To his Coy Mistress

Submitted by Anon on 10 December, 2005 - 11:53

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 Loves Day.

Thou by the Indian Ganges side

Should’st 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 then 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

Times winged 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 preserv’d 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 hew

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 am’rous birds of prey,

Rather at once our Time devour,

Than languish in his slow-chapt pow’r.

Let us roll all our Strength, and all

Our sweetness, up into one Ball.

And tear our Pleasures with rough strife,

Thorough the Iron gates of Life.

Thus, though we cannot make our Sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Andrew Marvell, from Miscellaneous Poems (1681)

This poem is a variation on the theme of the instruction to enjoy life while young in the wish that time would slow down. But it comes with a twist. Here the speaker directs his words not to a general reader but to a particular, if fictional, addressee — his “coy mistress”. It’s like an overhead conversation, or rather an extended monologue as the speaker attempts to get his “mistress” into bed, and none too subtlely.

The speaker expresses a willingness to wait. It is purely hypothetical because his invocation of the grave seeks to highlight the futility of waiting. He is not being very pleasant — the image of being raped by worms is particularly nasty, while “quaint” is a vulgar pun — it was used until 1600 to refer to the female genitals.

And the poem gags its addressee. The “mistress” is given no opportunity to speak, whether to voice her objections to her suitor or to voice dissent from the scene he constructs. The male voice is allowed to present a scene in which, so he says, his addressee wants to fuck him, but just not yet. Even the word “coy” carries with it the suggestion that shyness might be displayed rather than genuine.

In the final section, the poem’s addressee has no choice but to be subsumed into the plural subject “we”. The poem accomplishes verbally what can otherwise only be assumed: the two distinct subjects are brought together, presented as if their actions, desires, wishes are the same. The “mistress” has been reduced to being a silent object of the speaker’s desire.

However, the subject of the poem, the “coy mistress” has, after all, refused to do just that. And good for her!

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