Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Now therefore, while the youthful hue
- Luckily, he leaves all that morbidity behind, and gives us the old "now, therefore." By this, the speaker suggests that his argument is successful, and that he’s about to tell the mistress what she should do, since his argument is so successful.
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
- He kind of brings her back from the grave here. Just a minute ago, he imagines her dead in the crypt, and, now, he tells her how young she is, and how her soul rushes around excitedly inside her, leaking out through her pores.
- "Transpire" has a few fun meanings that you can ponder.
- The first is "to come to light."
- The second is "to happen."
- The third actually has to do with plants. If a plant "transpires," it loses water vapor through its stomata (little pores on a plant's leaves), a crucial part of photosynthesis.
Now let us sport us while we may,
- Since you are transpiring (rhymes with "perspiring") and all, let’s play some games, he tells her.
- Then, he gets a brilliant idea.
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
- They should pretend to be birds of prey, mating!
- (Sounds a little dangerous to us.)
- Also, the word "prey" introduces violence, and therefore uneasiness, into the scene.
Rather at once our time devour
- But, before the games begin, we should have a little pre-mating dinner.
- Here, honey, try this seared fillet-o-time, on a bed of vegetable love.
- And for dessert – time capsules!
- See, time deserves to be eaten.
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
- Time exerts its "slow-chapped power" over the speaker for far too long.
- According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature, "slow-chapped power" means "slowly devouring jaws."
- In short, he feels like he’s dying in Time’s mouth, and that time is slowly eating him up.
- He wants to turn the tables, and thinks that sex, or so he tells his mistress, is the way to get time under his control.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
- Next comes his actual description of sex. The rolling up in a ball doesn’t sound so bad. "Strength" carries on the idea of sex as sport from line 37. Come to think of it, "ball" works that way, too.
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
- But, what’s with "tear" and "strife"?
- It makes sense from the speaker’s perspective.
- He claims to believe that sex is the way to another world, a way to break out of the prison of time.
- This also suggests that he thinks that bringing the "strife" of life into the bedroom will enhance the sexual experience.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
- In this final couplet (a couplet is a stanza made up of two lines, usually rhyming), the speaker seems a little bit calmer.
- He talks about the sun now, instead of time.
- In his time, the sun is thought to control time.
- In the end, he admits that sex is a compromise.
- They can’t use it to stop time, but they can use it to make time go faster.
- What? If time goes faster, won’t the speaker and the mistress die sooner?
- Not if he’s in control.
- And, not if, as we suggest in "Symbols, Images and Wordplay" under "The Great Beyond," the sun and time, also represent death.
- If they can make time run, it won’t have time to kill people.
- Er, or something like that.
- It’s not necessarily the most rational argument, but it has its charm.
- And, the speaker isn’t the first person to think that sex is the answer to all problems.
- In any case, the final couplet can give you food for thought for years.