudes towards sex and personal relationships, where women are the ones who are held responsible for sexual morality. The “Beggar Woman” and “To His Coy Mistress”, are both poems which deal with relationships between men and women. When the poems were written, society was very difference; women did not have status or independence, it was a society dominated by males, in all aspects of life.
The Beggar Woman is a very good example which defines the different status between men and women at the time. The similarity between the two poems is that they show how experiences of love and relationships for men and women, mirrored the roles each sex played in other areas of life.
The man who is featured in this poem is very “high” up in society due to his wealthy background. However, you wouldn’t be led to think this as what he is after isn’t very “upper class”.
“For he himself had other game in view”, here there is no doubt he certain means for the beggar woman and the author has cleverly played with words here too. The fact the man had originally gone out into the woods hunting with his fellow gentleman, the author decides to play with the words here, and uses the term game to refer to the game of hunting, and game, as if having sex with this woman is a game, indicating he thinks that this beggar woman is a prostitute.
King deliberately and continuously emphasises on the word “gentleman” as he is trying to show he’s not acting very gentleman like. When he talks to the woman, he refers to her as “Mistress”.
The reason he is being so polite is because he wants to have sex with her. Obviously, this shows his view on women; that they’re there to be used at men’s pleasure. His situation as the end, to the gentleman’s horror, is that he is left with the baby. This is totally unexpected as the gentleman didn’t expect it, as did the audience. This is because the entire time, we are led to believe that the woman was in control, as for a period we are convince that she is a prostitute, as she knows of a quiet place, “I know of an unfrequented place”. So, from this moment on, the reader is lead to think that the gentleman is in control, but right at the end we realise she is the clever one.
However, clever though it may seem, the question is, will the gentleman return to his friends, carrying a baby? Given the status and situation of men in the 18th Century they didn’t really bring up a baby, they left it to the women. It was very rare to find a child without a mother in those days, as babies were always cared for by the women. His options are; he could return to his fellow gentleman, and face embarrassment, but pay some house maids on women to raise the baby for him, or just leave it to die? Nevertheless, I believe he is more likely to take the baby and raise it because he could use a simple excuse by suggesting he found the baby and raise him. Even more, is the relationship wouldn’t be any different to the one he could possible have if was married, as he could simply hire someone to look after the child. However, there is the possibility that one day the woman could claim that the child belonged to her, and announce these secret liasions she’d been having, and the baby belonged to the man. This would be difficult, as the gentleman may find it hard to accept a baby that he doesn’t know if he belongs to him, and the background from which he came from, poor, like the beggar woman herself, and that she might one day try to claim and embarrass the gentleman.
Obviously times have changed since the seventeenth century; one significant thing is women’s rights and the way they are treated. In the seventeenth century, women certainly had different, and if not any rights in comparison to men. In this case, it because the beggar woman has a totally different status to the gentleman. Due to his background and history, he is thought as a “gentleman” because he is wealthy, which makes him a very reputable man. We can tell the difference in status as the gentleman is on horseback and she’s walking, “He ambles on before, she trots behind.” However, you wouldn’t be led to think that there is a difference due to the way he refers to her, “Mistress”, as if she was extremely lady-like, a wealthy woman basically, which she isn’t. This is respect has been given to her, so that the gentleman can convince, or charm his way into having sex with her. We are also led to believe to think that other than to think she is familiar to these liaisons, she is in fact a prostitute, as she suggests a place to the gentleman where the can have sex, “I know of an unfrequented place”. This suggests she knows what she is doing. In the end, we know that the beggar woman tricks the man, and the baby ends up with him, but one key reason to why she may this is suggested as she refers to the baby as her “Burthen”. This is because she is suggesting the baby will cost her a lot more money to feed and raise, but as we know, she is a beggar woman, and she is probably earning enough money just to survive, so she hands him over as she hasn’t the money to support him.
The beggar woman’s actions raise a very serious point about relationships and responsibilties as she freely gives her child to a man she doesn’t even know. We don’t know how she feels about giving away her baby, but the fact that she tricked the gentleman so cleverly may suggest that she has done it before. The gentleman treats and speaks to her very respectfully, as he thinks the way to convince and persuade her to have sex with him, is to respect her, and so refers to her as “Mistress”. He also asks, “And what if we should Retire a little way into the wood”. So to lead the gentleman on, the beggar woman agrees.
Her next clever step was to then convince then man that she will have sex with him, leading him into a false sense of security, as she suggests a place to go, “I know an unfrequented place”. The gentleman now obviously thinks that he is going to have sex with the beggar woman. So the gentleman, in a false sense of security, convince he will be having sex any minute now, attempts to rush into having sex with her, “Come I’ll the knot untie, And, if you mean the child, I’ll lay it by”. The beggar woman sees her chance to trick the man, and responds, by explaining that if the man were to lay the baby by, it would cry, “That can’t be done, for the t’will cry”. She then explained that the only way to stop the baby from crying is if it is on someone else’s back. She is clearly, and cleverly hinting to the gentleman that the only way they are going to have sex is if the baby is on his back, while in fact it is a trap. The man falls straight into the trap, and instantly offers to carry the baby on his shoulders, as he eagerly awaits to have sex with the beggar woman, “I should be loth, To come so far and disoblige you both: Were the child tied to me, d’ye think t’would do?” This is the final stage of her plan; she put the baby on the gentleman’s back, quite willingly, “Might well so! Oh lord! If tied to you!” This again is another trick to convince the gentleman he is about to have sex. But as soon as she has put the baby on his shoulders, “Sir good bye”. She walks away, leaving him with the baby, trusting him to look after it, “I trust the child to you with all my heart”.
She planned to leave the gentleman with the baby from the beginning as she tricked him into thinking he was going to have sex, but her aim was to teach that women are not just objects or things to have sex with, and that there are consequences, only the women have to put up with them, not the men. So she decided to turn the tables, and on this occasion, she decided to give the gentleman a taste of what its like to look after a child, the consequences of having sex. Perhaps the main moral of the poem is “Thinking before you act”. However the question is, can she really trust the baby to with all her heart? We don’t know what he may do.
Due to the poet writing this poem in a particular or a stylistic way, he has clearly increased the awareness towards the moral and the subject matter in the story. One way he does this is his regular rhyme scheme and a regular rhythm. One example, or very many, is “A gentleman in hunting rode astray, More out of choice that he lost his way:” This is the first two lines, and instantly a funny, entertaining sort of atmosphere is created, due to the use of rhyming couplets, which are two lines with words at the end which rhyme. However, this isn’t true of all poems. Some people believe that a good poem must always rhyme, but it isn’t really the case. Some of the best poems don’t rhyme at all. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult and complicated to produce a poem with rhyming couplets and William King does it exceptionally well. Even more, he includes a moral in the story, which is also sometimes difficult to do.
When poets do end up producing a rhyming poem it usually sounds a bit contrived and a little silly, but William King produced an entertaining poem with a moral, which was filled with rhyming couplets, which sounded very natural. It must have taken a lot hard work and effort to produce a poem with qualities which include an interesting story which finishes with a moral, which also includes rhyming couplets all the way through it. Also the poem also has rhythm. Because it is a narrative poem (a poem with a story) it flows very well, without any need for breaks, or pauses; this is why there are no verses in the poem. The fact that it flows so well, may suggest that it was used for entertainment during the 17th century. It could have been recited at events such as parties, or maybe in the street for money. This is because of the tone or atmosphere created by the story and the rhyming couplets. They provide an up-lifting type of tone, one used for entertainment. Due to the story, people may find it funny, and the rhyme and rhythm add to that.
To His Coy Mistress and Beggar Woman, are poems that are different in a number of ways; especially in the style chosen by the poet of To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell. We can tell this instantly as the poem isn’t as immediately accessible because of vocabulary, intellectual argument and philosophical ideas. However, the Beggar Woman isn’t like this as it is a story, or a narrative poem. To His Coy Mistress isn’t a narrative poem, but a poem that is a syllogistic argument, designed to address the gentleman in the poem’s mistress. A syllogism is the way an argument is structured, and if it is well put together, the person you are arguing against cannot argue against you, in this case, the gentleman intends to make this a watertight argument, so that the woman cannot argue against him. A good syllogism is structured using three sections; If, But, and Therefore. To His Coy Mistress is a well structured syllogism, as we can identify these three sections.
The first, or the “if” section of To His Coy Mistress, explains what would happen if there was enough time in the world. In one extract from To His Coy Mistress, he explains that if they were to have sex, we would adore her very much, “Two hundred to adore each breast: But thirty thousand to the rest” This is a classic example, and he even uses sexual innuendo. What it means is, if the woman were to have sex with him, he would adore her very much, so much he would adore each breast for two hundred years, and thirty thousand to the rest of her body. Another classic example, suggesting what the gentleman would do if they were to have sex is, “My vegetable love should grow, Vaster than empires, and more slow.” This example means that his love for her may grow slow, but bigger than empires. He compares his love growing like a vegetable, which constitutes the idea that his love is like a plant; growing and expanding constantly, but slowly naturally, and hopefully developing into something fruitful. However this can only happen if there is enough time for him to do so.
At line 21, a new section begins; the second, or “but” section, which basically explains, “but we don’t have enough time”. And so the man attempts to convince his mistress by using the time they have, by charming her. One classic example is the gentleman suggests that if the woman were not to have sex with him, that she wouldn’t have sex again, “Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound My echoing song: then worms shall try, That long-preserved virginity.” Graphic as this line is, what he explains is that if the woman weren’t to have sex with him, she would never lose her virginity, except for when she dies, and she is underground, were the worms can get to her, and they will take her virginity. Though this may sound rude and vulgar, it is the intended effect, so that he can frighten her into having sex with him.
The last, or “therefore” which can be interrupted to “therefore, we need to make the most of our time that is left”. So he now attempts to explain to her what they could do to make the most of this time, “And now, like amorous birds of prey” He uses this comparison referring to what they could, and hopefully will be; “amorous” meaning loving and affectionate, and “birds of prey” as those types of animals are powerful, great, and dominant figures, which the gentleman hopes the woman and himself will be like. This isn’t included or necessary in the Beggar Woman, as it isn’t a syllogistic poem, it’s a narrative poem which tells a story. Nevertheless, though an argument isn’t shown in the poem, it does bring up an argument, whether the beggar woman should have just given her child away so easily.
The gentleman in the poem doesn’t just show his intellectual argument skills, he also shows, but doesn’t state, his philosophy on life. The man clearly explains time goes by very quickly, and explains to the woman that you really need to take those chances you get in life, or you will regret them. A term given to his philosophy is “Carpe Diem” which is Latin for “Seize the day”. An example which shows his philosophy on life is “But at my back I always hear, Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” What the gentleman attempts to explain hear is that time goes by very quickly. One main and obvious similarity between the two poems is that they use rhyming couplets. This is a very difficult feature to include in poems as often, they sound silly, but in both of these cases, they are used effectively, but for different reasons. In the Beggar Woman, rhyming couplets at the end, which add a “punch line” are used for added entertainment. The poem was produced for entertainment, but with the added rhyme, it adds more entertainment, as well as a flow and rhythm in the poem.
One example is “A gentleman in hunting rode astray, More out of choice, than that he lost his way.” In this example, the very first lines of the poem, the poet explains that the gentleman, who went hunting with fellow gentleman, deliberately lost his way. However, Marvell deliberately uses rhyming couplets in his poem, but not for the same reason; he adds the rhyming couplets in for added effect, for further enhancement so that the gentleman can convince the woman easier. “For, lady, you deserve this state; Nor would I love at lower rate.” Here he attempts to charm her, by saying she is worthy of being loved so much. The fact that Marvell wrote this poem to make it easier for the gentleman to argue and convince the woman to have sex with him, might suggest that he was that gentleman.
The speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” also appears as in “The Beggar Woman” to be taking the lead in pursuing this relationship. The speaker in “To His Coy Mistress” works hard and cleverly to try and convince the woman to have sex with him. During these lines his main aim is to flatter her, and in some ways, exaggerate his possible love for her. The examples for his love for her, “A hundred years should go to praise, Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze. Two hundred to adore each breast: But thirty thousand to the rest.” These lines mean that he’ll worship her eyes and her forehead as he admires her so much, then says that he’d adore each breast for two hundred years, but thirty thousand to the rest. This is because he attempts to flatter he, as in his eyes, he believes she is beautiful, and so explains his over admiration. At the beginning he does exaggerate, which in some ways is good as it may appeal to the woman, “My vegetable love should grow, Vaster than empires, and more slow” Here he is explaining that that if she was to spend the rest of his life with her, his love would grow both more and stronger for her. Right now, his love is in the early stages and if she was to wait or it to grow, it would be vast.
During the “but” section, which starts at line twenty, he attempts a new tactic to convince her; he attempts to maybe shock her by using explicit references which are quite graphic, “Now let us sport us while we may; And now like amorous birds of prey, Rather at once our time devour.” The man graphically puts across lets them have sex, only he uses the term prey, a powerful, strong animal, to describe the type of sex the could have. However, he may not have spoilt his chances, as he was just building up to what he really wants, “Thus, though we cannot make our sun, Stand still, yet we will make him run.” Here the man says that though he can’t make time stand still, they can make the most of it, every last minute.
In some ways, this male character in this story, is similar to the man from the other story as they both want to have sex with a woman, but they both approach the matter in a gentleman like way. One example in the Beggar Woman is that the man refers to the beggar woman as “mistress” which indicates he was attempting to flatter her, one of the rare occasions in that poem. However in To His Coy Mistress his respect for the woman is quite regular; though he may not refer to as mistress, he constantly flatters her, one example is within the first few lines, “Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side, Should’st rubies find: I by the tide Of Humber would complain.” What he means here is the fact that she is so special she should walk by the Indian Ganges, and he would just walk along the sides of a the Humber. Here he flatters her as he is making her feel special.
So, the similarity between the two men is that the both attempt to flatter the women they want to have sex with. The behaviour of the man in To His Coy Mistress is really in some ways inappropriate, and in others, clever. In some ways it was inappropriate as approaching a lady with such graphic and explicitness is considered quite rude. One very graphic example is line twenty seven and twenty eight, “Then shall worms shall try, That long-preserved virginity” This is quite impolite as he explains, if she wasn’t to have sex with him, then when she dies the worms will have her virginity, which is very graphic. Though this may have possibly have scared the woman, it may have also convinced her to have sex with this man as she may have been so frightened, of the thought of worms, she would prefer to lose her virginity to him, this is the clever part. However, we do not the outcome; we can only predict and presume.
In comparison to the woman in the Beggar Woman, this woman in To His Coy Mistress is simply on the receiving end of the speaker’s words. In the Beggar Woman, the woman has an active role, as she is in control of what is happening; one example is when she tricks the gentleman to put the baby on his back, “Were he child tied to me, d’ye think t’would do? `Might well, sir! Oh Lord! If tied to you!” In these lines explains the turning point where the woman cleverly hands the baby to the gentleman without him even realising, as he is so concerned about what might happen.
In To His Coy Mistress, the woman plays an extremely passive role, as she doesn’t even make a single comment. Information we know about the woman in this poem is that she is from a rich family. We know that she is from a rich family as in the poem he refers to her burial place, when she dies, as the “Marble vault” which in those days, was only possessed by the rich and wealthy.
Also, the most frequent and obvious point involving the woman, is that – in the eyes of the man – she is very beautiful. The alleged beauty of the woman works perfectly to the advantage of the man, as he continuously and repeatedly attempts to flatter and charm with his over-exaggerated terms he uses to describe the woman. One of the many examples, is line nineteen and twenty, “For, lady, you deserve this state: Nor would I love at lower rate” This is one of the many classic examples the man uses to charm and flatter the woman as he explains that she deserves and is worthy of being loved so much, because she is beautiful, special and unique.
The beauty of the woman in this poem is continuously mentioned, whereas in the Beggar Woman, the beauty of the woman isn’t mentioned once. The significance of the beauty of the woman was totally ignored; as she is thought as a beggar woman, or a mere prostitute, she doesn’t need to be convinced to have sex with him, as its her job.. In the 17th Century, it was quite frequent, and secretive, for rich, wealthy, gentleman to just have sex with an prostitutes, and this is the reason why the gentleman doesn’t attempt to convince the woman into having sex with him, because he thinks as she is a prostitute – and her job is having sex – she will have sex with him Another significant factor may also be that because she is a beggar woman, not a rich woman from a wealthy family.
Both women however are similar, though their backgrounds and possible appearance maybe different. Both men, incidentally enough, want to have sex with the woman they are with. This may make the women feel like objects, just to be used for sex. The man in the Beggar Woman treats the woman disrespectfully as he considers her not as important as her as she is a beggar woman, while the man in To His Coy Mistress treats the woman with lots of respect, and attempts to charm and flatter her. However, though the men both seem to think they may be in control, both women in fact have the upper hand. The man in the Beggar Woman seems to be very eager and convinced he is having sex with the beggar woman, when in fact in the end, she tricks him, and leaves him stranded with the baby, whereas in To His Coy Mistress, the man attempts to flatter the woman, and even cleverly arranges his argument into a syllogism, but in the end, it’s the decision of the woman, and she can either say yes, and agree with the man, or just simply turn him down, and he can’t do much about that.
The fact that both men only want the women for sex, really just sums up the rights of women pre 17th Century. They clearly were just thought as objects, things just used for either sex or some form of entertainment, for men, rich wealthy ones in particular. Well in these cases, the women have the upper hand, and in the Beggar Woman, the woman attempts to teach the man a lesson, while in To His Coy Mistress, the man tries and attempts to convince the woman to go to bed with him. Clever it may seem, but it’s the woman’s decision if she wants to or not.
Despite being written hundred of years ago, both poems raise relevant and contemporary issues about relationships. It shows clearly the males dominated society, and used women for sex. The point of view shown in the Beggar Woman is quite unacceptable, as the man, deliberately lost his way, to find a prostitute to have sex with. In my opinion, the way shown in To His Coy Mistress, is a lot more politer and acceptable. Some of the points of view shown in this that can be applied to modern day society is the fact that people need to take responsibility of there actions; in the poems, its is just the women that take action for consequences they only had half a part in, not the men, who contribute to the other half. As modern readers, we can learn to take responsibility, and the consequences of sex. This can help raise the profile of using protection and contraception, for modern day teenage readers like me.