Andrew Marvell`s "To His Coy Mistress"

Andrew Marvell`s "To His Coy Mistress"
The poetry of the 17th century is still quite attractive even now. Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress is probably one of the most interesting poems, which attracts the readers with its unusual reflections of the man’s feelings to his beloved lady using two contradictory themes of life and death. It won’t be a secret that the poem with such an unusual plot structure has been investigated by the number of researchers. Due to the different research works and readings I came to the conclusion that the author of the poem is fearful of death. That is why he uses carpe diem as a core theme throughout the male voice within the poem. Andrew Marvell and his anonymous man wish to stop the moment and spend the time with his mistress, love her and care for her before the death drifts them apart forever. The core idea of this essay is to provide the evident data to prove the thesis.

Andrew Marvell was born in England and got a brilliant education at the Cambridge University. He is considered to be an outstanding English poet, one of the last representatives of metaphysical poetry schools. He is often regarded to by the investigators as one of the first writers, representatives of English Classicism. His outstanding work To His Coy Mistress is referred to as the brilliant example of the metaphysical poetry. The poem is written in iambic tetrameter, rhymed in couplets and written from the first person. “To His Coy Mistress was published in 1681, three years after Marvell's death, at a time when "thou" was fast disappearing from Standard English” (Taylor, Mark, 1994), - this makes the poem more close to the Renaissance tradition of writing. During the poem an anonymous young man addresses to his shy lady, expressing his feelings. From the very beginning he told about how he’d love her if the time had no limits and he would be able to spend centuries admiring her body:

My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
(Marvel Andrew, 1681).

Then the young man told about the shortness of the human life: “As the threat of eternity, the annihilation of time, increases desire for her beauty, so the danger presents urgently and immediately an argument for the granting of her riches. Under this threat the lovers must join in an enterprise to find an economy other than that which the currency of time permits” (Carrol John, 1959). When the life was over an opportunity to adore and enjoy each would end: “The final section of the poem contains no formal second-person and no singular first-person pronouns; by omitting them, the speaker reveals that there is no time for lovers to be coy or distant because time stops for no one” (Reiff Raychel, 2002). In the end the young man persuades his lady to use the opportunity. He provides an argument that they should love each other with fervor as they have very short time to live:

Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
(Marvel Andrew, 1681).

It goes without saying that the author lived in the period when life and death were very close. ). The author provides metaphorical meanings relating to the death theme. The fear of death fills every line of the verse and it is not surprising as the country in the European area passed through the pandemic of the plague and the society has been living under the threat of the plague and social changes, which could not happen at that times about massive killings. That is why the poem bears the metaphysical meaning and the scientists consider that metaphysics is realized with the help of metaphor: “Marvell has seen the broad way to destruction in the deserts of vast eternity and in the grave. He prefers the narrow way to ‘life’ and knows where to find it – through her iron gates that have been chastely closed for him for so long. The iron gates refer not only to her sexual disposition but also to the condition of life as the poet sees it” (D'Avanzo, Mario L, 1978). It should be noted that the poem was written in nearly a dozen years before the Great Plague. It means that in the 17th century the constant threat to die, either from pandemic disease or from something else was present for the representatives of any society. The author followed the Renaissance traditions in his poem, where the image of death has become an equal figure in the artistic tradition of the Renaissance. It is considered that with the help of the young man’s imagery Marvel reflected his personal fear to the death. This could be regarded as relating to the Renaissance tradition. Bearing metaphysical meaning the author masterfully connected the constant fear of death to the passionate feelings of the young man to his mistress. The young man, expressing his emotions to his mysterious shy lady is willing to love and enjoy her until the time drift tem apart. The author alongside with the young man understands and recognizes the quickness of the human life, especially in such a dangerous world. The author does not reveal the possible threat, but he speaks about the quickness of the human’s life. If we take into account historic events of the period, when the writer lived, it would be essential to indicate that a number of huge social stresses as Revolution, execution of the King Charles I and then Restoration. It goes without saying that during these bloody years a one could hardly stay alive. That is why it is not surprising that the main hero of the poem turning to his beloved lady speaks about quickness of the human’s life, soon end and persuades her not to waste time. The fear of death was essential for that period that is why the young man’s speech is so passionate and persuasive. He is well aware about soon death. According to the different investigators the fear of death made the young man be persuasive and he provided a number of reasons (one of them is allusion on the far East, the trip there could be compared to the apart till death): “They would be emotionally as far from each other as if the one would find herself in the Far East and the other in England. In between them would gape a geographical gulf, the symbol of their equally great emotional separation. The frustrated lover has reason to complain, sitting alone by his native Humber, feeling the intense pain of his love’s absence and without any help to alleviate his suffering” (Braekman, W.L., 2004). If we turn back to the 17th century we understand that such a long distance between young people could be really compared to death. That is why the suffering of the passionate lover is obvious; he does not want to lose the chance to love his mistress. “In the Ptolemaic view of the world, a view which far into the seventeenth century remained valid in literature, India was the end of the world” (Braekman, W.L., 2004). According to this statement such a distance between the lovers would symbolize the death of their relations. That is why the fear of apart with the beloved lady could be compared to the fear of death the young man demonstrates from the first lines of the poem. “If the mistress accepts the poet's concluding argument, she need not compact just for the sum a time-poor lover has in hand. The specific means by which the lovers defeat time may be found in the unity of the controlling images throughout the last verse paragraph. The power which the lover urges his mistress to seek with him at the iron, gates of life is, precisely, the power of the phoenix” (Carrol John, 1959). The power of phoenix could be related to as the symbol of the eternal life, but its unreachable for the young man without love of his mistress. The poem masterfully connects carpe diem and death fear of the young man. This makes the poem an outstanding example of the classicism poetry, where one of the main themes was to remember about the death: “The poem, then, is not one of simple carpe-diem seduction but is instead more given to a sophisticated recognition of the human predicament: we die — even such marvelous creatures as we” (Targan, Barry, 2008). The understanding of the death and its vision is quite typical for the 17th century artistic tradition observed close connection between life and death. This poem could be called of the one of the best illustrations within the national imagism, popular in the 17th century in the Northern Europe and England in particular. The poem could be compared symbolical still-life, which is very specific genre of the Baroque epoch, so called allegorical still-life. It traditionally has in the center of it composition a human skull. Such pictures are considered to be the early developmental stages of the still-life genre.

The verses by Andrew marvel, in their pathetic passion, which reveal the will to live and fear to dies could be called the perfect characterization of the national identity within the artistic imagism. It fully corresponds to the development of the artistic tradition in poetry, close connection between the two opposite themes. Stylistical oxymoron observed within the willing and the passion of the young man to his shy mistress contrast to his fear of the death. With the help of symbols of the desert, the river Gange, the Flood reflected the moods typical for the artistic tradition in that period, which represented the national vision on the questions dealing with the carpe diem and memento mori, which existed side by side in this epoch. Living in the period, when life and death were so closely connected it goes without saying that the author could not avoid reflection of his personal fears alongside with the national and clerical vision of the 17th century in Europe (we should not forget that Marvell spent several years abroad and absorbed the spirits typical for the Europe at this period). It should be noted the raise of the clergy social influence in this period could be seen in realization of the Biblical concept within the poetry, which reflects the vanity of human life, which is always ended by the death. Showing the Biblical concepts of the Church, the author realizes his personal vision on the death within the verses. They perfectly correlate to his personal fear of death. The contrasting expressive manner of To His Coy Mistress alongside with the voice and tone could realize the main themes perfectly: “The prevailing voice of the poem is a little arch and a touch splendid, pleased with itself—the speakers gift of an aria to his lover, who is his equal. And yet beneath the drollery there are the swelling adumbration of death and the terrifying specter of' times "slow-chapped power." The day darkens. The lovers are already on the run” (Targan Barry, 2008). This fear might be as oracular as well having no grounds on it. But it should be taken into consideration that the author reflected not only his personal vision and ideas, but the vision on the national level. The fear of death could be called oracular if we take into consideration the Great Plague, which occurred in the middle of the century.


1. Taylor, Mark. Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. Explicator 53.1 (1994): 15. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 21 June 2010.
2. Targan, Barry. Marvell’s Formal Fallacy. Sewanee Review 116.3 (2008): 464-466. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 21 June 2010.
3. D'Avanzo, Mario L. Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. Explicator 36.2 (1978): 18 Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 21 June 2010.
4. Carroll, John. The Sun and the Lovers in To His Coy Mistress. John Hopkins University Press. 74.1 (1959): 4-7. Print.
5. Braekman, W.L. Marvell's Coy Mistress Finding Rubies. English Studies. 85.6 (2004): 528-531. Print.
6. Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Marvell's To His Coy Misstress. Explicator 60.4 (2002): 196. MasterFILE Premier. EBSCO. Web. 21 June 2010.

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