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The poem is written in iambic tetrameters because there are four feet in each line; and each foot consists of two syllables; and in each foot the first syllable is light or unstressed but the second is stressed. There are also some variations, say the first foot of the first line has a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one; so it is trochaic; but it is natural to iambic, too. These variations have been written on purpose. In line 4, there are three successive stressed syllables in the words long love's days in order to emphasize the length of the time which is stated in the words. Of course, some of them are written only for variety like lines 3, 5, 6, and so on.
There is a spondaic foot in line 12 in Vaster probably to add significance to the word. A pyrrhic begins line 18; in this line, the next foot is spondaic in last age for the emphasis which is concerning the period stated by the words. In line 22, hurrying has three successive light syllables which increase its sense. It is true of the word echoing in line 27, that is, since they are related to movement, a light thing can move fast; so they enhance their senses. The poem has a clear as bb cc rhyme scheme. Sometimes, it is not exact, i.e., in the words would and Flood. But in conjunction with the regular meter, it gives the poem a controlled and reflective tone. The rhyme and meter give it a pleasant musical effect.
The imagery has superficially unremarkable, i.e., the distance between the Ganges river and the Humber river which has the sense of humor. The dominant images of the second stanza are concerning death and time; but death has not been used in the first stanza at all. The images of the third stanza are concerning youth and enjoying it.
In this poem there are also some allusions to Greek mythology, courtly love, and the Bible. Then, there is no complicated tone; it is playful and urbane. No one can consider it as a kind of love poem. For the speaker establishes a courtly love which is particularly traditional. He wants to make his beloved a virtually inaccessible one who can be like goddess. In addition, she can be considered as a cruel lady who withholds her love from the speaker. So the lover sits by the Humber tide and complains of her cruelty. And he has served her by praise and adoration since the tie of Noah's Flood in 4000 B.C. and will also serve till the conversion of the Jews to Christianity. This is a humor because the time is to much. He says it for making the lady smile and be ready to hear a courtly love or divinity of the lady for the fact that the poet says her to sport them, to roll all their strength and sweetness up into one ball, and to tear their pleasures with rough strife. Some traditional metaphors are also used in the poem which represent the passing of time's winged chariot.
As we read the poem, we find out the fact that the male speaker enforces his mistress or girl friend to cease being coy or reluctant. There are several key words which should be cared by the reader. They consist of time, long love's day, the Flood, the slow growth of vast empires, a hundred years, two hundred years, thirty thousand years, an age, the last age, lower rate, time's winged chariot, deserts of vast eternity, now, at once, our time, the iron gates of life, and the movement of the sun all of which suggest the passing of time, brevity of youth and time, and the urgency of experiencing all the delights of young love. The speaker also worries about them.
There are also some rhetorical features. The first twenty lines represents a series of conditions, like if the things were somehow or if or if they were different from what they are. Therefore, it can be concluded the poet wants to say the fact that if they were not imprisoned by time.
Tenses of Verbs
If we divide the poem to three section notice that the first section, to do with 'if' is written exclusively in the conditional tense: 'were', 'we would', 'you should'. The conditional tense is about unreality; it's abut things that do not exist. The conditional tense goes with 'if', and it is always connected with what is not, or what might happen if.
The detailed descriptions of the lengths to which he would go if they had the time serve to prove to his mistress that he acknowledges she deserves such wooing, but is unable to honor her in this way simply because time is against them.
In the second section o this poem, the 'But' part (line 21) suddenly the conditional tense disappears an is replaced by the far more definite and immediate present tense: 'But at my back I always hear'. A combination of the present tense and the adverb 'always' creates a sense of certainty. It is as if the long, meandering lines of 'conditional' wooing of the first stanza are sharply interrupted by a very 'present' obstacle - time.
In the third section, the 'therefore' part (line 33), notice that the whole segment is written in the present tense and 'now' appears three times. The combinations of the present tense and 'now' saturates the verse with a sense of urgency. It is also worth nothing that some of the verbs are in the imperative form - that is, they are commands - 'let us sport us while we may' (line 37); 'let us roll all our strength' (line 41). The imperative form, the present tense and 'now' all work together to create a feeling of immediacy and a need to 'seize the day'.
Subjects and verbs
In the last section, if we consider the final couplet, the doubt and suggestion of failure present in 'though' we cannot make our sun/stand still, is quickly and thoroughly erased by the use of the emphatic 'we will' as opposed to the plain future tense 'we shall'.
To explain clearly, the plain future form of the verb 'to be' is as follows:
I shall be, you/he/she/it will be, we shall be, you/they will be. This form gives us a sense of merely what will happen in time to come. For example, ' if it is cold tomorrow, we shall be staying at home'. This is really a prediction: 'if this is the case, then that will happen'.
To make this into an emphatic form you need to change it thus: I will be, you/he/she/it shall be, we will be, you/they shall be.
Therefore the emphatic form of a verb changes the sense considerably.
Literary devices are important for Formalists. Three important devices in the poem are allusions, ironies, exaggerations, imageries and rhythms. Allusions are discussed above, now we will discuss about ironies, exaggerations, imageries and rhythms.
There are many overstatements in the poem, i.e., the distance between the Ganges river in India and the Humber river in England, the extension of the love from before the Flood to the conversion of the Jews, growing their loves as slowly as empires, praising her eyes and gaze during years, adoring her breast during 200 years, praising the rest of her body during 30,000 year, celebrating heart during the last age. These exaggerations come to an end with the following two lines:
For, lady, you deserve this state
Nor, would I love at lower rate.
The poem is more than the simple confrontation with a coy lady. It is a comic argument which represents the brevity of youth and life, for the lover always looks toward the inevitable and that is death. It can be induced from the following lines:
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near:
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Therefore, it is an overlapping context which has a new dimension, too. It is a kind of ironic defense against human being's limitation.
The poem begins with flattering statements, expressed by the lover, as lady. Then, the argument shows their ideal relationship. He also achieves a fine sublimation by saying that she deserves this state; and he wants to persuade the lady to accept the proposition.
In the second stanza, the tone of the poem is shifted because the speaker reveals all the disadvantages of this refusal by love. He also dares to state the result of the refusal by saying that will not be beautiful, and her quaint honor turn to dust.
In the final stanza, the poet stops the ironical use of language, wanting the reluctant lady to seize the moment the imagery is brilliant and a sexual one, too. The image of fire which smolders in the first stanza and turns to ashes in the second, explodes into passion in the third stanza.
The speaker, in the last four lines influences the lady by an orgiastic force formed by rhythmic spondees like thus, though, and stand, still and by suggestive puns like make our sun, and make him run.
The poem moves towards unity and vitality with heavy emphasis on pleasure and a sense of cheating time by winning the battle against it.
So the positive tone of the final stanza overrides the slowness of the first, and the harsh, violent coldness of the second. This is indeed the tactic of the narrator as he tries to convince his love to surrender to him. Using logic in such an emotive situation would seem inappropriate, but the passion with which he argues is indeed persuasive, and the reader reaches the final line with a sense of triumph an determination to 'let love rule', which we can only assume is also conveyed to his silent, cold 'coy mistress'.