To His Coy Mistress


The Non-Discriminatory Nature of Time
in Andrew Marvell?s
"To His Coy Mistress"

Time passes. Its journey is oblivious to power, weakness, beauty, or mercy. The nature of time itself lies in its unrelenting progression through life, until we are removed from it?s favor and then wither and die. The purpose of most carpe diem poetry is to draw a character?s attention (usually the female) to the pressing nature of time?s progress, as well as illustrating the bountiful rewards of seizing the moment and giving into the momentary passions of life. Andrew Marvell?s poem "To His Coy Mistress" is a classic example of carpe diem poetry, exemplifying the foreboding nature of time. It?s distinction from similar works, however, lies in its inherent ability to express the ominous nature of time?s advancement in terms of both the male and female?s perspectives. Rather than lament about missed opportunities, "To His Coy Mistress" actually serves to force one to consider how we compartmentalize time into stages of life, and thus commit ourselves to its mercy without allowing ourselves to relish its immediate rewards. Marvell?s sense of time affects both his characters in unique ways, and therefore unites their plight as a human cause rather than a gender based issue. Andrew Marvell expresses this point by structuring his poem into three components that propose the issues of time?s existence, its limited availability, and finally a solution of sorts.
The first section of "To His Coy Mistress" serves the task of identifying that time is a limited commodity, and thus can not be wasted. Immediately the speaker states openly that "Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime" (1-2). The implication here, if taken at face value, suggests that the mistress? coyness is a crime only because of the lack of time available. The speaker continues with "We would sit down, and think which way To walk, and pass our long love?s day" (3-4). The tone of such a verse is overtly suspicious, automatically suggestive of the insidious nature of a man hungry to feed his lust. However, another possibility lies in the direct message Marvell puts forth in his verse. The spoken comments themselves suggest that "We would sit down, and think?" and "pass our long love?s day" (3,4). The impression given is one of joint merriment in love. The speaker associates the passion of his coy mistress with his own, creating a sense of understanding and common ground. The speaker then moves to a detailed description of how he, if given the opportunity, would spend increasing amounts of time to appreciate the details of her being. He emphasizes "My vegetable love should grow Vaster than empires, and more slow" (11), expressing how he would choose to take his time and immerse himself in loving his mistress. The speaker makes it clear that he would spend more and more time in love as time passes specifically dictating which parts he would focus on. Finally the speaker relates "For, lady, you deserve this state, Nor would I love at lower rate." (20), which elicits a sense of honorable intention. Regardless of whether the reader trusts the speaker or not, attention is definitely drawn towards the abstract sense of time. The overall message of the first part of the poem seems to implore that if time was of no consequence, it would be perfectly fine to postpone physical intimacy, and prolong the pleasures of courtship.
The second part of "To His Coy Mistress" seeks to impart a sense of urgency in the speaker. Immediately the poem reads "But at my back I always hear Time?s wingèd chariot hurrying near" (21-22), implying a sense of time?s imposing presence in the speaker?s sense. He continues with "And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity" (23-24). Such commentary seems permeated with a common sense of weighted urgency, indicating that time?s will equally affects both partners. He begins to state "Thy beauty shall no more be found, Nor in thy marble vault shall sound My echoing song" (25-27). Rather than attempting to frighten his mistress, the mood created by such lines directs the focus toward the impartial nature of death, and the sorrowful concept of love lost. The stanza is summed up by relating that "The grave?s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace." The