The Theme of Time in “To His Coy Mistress” and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”

The theme of time is discussed as it relates to the poems "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot.

Time is a main theme in the poems “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Elliot.  In “To His Coy Mistress,” the narrator cherishes time and believes that he and his lover should take advantage of every moment, using every passing second for their benefit.  He pleas to his “coy mistress” to stop delaying her expression of intimacy and join in the love that he openly shows to her.  Time in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is looked upon as an abundant resource that the narrator takes for granted.  The narrator, J. Alfred Prufrock, constantly procrastinates and spends more time speaking of doing things than taking action.

Marvell’s thought in “To His Coy Mistress” is that time is invaluable and must be spent wisely.  He believes that if one delays, time will slip through his or her fingers.  The narrator states that if he were able to, he would spend ages praising his lover.  However, because time is always steadily proceeding, they must act whilst they still have a chance.  If they continue to wait to join in union, his mistress will no longer be beautiful and he will not hold the same desire for her.

In contrast, the narrator of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” feels that time is very abundant.  J. Alfred Prufrock does nothing but speak of doing things and thinking of the possible consequences resulting from his actions.  He repeatedly states, “There will be time.”  His life has been spent with inaction and regret for his stagnancy.  Due to his views on time and his low self-esteem, Prufrock delays every action that he thinks of taking, from admitting his love to a beautiful woman to socializing with others in general.

Admittedly, both poems use several allusions to affect our sense of time and place.  “To His Coy Mistress” speaks of “the flood,” which is a reference to Noah’s flood in the Bible.  This is said to have happened in one of the early years of Earth’s creation.  It then refers to “the conversion of the Jews.”  This is an allusion to the end of the Earth when, according to the Bible, Jews will be taken to Heaven.  Both of these allusions give the reader a sense of a great period of time; from the beginning of human existence to its end.  There are several more allusions in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  The narrator says that he has seen his “head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,” speaking of John the Baptist, a man in the Bible who was beheaded for the pleasure of a woman.  Prufrock also refers to Lazarus, who was raised from the dead.  These allusions give the reader a sense of macabre and gloom.

In conclusion, the narrator in “To His Coy Mistress” made the better use of time.  He attempted to cherish every moment and live life to its fullest.  This contrasts greatly with the lifestyle of J. Alfred Prufrock, who wasted his life away worrying of what others may think and what he would feel should he be denied.  “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” is nearly cautionary, warning the reader that time must be spent wisely and meaningfully.  The central message of “To His Coy Mistress” is very similar to “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.”  However, it focuses more on the benefits of wise time usage than on the consequences of procrastination.

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  1. Posted January 15, 2010 at 1:19 am

    Nice share :)

  2. Posted January 15, 2010 at 3:47 am

    Interesting and well written thoughts.


  3. Posted January 15, 2010 at 7:02 am

    Thank you both very much.

  4. Posted January 15, 2010 at 8:51 am

    great write

  5. Posted January 15, 2010 at 12:27 pm

    An ‘A’ grade for this post. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was one of the poems that made a great impression of me when I studied it in school many years ago.

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