To His Coy Mistress Poem Essay Example

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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In this essay I will be analysing “To His Coy Mistress” written by Andrew Marrel in the 17th century and also “Party Piece”, which was written by Brian Patten in the 20th Century. I Will look to see how attitudes towards sex have changes through the years. “To His Coy Mistress” involves a man (possibly the writer) writing to a woman, trying to persuade her to have sex with him.

When the poem was written in the mid 1600’s attitudes towards sex were very different to what they are today; Sex then was frowned upon of someone if undertaken before marriage, and also Men seemed to be “Dominant” over the woman, while it is more equal today. Men, who had sex before marriage in these times, took pride if they did, and with woman it was quite opposite. Woman who did would never be able to marry, because most men at this period of time wanted an “Untouched” Woman to marry.

I am now going to analyse each poem separately and show what language skills and techniques the writers use, and try to compare how attitudes towards sex has changed between the 16th and 20th Century. “To His Coy Mistress” is an autobiographical poem and it is very persuasive but at the same time the writer is trying to explain how much he loves his “Mistress”. It is split into three sections and it has regular rhythm and rhyme. Section one of the poems cut to a description is basically the writer, writing to his girlfriend or lover trying to persuade her to have sex with him.

The first few sentences he praises her and shows how much he loves her; “Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime. ” It also shows that his lover is sexually shy, or she could possibly be a virgin as he uses the word “coyness”. He continues praising her throughout, but at first he tries to give the impression to her that he only wants to spend time with her. “To walk, and pass out long loves day. Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side”. -Which in other words means that he wants to spend time with her by the India Ganges river edge.

He continues praise her by exaggerating his love , for the beginning to the end – “Love you ten years before the flood” The writer shows use of a sexual metaphor or innuendo, this would capture the reader’s attention and give the impression to them that the sexual side of him has no be let out. “My Vegetable Love should grow” Some readers may assume that this means I should get an erection, but it could mean that his love for the woman will grow, it might not have any sexual intent at all, it may just have be said to express his love for her.

The writer then starts to exaggerate his love, just to show how passionate he is about her. He firstly explains to her that he doesn’t want to touch her, he just wants to take time to look at her body; “A hundred years should go to praise Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze. ” But he then goes on to say the following; “Two hundred years to adore each breast: But thirty thousand to the rest. ” This could give the impression that the sexual side of him is out once again, but he uses a hyperbole to try and show that it was just a joke perhaps?

In the second section, the tone of the poem changes, this is because the writer starts a new paragraph with “But”, this means that he is either taking back everything he has just said, or he his contradicting himself. Straight away, he uses a metaphor to express that there isn’t all the time in the world, and the end is getting near. “Time’s Winged chariot hurrying near. ” This really shows that he is taking back what he said, because previously he had said that he had many years to look at her body.

The writer then uses another metaphor to express his change in opinion. Desert of vast eternity” Which again expresses that they haven’t got all the time in the world. The writer then even starts to make fun of his lover and gets quite aggressive towards her. He explains that when she dies her beauty will be lost and worms will go through her. “Thy beautiful shall no more be found; Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound My echoing song: then worms shall try” He his basically trying to break her down at these stages to really try and persuade her to have sex with him. He continues to insult her throughout the rest of section two.

More examples in include; “That Long Preserved virginity” and “And your quaint honour turn to dust” In these the two examples, the writer is insulting her virginity, I have highlighted “Quaint” in italics because it shows that he thinks virginity is pointless, some people may say he is “making fun” of her. Section three of the poem the tone has changed again, its starts with the word “Now”, and some readers may notice it is repeated in this section, because the writer is trying to make a point. Also the writer is no longer insulting the woman, it is his final persuasion to make her have sex with him.

He uses a simile to compliment her. (Quite a change as he has just be insulting her on the previous section) “Now therefore, while the youthful hue” Sits on thy skin like morning dew” He is now saying she is very beautiful to try and grasp her attention. He then continues to try and excite his lover; “At every pore with instant fires, Now let us sport us while we may” These sentences are filled with passion, to really grab his loves attention, as he is trying to express that he wants sex right now.

The reader may also notice that “Now” is used again, repetition, this would also help to get the reader’s attention. The writer then uses repetition once again to make sure he has still got his lover still connected to the letter. “And Now, like amorous birds of prey” There is also a simile used here to make sure he maintains her interest. In the last part of the poem, the writer tries to think of different ways to have sex, to make sure that she takes notice. “Through the iron gates of life” This could possibly mean a chastity belt. And he also personificates time, to express that they will enjoy themselves.

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