Response to His Coy Mistress
Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is the charming depiction of a
man who has seemingly been working very hard at seducing his mistress.
Owing to Marvell's use of the word "coy," we have a clear picture of
the kind of woman his mistress is. She has been encouraging his
advances to a certain point, but then when he gets too close, she
backs off, and resists those same advances. Evidently, this has been
going on for quite some time, as Marvell now feels it necessary to
broach the topic in this poem.
He begins in the first stanza by gently explaining that his mistress's
coyness would not be a "crime" if there were "world enough, and timeâ€¦"
(l.2). He compares his love to a "vegetable," which means that it
would not stray, but would grow "vaster than empires," and would do so
more slowly (ll. 11-12). He claims that he would happily spend a
hundred years praising her eyes, and gazing at her forehead. When that
is over, he would spend two hundred years on each breast, and spend
"thirty thousand to the rest" (l. 16). He then crowns this romantic
hyperbole with the statement, "[f]or, lady, you deserve this state,
/Nor would I love at a lower rate" (ll. 19-20). These statements serve
to support one of the major themes of the poem: flattery with an aim
toward seduction. He uses such grandiose statements to help his
mistress understand that he truly cares for her enough to spend
hundreds of years simply gazing at her. However, this leads to a
problem, as there is simply not the time available.
This causes Marvell in the second stanza to remind his mistress that
always her hears at his back "[t]ime's wing'ed chariot hurrying near"
(ll. 21-22). This lets her know gently, but in no uncertain terms that
time does have a way of marching on. The remainder of the second
stanza uses vivid imagery. We are left with no doubt as to what the
fate of the lovers will be, as well as the state of his own feelings
then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust (ll. 26-30).
These lines seem a bit morbid, but I also sense the use of horror, on
Marvell's part, to further convince his mistress to succumb to his
affections. He is basically telling her that if she continues to
resist him, it will be the worms that remove her virginity from her,
as opposed to someone who really cares about her, namely him. He also
reminds her that the honor that she is clinging to so tightly to will
mean nothing when worms know her intimately. Further, his feelings for
her will be utterly gone.
The second stanza ends with these lines, my favorite: "The grave's a
fine and private place, / But none I think do there embrace." This
ironic statement provides the crowning argument: Marvell has just
described a love that would be timeless if such a thing were allowed.
With a love such as this how can they let time slip through...