To His Coy Mistress – Andrew Marvell

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
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;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.

For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
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.

Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678)

It is certainly a carpe diem poem but more than that it speaks to me of the very clever use of seductive words to a lady known to the author. The poem never met recognition until three years after the his death giving weight to the personal nature of the poem.

It is, of course, one of his most well-known poems, especially the following lines from the second stanza. They show his distinct hungering for action using a threatening note by comparing the likes of death on her now beautiful body; something that she has probably never thought about.

Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust;

And the following lines in the last stanza emphasize his impatience and frustration –

Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:

He wants to take his beloved to the ‘ball’ … some ball! … he wants to gate crash to get what he wants! … note the gates are made of iron … a certain sense of imprisonment. You cannot stand outside life as an observer! … immediate action please.

Many details on this poem can be found on Wikipedia … https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/To_His_Coy_Mistress

And here is a ‘carp diem’ poem from another famous poet considering the brevity of life at an early age …
https://mywordinyourear.com/2018/10/05/loveliest-of-trees-a-e-housman/

So just do it … if you know what you should be doing! … but don’t be pressured into something you are not ready for.

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