To His Coy Mistress Poem Essay Sample

Analysis of To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell Essay

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Analysis of To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Andrew Marvell's elaborate sixteenth century carpe diem poem, 'To His Coy Mistress', not only speaks to his coy mistress, but also to the reader. Marvell's suggests to his coy mistress that time is inevitably rapidly progressing and for this he wishes for her to reciprocate his desires and to initiate a sexual relationship. Marvell simultaneously suggests to the reader that he or she should act upon their desires as well, to hesitate no longer and seize the moment before time, and ultimately life, expires. Marvell makes use of allusion, metaphor, and grand imagery in order to convey a mood of majestic endurance and innovatively explicate the carpe diem motif.
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His love is so great it would, ?grow vaster than empires? (11-12). Although Marvell tries to equate his love for his mistress to plants, his argument is undermined by a plant?s biological incapableness of contemplation and reciprocal physical affection. Nevertheless, the speaker continues his praises of love, but points out that there is not enough time for further praise because time is passing quickly.

The poem then acquires a more serious tone when the poem loses its exaggerations and embellishments. He reassures his coy mistress that ?you deserve this state? of praise and high acknowledgment,
But at my back I always hear
Time?s wingèd chariot hurrying near. (21-22)

Rather than explicitly saying death is near, Marvell substitutes life?s bleakness with a ?winged chariot.? He slowly becomes more frustrated with her ?long-preserved virginity? and tires to inform his mistress that death is near and they still have not had intercourse. His frustration can be seen in his sexual pun on the word ?quaint? which symbolically refers to female genitalia. The intense imagery of genitalia is again echoed when Marvell describes to his coy mistress that even after death the ?worms shall try that long-preserved virginity? (27-28). Here the worms take on a phallic symbol, reinforcing his sexual desires. The speaker abstractly states that holding onto her virginity will do her no good because she will be

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Andrew Marvell’s persona in his poem “To His Coy Mistress” longs for his loved mistress. He attempts to convince this lady of his wanting to love him, by the means of a lively poem. It is a classical piece about how blissful life would be if his beloved would love him. The way Marvell tries to create a more convincing poem is by imagery. A magnitude of lively descriptions is used to clarify his point. There are two dominating tenors in this poem: the one of time and of space. The major theme of the poem is carpe diem (seize the day), however this is not the only one: strong hints towards memento mori (reminder of mortality) and tempus fugit (time flies) are also found in this poem.

The concept of time can be seen as the main tenor in the poem. It is used by Marvell to let the persona express in dramatic ways how long he is willing to wait for his precious love.

Love you ten years before the Flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews. (8-10)

In this fragment the persona claims to have loved his mistress since the beginning of time (“Ten years before the flood”) and until eternity (“Till the conversion of Jews”, practically the end of the world). Although this may seem devoted, nowhere in the poem it says literally that he will wait for her forever. Only indirect metaphors are used when it comes to time. “But at my back I always hear / Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;” (21-22) These lines indicate elapsing time: he feels the breath of approaching time in his neck. He confesses that he has no eternal life to wait for his mistress. He tries to pressure her into loving him, because eventually they do not have all the time in the world. She must not wait an eternity, as time may catch up her and she will be no more[1].  “My vegetable love should grow / Vaster than empires and more slow;” (11-12) If his mistress abides by his wishes, their love will ripen slothfully[2] (“Vegetable love”) and even more great (“Vaster than empires”). Living with him resolves everything: together their love will only age in a very slow pace and hence any fear of time will simply be gone.

Space is the second important tenor in “To His Coy Mistress”. Marvell elaborates how wonderful the world would be with his mistress by his side, they would live happily. “And yonder before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity.” (23-24) Here he describes how they will be if she chooses him, they will have endless spaces (“Deserts”) to themselves. The “Deserts of vast eternity” have also a meaning concerning the tenor of time, not only the space will be endless, but also their time together.

Another use of imagery that is worth mentioning in this poem is love in a more physical way. Marvell’s persona is not quite as an honorable man as he seems to be at first sight.

 My echoing song; then worms shall try

That long-preserved virginity,

And your quaint honor turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust: (27-30)

Here he voices what a waste it would be if his dearest would not have him (in both a romantic and a lustful way). If she dies a virgin, the worms end up eating away her preserved virginity. Her “quaint honor” would have been for nothing. She would better ignore her honor and also enjoy the pleasures of physical love, with him.

The overall theme of “To His Coy Mistress” is a mixture of classical themes. Both carpe diem and memento mori are expressed in the poem. The persona wants to live a happy life with his love, motivating that by the fact that death may come and take them away. And a third, other theme is called tempus fugit, which means that time flies. The mistress may end up as an old spinster, if she is not beware of time.

Works Cited

Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress”. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. Volume        1. Seventh edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company Incorporated, 2000. 1691-1692.


[1] Time may catch up with her by death, and all love is thereby lost. So they must hurry and love before their time runs out.

[2] Slothfully: as slowly as a sloth, lazy. A very fitting adverb here as vegetables grow very slow compared to animals (such as mankind).

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