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Saturday, 13 June 2015

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Literary Analysis (Summary)

Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress is a metaphysical poem written in dramatic monologue. Moreover, it is a lyrical traditional carpe diem poem. The speaker of the poem, an anonymous man with no biographical detail in the poem, addresses a young unknown lady, a silent listener, who is timid in responding to his sexual advances. To be coy means to be shy. Since life is too short to play hard to get, he pleads with the mistress to seize the day (carpe diem) and accept his love.

The speaker begins by lamenting the unavailability of time and space in this world to express his sensual love for the woman. Had it been there is enough time, he would not consider the woman’s coyness as a crime. He urges the young woman to be lively, relaxed and “sit down and think which way” to spend their “long love’s day”.

At first, he contemplates spending it by the Indian Holy Ganges River where they could find rubies precious jewel.  The Ganges River is considered holy and sacred. And if time permits, he would also take her to the Humber River in England. At the Humber tidal estuary, he would sing for her a love song.

The speaker continues by adoring and declaring her love for the young lady. Even though the lady rejects his advances, he vows to love her “ten years before the flood”. The speaker, in this biblical allusion, refers to the flood during Noah’s time. It implies how long the speaker has committed himself to loving the lady even though it appears impossible like “the conversion of the Jews” to Christianity.  

In a suggestive mannerism, the speaker proclaims that his “vegetable love” would continue to grow vaster than empires. With the metaphor “vegetable love”, the speaker professes an ever-green and eternal love that is devoid of the constraints of time and season.

If not for the limited time human beings spend on earth, the man would have set aside “an hundred years’ to praise the lady’s eyes. Two hundred years would be dedicated “to adore each breast” and thirty thousand years to appreciate the lady’s inestimable, outstanding and natural beauty. Lewdly speaking, the man would not stop showering praises on the lady as he devotes “an age’ in appraising every part of her body before he finally aims at her heart. As though he is stricken by a love bug, the man states that he wouldn’t have done less for her because she deserves true love.

As much as the man would love to spend the productive part of his years adoring the shy mistress, he is mindful of the passing time. Time and tide, they say, wait for no one. Time flies: “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”. Before them lies “deserts of vast eternity”. This will give no room for correcting earthly mistakes. Here, the poet implies the world after death when the beauty of the mistress would not be appreciated. Her beauty would fade away and his constant pleas would not be heard when she is dead and confined in the “marble vault” (grave).  Even “that long preserved virginity” she’s been keeping away from him shall become wasted and eaten by worms. Instead, the man implores the woman to seize the day and accept his sexual advances now that she’s still alive and her beauty flourishes. He advises her not to let her “honour turn to dust and into ashes my lust”. So, they should make love. It is now obvious the carnal intention of the man towards the mistress which is far from true love.

Moreover, the poet meditates philosophically on time and death: “The grave’s a fine and private place”. Still, no one wishes to embrace its warmth and comfort. He laments how short human life is. As a result, the impatient man calls on the mistress to explore, enjoy and live her life to the fullest while “the youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew”. Or else, she would carry the regrets of not enjoying her youth to the grave. Therefore, he convinces the lady to sleep with him “and now like am’rous birds of prey”. With these innuendoes, it shows the urgency at which the randy man intends to cajole the woman into having a sexual affair with him.

Instead of allowing the time to devour his erotic feelings for the mistress, the man prevails on her to let them roll their strength together in sweetness “up into one ball” of lovemaking. In a rather lascivious manner, the man tells the woman that they should enjoy the “pleasures with rough strife” in such a way that it would break “the iron gates of life”. This type of lovemaking, as implied by the man, would break the barriers of time and space. Although it may sound impossible to stop the time from flying away in its “winged chariots”, they can make use of it judiciously with his wanton ambition achieved.

Make hay while the sun shines
The futility of life
Time and tide waits for no one
The inevitability of death
The appreciation of beauty

To His Coy Mistress is written in iambic tetrameter and rhymes in couplet. It is divided into three poetic sections. It captures the shortness of human life and the need to make use of every opportunity at the right time because time waits for no one.

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