In 'To His Coy Mistress,' Andrew Marvell presents a speaker who appeals to his love through persuasion. The speaker uses an appeal to reason as his main tool, but he also appeals to his mistress through emotion and character to garner a response. Each stanza utilizes a different method of appeal that relies on diction and punctuation. In the first stanza, the speaker appeals to character, in the second emotion, and in the third reason. By using different methods of appeal, the speaker hopes to win his mistress' love.
From the title, one can see that the speaker is a man addressing a female. However, to understand the dramatic situation, one cannot examine the title alone but must scrutinize the entire poem. In the first stanza, the speaker professes his love for his mistress by saying he would love her from time's beginning to time's end (7-10). The speaker's 'love should grow vaster than empires' (11-12) and he would adore her for thousands of years (13-18). In the second stanza, the speaker uses images associated with death, and in the third he offers a plan by which the two should live, knowing that one does not live forever. With this information, one identifies the dramatic situation as a man's attempt to woo a fickle lover into spending the rest of her life with him.
Identifying the speaker and the situation is not enough to analyze a poem rhetorically, so one must look at the overall scheme in combination with an in-depth look. The overall scheme of this poem follows an appeal to reason, as proven by the first lines of each of the three stanzas. The poem begins with, 'Had we but world enough and time,' which sets up an argument in which the speaker proposes what he would do if time permitted. The argument continues in the second stanza with the first word, 'But,' which indicates a problem with the speaker's initial thoughts. The 'But' begins a stanza in which the speaker introduces the universal truth that one does not live forever. However, by starting the final stanza with, 'Now therefore,' the speaker gives a solution to the problem he raised in the previous stanza.
The method by which one introduces an idea, finds a flaw in it, and then finds a solution to the problem follows a chain of logic and appeals to a person's reason. Analyzing the poem further, one notices that the speaker's tone and persona changes from stanza to stanza. This change in tone and persona alters the method by which the speaker appeals to his mistress. In the first stanza, the speaker adopts a tone of praise and affection. He compliments his mistress' beauty and soul by saying that she deserves thousands of years of praise for her body and heart (13-20). He professes his adoration by telling her that his love spans from the beginning of time, 'before the Flood' (8), to the end of time, 'Till the conversion of the Jews' (10).
Analyzing the speaker's tone allows one to discover the speaker's persona. In this stanza, the speaker adopts an admiring and adoring persona. By praising his mistress' beauty and heart, the speaker places her upon a pedestal and appeals to her character with flattery. In the second stanza, the speaker adopts a darker and more realistic tone while still admiring his love. He uses diction that conjures images of death, like 'Time's winged chariot," marble vault,' 'worms,' 'dust,' 'ashes,' and 'grave's.' These words serve to frighten the mistress and to emphasize the point that one will inevitably die. He tries to make the point that only through death, which gets closer every second (21-22), will his love disappear (29) and that only the worms will enjoy his mistress' (27) 'company' when she dies.
The unknown male wants his mistress to realize that once they die, neither of them can experience love. This darker tone causes the speaker's persona to shift to a pessimistic and realistic persona. However, so as not to alienate his mistress, the speaker does not entirely abandon his admiring tone. He still refers to her beauty (24), virginity (28), and honor (29) to provide her with a sense of security, but he does not flatter her to the degree he does in the first stanza. By changing his tone and persona, the speaker changes his appeal. He appeals to his mistress' emotions by attempting to frighten her into accepting his plea for love.
In the final stanza, the speaker's tone changes again. This time, the unknown male speaks with a rushed tone, as though attempting to get in a final argument before time runs out, or death catches him. The main indication of this rushed tone lies in the punctuation. Marvell fills the first stanza with commas and periods causing pauses and suggesting slow speech.
The second stanza does not contain as much punctuation as the first, but still has more punctuation than the third stanza. The third stanza contains one semicolon, two commas, and two periods. A reduced amount of punctuation indicates rapid and rushed speech, and it appears that the speaker has realized that he does not have time to make a long argument with his mistress because of Death's approach. Also, the third stanza contains words associated with action and motion, like 'transpires,' 'fires,' 'sport,' 'devour,' 'power,' 'strength,' and 'run.' The first two stanzas contain words associated with thoughts and passivity. The change from passive to active diction invokes thoughts of motion or hurriedness.
With this final shift in tone, the speaker's persona changes to an out going and 'goal-getting' persona. The speaker knows what he wants and knows that he does not have eternity, so he wants his mistress to profess her love while she can. To accomplish this goal, the speaker appeals to his mistress' reason. Starting the stanza with 'Now therefore' (33) begins his appeal to reason.
He uses the thoughts he introduced in the first two stanzas to rationalize his ideas in the third stanza. The speaker wants to live with his mistress while they are still 'youthful' (33-34) and passionate 'like amorous birds of prey' (38). He wants the two of them to make the most of their lives together (43-46) and refusal of his love does not make sense because their passion will mean nothing in death, a logical reason. By loving each other, they may not stop time and live forever as lovers, but they can make it seem that way by filling their lives with love and happiness. In conclusion, Marvell's poem incorporates the three rhetorical appeals by creating a situation where a man attempts to persuade his mistress into spending her life with him. Overall, the speaker appeals to reason, but upon closer inspection, the type of appeal changes whenever the tone and persona of the speaker changes..