Thursday, September 29, 2011

To His Coy Mistress

A good week to everybody! I’m writing with two intertwining emotions as I speak. On the one hand is the emotion of despondency from the reaffirmation that my betters at writing painfully abound; and elation that I share a kindred spirit with one of my betters. The sage of whom I speak in this instance is none other than Andrew Marvell on his poem “To His Coy Mistress”.

I remember treating this very poem in my first year in university, although at the time we were too petrified of our lecturer, then Dr Inyama, and his promise that only half of us would make it through his course. Our fear of him seemed very well founded on account of his stern and austere demeanour. In fact throughout my four year course in the English Literature department, no one ever saw Dr Inyama break into a smile for even a moment. Ah, I err; I did see him sharing laughter over beer at the senior staff club with his colleagues. Oddly enough, he did seem quite at home with this phenomenon, mirth. Interestingly though, our wariness of Inyama began to thaw by the end of his second lecture on satire in poetry and short stories. The man’s wit and humour was as keen as a red hot blade. He introduced me to my favourite poet of all time, Alexander Pope, the writer of “The Rape of the Lock” – but that is a story for another day. “To His Coy Mistress” was treated on the first day of our lecture with him and my fear of his course at the time blinded me to its beauty. A young friend of mine was to reintroduce the poem to me only a few weeks ago, over a decade after my initial introduction to the poem.

I was flirting amiably with a younger colleague, an actress, about twenty one years of age, on a movie set some weeks ago. She was very pretty and well endowed in the right places, and I did not hesitate to tell her so. She smiled back at me coquettishly and with an impish smile on her face told me she was a good girl and would never have any dealings with men. I liked her, mostly because she was quite intelligent and accurately interpreted my flirtatious advances as being just that, which gave us free hand to pit our wits against one another to see who would win in the end – Frieda look at both my clean palms in the air o, nothing happened! We fenced and parried one another’s thrusts until Nikky, at length, told me that if I must possess her, I would have to court her the way Andrew Marvell courted his coy mistress. The name suddenly rang a bell in my head and I asked her about it. She told me the poem was her favourite and recommended that I go and read it up. Immediately we were done for the day I went back home and searched for it on Google and was amply rewarded – I had found another of my mentors. I settled down to a good read.

The poem is basically about a virgin maiden fending off the amorous advances of an older man. She insists on keeping a vow of chastity and the preservation of her virginity. The man replies with the most gentle and piercing wit, peeling away the young lady’s reserve and defences with the skill and ease with which Hector peeled off Achilles beloved friend Patrocles’ stout armour in Homer’s poem The Iliad, until the latter stood before him, naked and ashamed. He answers her with the lightest sarcasm, telling her that if both of them were granted time, he would begin wooing her ten years before Noah’s flood began, then he would dedicate a hundred years towards wooing and admiring each breast on her chest (chei! See rhyme!) before applying another two hundred years to the rest of her body save for one problem – time would not wait for them. So, in order to forestall Death’s handmaidens – the veritable worms – from deflowering her in the grave where there would be no romance, where all her rosy beauty would succumb to the dust, they would best make use of the youthful fire still coursing through their veins entwine themselves in one fiery ball and tear through the impeding iron gates of chastity!

Isn’t that just heavenly? If there was any such thing as reincarnation, I probably am Mr Marvell come again but, since I don’t believe in it, I’ll be content with the knowledge that many more of my kind roamed the earth centuries before my father carried my mother across the threshold and successfully baked the bun – me. I enjoin you my dear folks to read the poem and let me know what you think. Have the greatest weekend everyone, and my love for you has not diminished even after such a long spell in the wilderness but, that is a story for another day. A tout a l’heure!