To His Coy Mistress
‘ To His Coy Mistress ’ is a poem by Andrew Marvel. The poem is a response of the lover to his beloved’s excessive coyness. Through this poem, the poet tries to state to his beloved that they have limited time in this life to express their love and her shyness is wasting time. They should keep in mind the limitations they have and enjoy their relationship accordingly.
At the beginning of the poem, the poet clarifies that he would not mind his beloved’s shyness had there been no limitations in life regarding time and space. If the time they had was unlimited, they could have safely spent lots of time merely in planning for the day. She could have spent lots of time in trying to find rubies and he could have taken equally long time to complain for her reluctance to open up. He could have kept on expressing his love for years and would not mind had she decided to keep on refusing to accept his love till the Jews got ready to accept conversion. He uses the phrase ‘vegetable love’ to suggest, in an ironical manner, that love should not take as much time to develop as do vegetables. He says that if there had not been the restriction of time, their love could have developed slowly like vegetables. In that case, he would have taken hundred years to praise her eyes and her forehead; two hundred to admire her breast; and, thirty thousand years to admire the rest of her body. He would have spent at least one age in praising each of her body parts. He would have devoted the last age to the admiration of her heart. Although he has been sarcastic in giving these examples so far, now the poet also expresses the seriousness of his appreciation for his beloved. He suggests that although devoting so much time to her admiration is not possible, but she does deserve to be praised that much. Moreover, the extent to which he loves her, the proper way of expressing his love would have been what he has suggested so far. However, the limited span of human life makes it impossible to realize his wishes.
In the second paragraph, the poet makes his situation very clear. He says that despite that he considers his beloved to be deserving enough for a praise that extends up to years and that his love for her is extraordinarily sincere, he is always conscious of the pace at which time is passing by. He says that time is riding a winged chariot, i.e. it is moving too swiftly. He says that once time has passed and they are in their graves, his love and her beauty would be of no use. In her tomb, her beauty would not exist and nor could he appreciate her beauty there. The virginity that she has been trying to keep intact due to her shyness will also be meaningless there. The beloved’s long preserved honor and the poet’s great passion for her would lose their significance once the time has passed. He states that lovers seek privacy to express their feelings for one another. However, despite that grave offers privacy in the true sense of the word; no one could express his love inside a grave.
So, he urges his beloved to get involved in the amorous act while she is young and beautiful, and have the youthful passion with her. They should show urgency like birds of prey to grab the moment. He expresses his desire that they should get all their strength and sweetness rolled together as a ball to crash the iron gates of life, i.e. the restrictions that do not allow them to be at ease regarding their love life. He says that it is obvious that they could not stop time. They would, rather, be very rapid in expressing and enjoying their feelings so as to match the speed of time.
The poem expresses the frustration of a lover whose beloved is too shy. Due to her shyness, she is taking too much time to respond to his expression of love. So, the poet tries to convince her through this poem that spending too much time in expressing their feelings for one another is not advisable. The time is running very fast and there is a particular age when a person could enjoy the feeling of love at its best. He tries to suggest that once the time is gone, neither the beauty of the beloved nor the passion of the lover for her would hold any value.
The poet does not like that his beloved is giving too much importance to preserving her virginity. Her shyness stops her from responding to the poet’s amorous acts. He also advises her against attaching undue significance to such feelings of her. According to him, enjoying the feeling of love is far more important than holding the honor too intact. Time is, anyways, going to destroy human’s honor.
The poem is quite unique example of a love poem. Unlike the usual love poems, the lover, here, does not praise his beloved. He is rather trying to make her realize that her attitude towards love is mistaken. He wants her to consider the power of time that destroys beauty as well as passion. He even reaches the brink of expressing his frustration with her attitude quite bluntly. The tone of the poem is quite satirical.
However, the love poem is not devoid of his sincere feelings for his beloved. He has also stated in clear terms that he considers his beloved to be very beautiful and praiseworthy. But, this does not stop him from telling her that her sense of love, honor and shyness is erroneous.
The poet has also given an elaborate description about the power of time. He presents, in a philosophical way, the need for human beings to act urgently to match the fast pace of time.
The image of a ball crashing through an iron gate that has been used at the end of the poem points towards the metaphysical tendency of the poem. The comparison between love and ball on the one hand, and restrictions and Iron Gate on the other would have been very unnatural for a typical love poem not belonging to the category of a metaphysical poem.
The poem is written by Andrew Marvell.
It is believed to have been written in early 1650’s.
The poem is in iambic tetrameter.
The poem has received negative responses on the basis of its ambiguous metaphors and due to the statement of sexual seduction that it includes. Even some direct words have been used in the poem which clearly point towards the concern of the poet to physical love.
The poem also got response in the form of poems which opposed the views presented in it. Annie Finch’s ‘Coy Mistress’ and A. D. Hope’s ‘His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell’ respond to the attempts of the poet to convince the beloved for involvement in sexual aspects of love.