To his Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

'To his Coy Mistress' is a metaphysical poem written by the British author Andrew Marvell. 'To his Coy Mistress' is a poem based on human desires in so far as their physicality is concerns. It's spoken by a nameless man to a nameless woman. The speaker of the poem addresses a woman who has been slow to respond to his sexual advances.

The first stanza starts with the issue of as been time bound. Poet says that her coyness would not be a crime if they hand all the time in world. Later on in this stanza poet gives various example of how could they pass their time being each other. He then talks about his concept of vegetable loves and express his love by describing her in various ways.

Moving forward the second stanza he remembers how short human life is. He tells her that life is short but death is forever. Once it is over the opportunity to enjoy each other is gone because no one embraces in the grave. In a shocking moment he warns her that, when she's in the coffin worms will try to take her 'virginity' if she doesn't have sex with him before they die.

In the third stanza the speaker urges the woman to comply, arguing that in loving each other with passion they will make the most of the short time they have to die. He tells her not to waste any time and get all the mental frustration in to the sexual act and be free from the shackles in relation to physical needs and desires.

The final complete makes us aware about the ignorance during Marvell's time as it was believed that sun rotates and the earth stands still, he says, we can't make time stop.

Here I conclude this poem, poet puts forward his ideal about sex, lust, desire, needs of the human body. The poem is in iambic tetrameter. It is present a logical argument.

"To His Coy Mistress" is divided into three stanzas or poetic paragraphs. It’s spoken by a nameless man, who doesn’t reveal any physical or biographical details about himself, to a nameless woman, who is also biography-less.
During the first stanza, the speaker tells the mistress that if they had more time and space, her "coyness" (see our discussion on the word "coy" in "What’s Up With the Title?") wouldn’t be a "crime." He extends this discussion by describing how much he would compliment her and admire her, if only there was time. He would focus on "each part" of her body until he got to the heart (and "heart," here, is both a metaphor for sex, and a metaphor for love).
In the second stanza he says, "BUT," we don’t have the time, we are about to die! He tells her that life is short, but death is forever. In a shocking moment, he warns her that, when she’s in the coffin, worms will try to take her "virginity" if she doesn’t have sex with him before they die. If she refuses to have sex with him, there will be repercussions for him, too. All his sexual desire will burn up, "ashes" for all time.
In the third stanza he says, "NOW," I’ve told you what will happen when you die, so let’s have sex while we’re still young. Hey, look at those "birds of prey" mating. That’s how we should do it – but, before that, let’s have us a little wine and time (cheese is for sissies). Then, he wants to play a game
– the turn ourselves into a "ball" game. (Hmmm.) He suggests, furthermore, that they release all their pent up frustrations into the sex act, and, in this way, be free.
In the final couplet, he calms down a little. He says that having sex can’t make the "sun" stop moving. In Marvell’s time, the movement of the sun around the earth (we now know the earth rotates around the sun) was thought to create time. Anyway, he says, we can’t make time stop, but we can change places with it. Whenever we have sex, we pursue time, instead of time pursuing us. This fellow has some confusing ideas about sex and time. Come to think of it, we probably do, too. "To His Coy Mistress" offers us a chance to explore some of those confusing thoughts.

 In "To His Coy Mistress," the speaker attempts to convince his beloved to act on her passion. He begins by extolling her beauty and declaring that, if he had the time, he would devote himself to loving her. Since they don't, he argues, they must act while they are still young and beautiful.
·         In the first stanza, the speaker tells his beloved how much he adores her, declaring that, if he had all the time in the world, he would spend it worshiping her body.
·         In the second stanza, the tone of the poem changes, and the speaker states that they don't have all the time in the world and that he would to see her die a virgin.
·         In the third and final stanza, the speaker complete his argument by effectively stating that they won't be young forever and should take advantage of it while they can.
“To His Coy Mistress” is a witty exploration of the traditional carpe diem theme, and it can be read on several levels. On the surface, it functions extremely effectively as a lover’s argument in favor of pursuing pleasure. The speaker begins by assuring his lady that, “Had we but world enough, and time,” he would be well content to love her at a slow pace, devoting thousands of years to adoring each part of her. Time in this stanza is an agent of growth, as the speaker assures his beloved, “My vegetable love should grow/ Vaster than empires, and more slow.” The initial stanza moves at a leisurely metrical pace as the speaker uses extravagant and playful images to persuade the lady of his devotion and his wish that he could love her with the slow thoroughness that she deserves.
In the second stanza, the speaker shifts to images of swiftly passing time to impress upon his love that they in fact do not have the leisure to love at this slow rate. “At my back I always hear/ Time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” he says. Now time is destructive, and the meter moves rapidly. The speaker resorts to images of decay that are at once whimsical and frightening as he attempts to convince the beloved of the need to consummate their love in the present. Though images of death and decay are not unusual in carpe diem lyrics, Marvell’s images are particularly graphic and alarming: “in thy marble vault . . . / worms shall try/ That long-preserved virginity:/ And your quaint honour turn to dust.” The speaker employs dark humor as he ironically comments, “The grave’s a fine and private place,/ But none, I think, do there embrace.”
The third stanza exhorts the beloved to action. While they are still young, able, and desirable, he urges, they should “sport” while they may, and “Rather at once our time devour,/ Than languish in his slow-chapped power.” By seizing the initiative and enthusiastically embracing life and pleasure, they can win a victory over destructive Time: “Thus, though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
As always, though, Marvell is aware of an equally compelling counterpoint to his argument, and he chooses ambiguous imagery to communicate it subtly. In the first stanza, Marvell uses explicitly religious terminology to describe the enormous length of time that he would like to devote to the wooing of his lady: “I would/ Love you ten years before the flood:/ And you should, if you please, refuse/ Till the conversion of Jews” (it was a traditional belief that the Jews would convert to Christianity at the end of the world). Marvell thus evokes a specifically divine or eternal time frame, with overtones of judgment (the Flood was divine punishment for the human race’s corruption) and salvation.
Similarly, the following stanzas are studded with religious references. Marvell conjures up an image of the “Deserts of vast eternity” that lie before the lovers, an image that may spur his beloved to action in this life but may just as well remind her of her eternal afterlife. He argues that time will turn her honor to “dust” and his lust to “ashes,” suggesting the terminology of the Christian burial service. He refers to the way (in reality or perhaps merely in his hopes) that her “willing soul transpires/ At every pore with instant fires.” Conjoining images of souls and fires cannot help but suggest hellfire and eternal damnation.
The final stanza, in which he urges action, presents a problematic vision of love. He compares himself and his lover to sportive animals, specifically “amorous birds of prey,” an odd image to use in attempting to win his lady. The love that he describes seems rough and violent: He suggests that they “devour” their time and says, “Let us . . . / Tear our pleasures with rough strife/ Thorough the iron grates of life” (“thorough” here means “through”). The lines have a rather strange and unromantic ring and qualify the speaker’s ostensibly enthusiastic description of love. Love as described in this stanza is not conventionally sweet and sentimental but rather vaguely dangerous and threatening; beneath the surface, Marvell seems to be issuing a warning as much as an exhortation.
More than a love poem, “To His Coy Mistress” is a meditation on time and death. Marvell dramatizes the questions: What are the implications of physicality and mortality? In using time most wisely, should one focus on this life or the afterlife? Marvell avoids a simple, conventional answer, and the poem works well as an argument for either view.


The Speaker

Marvell’s speakers vary from poem to poem. Sometimes, the narrator is loosely identified with Marvell himself, and sometimes he or she is an entirely fictional entity. In this particular selection, Marvell writes from the point of view of lover, a nymph, a group of English settlers, and an overly ambitious poet seeking to glorify Christ.

The Lady

Marvell refers to each narrator's love interest as "The Lady." Typically, his poems depicts alienation, physical separation, or some other obstacle that prevents a physical union between the speaker and the object of his affection.

Oliver Cromwell

The subject of Marvell’s "Horatian Ode" was the leader of the Puritan forces that defeated the Royalist regime during the civil wars that took place in England during the 17th century. Cromwell was intensely religious and believed that God's hand was responsible for his military victories. After signing King Charles I's death warrant, Cromwell was the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653-1658. He remains a controversial figure in British history because of his aggressive, almost genocidal measures against the Catholics in Scotland and Ireland - while some historians continue to praise Cromwell's dogged pursuit of liberty against the Royalists.

King Charles I

The son of James VI of Scotland, King Charles I ruled England from 1625 until his death in 1649. Charles I believed in the divine right of kings and based his rule of England on his own personal whims and interests. He became an absolute monarch, inciting vitriol from both English and Scottish Parliament. Eventually, he was defeated by Oliver Cromwell's Puritan New Model Army, leading to the abolishment of the monarchy. Following this loss, Charles I was executed by Parliament-backed forces for treason against the Commonwealth.

The Mower

The Mower is the key figure in Andrew Marvell’s series of “Mower” poems. These pieces are variations on the pastoral form, depicting the slow erosion of the Mower’s union with his natural environment through his increasing alienation from his beloved agricultural work.

Damon the Mower

Damon is the titular mower in the second poem in the Mower series, "Damon the Mower." Damon laments his unrequited love for Juliana, which renders him unable to carry on with his work.


Juliana is the Mower’s beloved, even though she does not love him back. The mower blames Juliana for his overpowering sense of loss and alienation from his work and natural surroundings.

William Fairfax

William Fairfax was the aristocratic ancestor of Lord Thomas Fairfax the Third. The senior Fairfax established the Fairfax Estate at Nun Appleton - which he came to possess by order of the King. Years later, Andrew Marvell came to Appleton as a tutor for Lord Fairfax's daughter.

Isabella Thwaite

Isabella was a nun at Appleton who eventually became William Fairfax's bride.

Sir Thomas Fairfax the First

The son of Isabella Thwaite and William Fairfax was known for his military prowess.

Lord Thomas Fairfax the Third

Andrew Marvell’s employer was the Master of the Fairfax Estate at Appleton House. Fairfax hired Marvell to serve as tutor to his daughter, Mary, and Marvell composed his famous poem “Upon Appleton House” to honor Lord Fairfax and his family.

Mary Fairfax

Andrew Marvell’s pupil was the daughter of Lord Thomas Fairfax the Third. She appears at the end of the poem “Upon Appleton House.”

English Colonists

English colonists are the central figures in the poem "Bermudas." They sing a song of praise to God for delivering them safely to the island.


The Elaborate Conceit

The Elaborate Conceit is the most common trope in metaphysical poetry. It is an extended metaphor that uses a series of comparisons and associations to create a highly ornate poetic image. English poets like John Donne and George Herbert were early experimenters with this technique, while Andrew Marvell is famous for his later variations on the metaphysical theme. Sometimes Marvell’s conceits last for an entire poem, as in “The Coronet,” where the only topics of discussion are poem itself and the crown that the shepherd weaves. In Marvell's other poems, the conceit emerges through a series of images, like in “The Definition of Love.” Here, Marvell defines love differently in each stanza, and as the poem slowly develops, he connects all of the definitions.

Soul vs. Body

The idea of a soul existing apart from the body has long been a tradition in western thought, going back to Socrates and the Platonic dialogues. Plato’s claim that the soul is permanent while the body is temporary merged with Christian ideas about the everlasting nature of the soul in poetic traditions that emerged during the Renaissance. As a result, many Christian poets depicted various scenes of conflict between the body and the soul, which they imagined could never be fully integrated. This pattern in turn gave rise to the idea that love itself was split between the physical body and “Platonic love,” which existed at the level of the soul. Marvell engages the neo-Platonic traditions of Renaissance poetry, especially in his poems “The Garden” and “The Definition of Love.” Both narratives depict souls caught in conflict with the body, one due to the passionate stirrings of love and the other because of its desire to reconcile earthly pleasures with spiritual pursuits.

The Tripartite Soul

In addition to imagining the body and soul as separate entities, Marvell’s poetry depicts the soul as divided into three parts or functions. He inherited this idea of a three-part soul primarily from Aristotle, the Greek philosopher and student of Plato. According to Aristotle, there are three types of souls. The first is the vegetative or nutritive soul that is found in humans, animals, and plants and contains the basic power of growth and decay that defines all life. The sensitive soul – or the soul that can perceive, sense, and respond to environmental stimulus – is found in animals and in humans alike. Finally, the rational soul is unique to human beings, and it involves the capacity for intelligent and purposive thought. This third function distinguishes human beings from animals. During Marvell's time, the third function was associated with the Christian doctrine of humanity’s created nature, which presumed that God created human beings in his image and blessed them with the power of reason. In Marvell’s poetry, these three functions of the soul affect human beings both by connecting them to animals and plants, but also by separating them from their natural surroundings.

Art vs. Politics

Marvell’s poems have generated vigorous debate among critics about how best to read and interpret his verse. On the one hand, Marvell was clearly reflecting on the political drama of his time, from the English Civil Wars and King Charles I's beheading to the appointment of Oliver Cromwell as Lord Protectorate of England and his promise for a new Republican government in England. However, Marvell’s intricate verse forms and literary allusions draw upon the work of classical poets like Horace, Pindar, Lucan, and Lucretius, which suggests that Marvell was also very capable of subordinating his political views to the demands of poetry. Such complexities emerge, for instance, in Marvell’s ‘An Horatian Ode upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.’ What appears to be personal sympathy for the doomed King Charles I may actually just be a symptom of Marvell’s attempt to fit a current political situation into the classical form of the ode.

The Great Chain of Being

During the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the dominant assumption was that God created and ordered the natural world in a perfect hierarchy, or “Great Chain of Being.” God is at the peak of this order, followed by angels, humans, animals, plants, and finally, inanimate material things. Each entity in this chain has its specific place, and if its place is disturbed, the broader order is thrown into upheaval. This concept was especially significant in Marvell’s time because it often applied to England's well-defined social hierarchy. For example, a King or Queen was compared to God, the upper-class aristocrats aligned with angels, and other inferior ranks occupied lower rungs on the ladder. However, political and religious reformers challenged these ideas. They imagined different principles for ordering society – such as a Republican constitutional government or recognition of religious liberty. In many ways, Marvell's depiction of the English Civil Wars can be read as a direct challenge to the Great Chain of Being and the idea that a monarch possesses the divine right of rule.

The New Philosophy

Much like the poetry of his predecessor John Donne, Andrew Marvell’s metaphysical verse often addresses the rise and consequences of the “new philosophy.” During the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the old scientific theories of an Earth-centered cosmos (based on writings of the ancient astronomer Ptolemy) gave way to a new model advanced by Nicholas Copernicus, the German astronomer. In 1543, Copernicus argued that all the planets revolved around the Sun. Other modern astronomers and scientists, such as Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei, further popularized these ideas. While the old beliefs of cosmology were based on the four elements: fire, water, earth and air, the new philosophers argued that the universe was not a perfect balance of four essential substances. They used mathematics to track planetary movements. Their argument that the universe is much vaster and stranger challenged many religious doctrines of the period. Marvell responds to these advancements in his poetry by describing infinite lines and planetary conjunctions (as in “The Definition of Love”) or by suggesting new concepts of vitality (as in “The Garden”) that depart from ancient models of the world.

The Four Humors (Humours)

During Marvell's time, the term “humour” referred to the vital juice or fluid of an animal or plant. More specifically, the concept of these four organizing humors was the basis of early modern cosmology and medicine. This classical belief is rooted in the writings of Greek physician Galen, who espoused the idea that all bodies are composed of the four humors, each of which corresponds to one of the four fundamental elements: blood and air, yellow bile and fire, black bile and earth, and finally, phlegm and water. Ideally, the human body attempts to strike a balance of all four humors, and, in the Galenic system of medicine, sickness was the result of a skewed balance between the humors. An abundance of each humor supposedly caused a certain mood, disposition, or personality type, as well as particular physical features. Marvell uses the term “humour” in his poems to refer to both the bodily fluids and as well as individual temperaments that correspond to the Galenic model.


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