How *to* read poetry :) (or, I didn’t read it so fast this time)

Another go at the ‘reading poetry aloud to strangers’ game, and this time far more successful.

This time, I read Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ and my 16-year-old response to it. (I have promised to actually write something for the next one in Oct…which I’ll try to do but I’m promising nuffing.)

Most excellent heckle:

  • HOST: “Thank LJ, Jenks…what should we call you?”
  • LADY AT BACK: “Shakespeare!” “A Marvell!”

I think she was just being friendly. But still 🙂

So here’s the story: when at school, learning the Marvell poem, I decided he was rather like some kind of greasy Greek (?) waiter trying to chat up a girlie at some faddy resort. That should explain it.

Here are both:

To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood;
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv’d virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

To Her Greasy Lech

by Laura Jenkinson (aged 16)

Had I but strength, and good hard spirits,
This spiel of yours would have its merits;
I would sit back, enjoy your praise,
Forget my coy and frustrating delays,
While you compare me to a Summer’s Day –
Probably your next line I’d say –
And cook up your own vegetable, love,
Before it grows, reaching Heaven above,
(Where you’ll, I think, say next I fell from:
“Did it hurt?” Well what do you think, handsome?)
Give me a sip of the sweetest Bacardi,
I’ll let your gazes become so tardy
As to sit long on my youthful hue,
In the morning dew, I suppose in lieu
Of your wandering hands, having passed the test,
Wanting wander of ‘each breast’ and ‘the rest’.
Maybe we’d have sported like those birds of prey
And made the chaste Sun, in shame, run away,
If you had let me play coy, hard to get
(And let me ‘find rubies’ when we first met!)

But of course, you can see it coming,
It’s me, the witless prey, that’s running.
I hope Time’s chariot flies just close enough
To knock up some sense into your rough.
I don’t think I could ever have afforded
That ‘loving rate’ (which I’m sure you’d’ve recorded, )
And frankly, I think your ‘virginal’ blunder
As wet and romantic as the old Humber.
I’m not sure just why you mentioned, at last,
My ‘heart’ – not as dear as my forehead?! – I’m aghast
That people like you are allowed out at night!
Those vast eternal deserts should be your plight!

Now it’s obvious, therefore, that your practice of chatter
Of the sweetest kind, to make my head fatter,
is a prelude, though nice, to the one thought in your mind:
“Well then, darlin’, is it your place or mine?”
I’m just not the type – I’m a lady you said –
To get so caught up as to jump into bed.
Your perception of courtship is just a no-go –
Rome wasn’t built in a day, you know,
I don’t want to be just a part of your Empire,
And sun, I’m afraid, provides my facial fire.
As I conclude, without thought for the meter,
As you did, let me add that, for me, there is nothing sweeter
Than the thought of you yourself blue in your grave
And the worms learning how, from you, not to behave.

As an afterthought, waiter, there’s just one more think –
Run along, petit garcon, and get me that drink.


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