Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress To His Coy Mistress: This Seventeenth Century poem by Andrew Marvell
(1621-1678) is a "carpe diem" ("Seize the day") poem. Its theme is
that life is short and time is passing. The persona takes the loved
one to task for not yielding to his persuasions to make love to him.
It is another poem about power. The woman is holding power over the
man by refusing his entreaties. This kind of poem was very popular in
Marvel's time. It does not necessarily describe a real situation.
In the first part of the poem, the persona complains that if time were
in plentiful supply, the woman's modest shyness would not be wrong.
She could go to the River Ganges in India, a very exotic place, and
celebrate her virginity ("rubies" are symbols of preserved virginity),
while he would lament her loss beside the Humber, a far less
attractive place. Marvell came from Hull, which stands on the Humber,
so would know it well. In Hull, outside the Church of the Holy
Trinity, is a statue of Marvell with these lines from the poem written
on its plinth.
It was believed that "the flood" would never happen again, because,
after Noah's Flood, God promised that there would be no more and put a
rainbow in the sky as a reminder of this (See Genesis c. 9, v. 12) and
the Conversion of the Jews was expected to happen at the end of the
world, so in saying that he would love her and she would refuse before
these things came to pass, he is saying they would go on forever.
His love would grow, like a vegetable, but more slowly, bigger and
bigger, filling the whole earth. He would spend a century admiring her
eyes and forehead (once thought a particularly attractive feminine
feature); two centuries on each of her breasts; thirty millennia to
the rest of her body, an age for each one of the parts - delicately,
he refrains from mentioning the more intimate ones by name - and the
last one for her heart, when she had finally revealed it. Her beauty
deserves this and he would not value her at any less than this.
The But at the beginning of line 21 introduces a far more serious tone
as the persona, at the very centre of the poem, chillingly and
unforgettably reminds the loved one of the...