Europeana Credit: London Science Museum
This is going to be hard and fast: we just read this poem in English today, and there’s only twenty minutes left before I have to go to lunch.
The poem’s called “To His Coy Mistress,” by Andrew Marvell, and you should go read it, because it’s funny. It’ll give you context as to what I’m going to talk about, but it’s not actually what I’m going to talk about.
See, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this poem a few years ago. I remember in my Freshman English class, reading Romeo and Juliet and being—not offended, I think, but kind of peeved that there seemed to be so many references to sex and I didn’t think they were funny or clever or anything.
It is likely that little Heather who kept the more recent update from expecting to enjoy Othello when she had to read that two months ago.
But I realized something then, as Othello and Iago and company started dropping their little innuendos.
It was FUNNY.
“I’ve been told wrong,” I thought, horrified. “Shakespeare can’t be boring if he’s actually funny.”
It was a startling realization. But even more startling, as I read this poem and another, comparing their lusty advances on virgins, insisting that, hey, we don’t have all the time in the world so let’s jump to the part about sex—I realized that younger Heather wouldn’t have even given this stuff a chance.
I don’t think it came from the way I was raised (other realizations about things have come even within my own house) or my lack of a sense of humor: I’m pretty sure it was there. I blame middle school. Sex was something that you whispered about and giggled and lolololol SEX.
And I’m not saying that we don’t still say those things in English class nowadays, a handful of years later. The difference is: we say it out loud. These two guys, brilliant each in their own right, had very loud interpretations of the coy mistress’s lover, and they were funny.
The social norm has changed. It’s not bad—literature is pretty much affairs and murder and saying something about the human condition, so we have to be able to talk about it. But it is different.
While I’m glad I retained some innocence as a Freshman, I also wonder what she would have thought as I hastily scribbled the last part of the assignment on the back of my worksheet: explain what your favorite poem was and why.
I liked “To His Coy Mistress,” because even though the speaker is a condescending bastard, it’s clever. And I liked the Biblical allusion to describe time.
I guess, you could say, it’s a matter of perspective.