Jung in “To His Coy Mistress”: An Analysis of Animus and Anima
Jung in “To His Coy Mistress”: An Analysis of Animus and Anima
If Carl Jung had read Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress,” he would have been struck by the poetic voice’s search for wholeness. In the poem, the poetic voice projects the characteristics of anima onto the coy mistress in a search for a balance to his animus. After an examination of Jung’s process of archetype projection, the desperation of the poetic voice’s need for anima becomes clear. The objectification and vaunting of stereotypical feminine beauty and virtue—the characteristics of anima—in combination with the latent darkness in tone of the second verse paragraph reveal an unhealthy pursuit of anima.
An accurate understanding of Jung’s archetype of animus and anima offers insight into the poem and into the poetic voice’s pursuit. Jung believes that all men and women contain elements of the opposite sex within them. Jung bases this concept, in part, on the fact that both genders have some amounts of both male and female hormones. Anima represents the feminine archetype, while animus represents the masculine archetype. Since the pursuit of anima lies at the heart of the poem, an accurate understanding of this archetype facilitates a glimpse into the drives of the poetic voice.
As Jung describes it, the drive for anima need not negatively influence the pursuer. When anima operates positively in a man, it serves as intuitive inspiration: “her [anima’s] intuitive capacity, often superior to man’s, can give him timely warning, and her feeling, always directed towards the personal, can show him ways which his own less personally accepted feeling would never have discovered.” Jung describes the male archetype as embodying cold logic and reason, without the fires of emotion or intuition. A balanced person, with both animus and anima, would have the benefits of intuition and introspection along with the clarity of logic and reason. In the case of Marvell’s poem, however, the poetic voice does not exhibit this balance in his attitude toward his coy mistress. In such a case of imbalance, Jung’s system of compensation describes the resulting drive for the missing archetype.
Compensation occurs in an individual in whom wholeness or balance is lacking. In an attempt to compensate for this lack, the individual unconsciously draws on the archetype that represents the missing ingredients in his or her life, and projects them outwardly. These projections represent an unhealthy response to imbalance. Instead of seeking true wholeness, the individual who operates under the auspices of an overblown ideal of animus—macho, tough, and unfeeling—seeks to balance himself with an equally exaggerated depiction of anima—a doll-like, stereotypical female:
Held in the collective unconscious, which, according to Jung, exists at the core of every human psyche, the archetype influences the individual’s unconscious. The overly macho individual represses anima from his conscious because it appears to show effeminate weakness. Thus, repression from the conscious mind of the individual and the surfacing from the collective unconscious in response to the psychological need for balance forces the unconscious expression of anima through projection. Projection serves as the release valve for the pressure and turmoil collected in the unconscious.
The objectification of the mistress’ beauty and the vaunting of stereotypically female qualities illustrate the negative and exaggerated projection of anima in “To His Coy Mistress.” In the first verse paragraph, the poetic voice describes the time he would spend admiring and exalting his mistress if given eternity. The voice, however, focuses his attention on physical beauty and femininity:
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.
Even though the poetic voice devotes an age to his mistress’ heart, it seems that the contents of this heart would mirror those of an overly ornate room: filled with delicate furniture, but nothing solid or substantial to sit upon. The depiction of the mistress places her on a pedestal high above reality. The poetic voice’s projection masks the imperfections that everyone, including a beautiful woman, must have. The true perversity of the voice’s pursuit becomes evident in the second verse paragraph.
Because of the marked change in tone and tempo of the second paragraph, the desperation of the poetic voice’s need for a balance to his animus becomes clear. The accusatory and graphic nature of his comments to his mistress reveal a dementia that drives the poetic voice to intimidation in order to achieve his goal—the conquest of his coy mistress. Line 29, with its pun on the word “cunt,” aptly illustrates this desperation and intimidation. One can almost see the face of a leering deviant whispering to a young girl in an effort to coerce her into sexual intercourse. The slowed pace of the verse in this paragraph adds to the sinister quality of the poetic voice’s comments. The crack in the voice’s facade, however, quickly closes, and he resumes his charming and quick-paced persuasion.
The persuasion in the final verse paragraph, however, assumes the form of a desire to consume the anima represented by the coy mistress. The tempo here moves more quickly than in the first verse paragraph, denoting a passionate and desperate desire: by indulging in ravenous pleasure now, the voice and his mistress can turn on time and devour it, instead of languishing “in his slow-chapped power.” The violent imagery of this verse paragraph, with its use of “devour,” “tear,” and “rough strife,” depicts the extent of the poetic voice’s pursuit. The images of “instant fires” help establish a depiction of rapid consumption. The poetic voice wants to consume his projection of anima—his coy mistress—because this consumption would represent the highest form of possession. This desire to consume his projection in order to possess it, represents the voice’s unhealthy and distorted view of reality.
According to Jung, in order for the projections to serve as healthy reminders of what is lacking in the psyche, the individual must translate his or her projections into reality. Without this translation, the projections remain mere archetypes, distorting any clear perceptions of another person. The lack of translation on the part of the poetic voice becomes evident in his depiction of his coy mistress as a beautiful and delicate object to be possessed and consumed. His unhealthy response to his own projection leads to a total ignorance of the mistress to whom he speaks. He does not see the extent of his lack of anima, the extent of his own imbalance. Only a translation of his projection into reality would begin to create balance and wholeness. The wholeness, then, would come not from without, but from within, and the poetic voice would finally be able to recognize and respect his coy mistress not as an object, but as a true person.