Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress

Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is related to the constraints of time and how it will affect the relationship with his partner, in particular love and physical passion. In contrast Lovelace’s ‘To Althea, From Prison’ shows a different kind of love, he is talking about many types of love: the love he has for his wife, the love he has for his fellow royalists, the love he has for his king and ultimately the love he has for his God.

Lovelace’s poem is about a love without a sexual and physical driving force. Finally, Herrick’s ‘To the Virgins’ is similar in theme to Marvell’s ‘Coy Mistress’ as it too deal with issues of time and how it affects the pace if courtship and marriage.

Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is made up of three stanza’s each with its own purpose. From the poem it seems that Marvell is trying to court a wealthy girl, but she seems to be procrastinating.

The purpose of the poem is to convince her to fall in love with him so the can marry and have a physical relationship. The structure of the poem plays a major part in this.

The first stanza begins with ‘Had’ or in other words ‘If’ meaning this is a hypothesis, which automatically gives the first stanza a subjunctive mood. Marvell is using this stanza to show how much he loves her; however the concern of time is fundamental, which is a reoccurring theme throughout the course of the poem.

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The poem starts with ‘Had we but world enough, and time’, this sets up the whole stanza. This opening stanza is a way of Marvell telling his partner how much he really loves her. He isn’t just after a physical and sexual relationship but there is a huge spiritual element to their relationship.

Marvell, in this opening stanza, has created his own hypothetical world which is not shrouded by the constraints of time. Marvell claims that they can spend time together, without any physical or sexual motives. ‘To walk and pass our long, loves day’ Marvell is portraying to his love how they would, in this world, spend their days aimlessly wandering, simply enjoying each others company. His hypothetical state is somewhere where he too can be coy, she will be doing no harm by being coy ‘This coyness, Lady, were no crime’ as their aren’t the confinements of time and the two can afford to play out their courtship and fully enjoy and appreciate their moments together. Marvell is stating that in this world, with no pressure of time, he can merely enjoy his time with her without there being any commitments. This first stanza is written with a rye humour.

Marvell uses some imagery to show his perpetual love on line 5-8: ‘Thou by the Indian Ganges’s side / Should’st rubies find: I by the tide / Of the Humber would complain.’ Marvell is claiming that he would gladly allow her to walk by the side of the Ganges river which is a mystical and beautiful river with great spiritual significance; while he would stay by the Humber, which is a dirty, mucky, brown river. I think this shows Marvell’s true love under more spiritual circumstances, it shows he loves her so much that he is willing to make sacrifices for her.

Marvell follows on to tell her of his continual love claiming he will love her from the beginning of time to the end of time. Marvell quite cleverly uses specific biblical references ‘I would / Love you ten years before the flood’; the flood meaning Noah’s flood, seen biblically as the beginning of the modern era. ‘Till the conversion of the Jews.’ This is seen to be an impossible occurrence and could only ever come about towards the end of time. His love for her is platonic or in other words it this idealistic, spiritual love which is not all about physical relationships.

Marvell has the utmost respect for his lover. He regards her with the highest esteem. His closing two lines of this opening stanza depicts his true feelings for her, his eternal love and distinguished reverence. ‘For, Lady, you deserve this state, / Nor would I love at a lower rate.’ The capital letter of Lady is a sign of his respect. ‘state’ is a reference to the amount of love or worship, Marvell is telling her that all the affection he offers her is completely deserved. Not only does Marvell say that she is fully deserving of his reverence but he but he could not contemplate showing any less devotion.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt Marvell does still have a sexual and passionate urges which are also expressed in a very tasteful manner. Marvell’s physical intentions are mainly suppressed by the far more important spiritual and pure love he has for the young lady. He tastefully describes her physical attributes and he declares his wishes to admire them. ‘Two hundred years to adore each breast; / But thirty thousand to the rest; / An age at least to every part,’ Marvell wants to worship her body, he is completely infatuated with her.

The second stanza has a far different approach, the rye humour has been abolished replaced by a much more serious and concise approach. This stanza is a direct contradiction to the first. The stanza begins with ‘But’ which sets the tone and purpose of the whole stanza. Marvell is no longer trying to convince her of his love, he is trying to shock her into relinquishing her stance of being coy and to stop procrastinating. The beginning is stating reality, how there is not this endless amount of time. He portrays the pressure of time with some vivid imagery: ‘But at my back I always hear / Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;’ he is illustrates time hunting them from behind, how it is pursuing them with a vengeful violence.

Marvell is using extremely powerful imagery to show the shortage of time. His depiction of what lies ahead will no doubt alarm her but this is Marvell’s tactics in persuading her to join him. The idea of ‘Deserts of vast eternity’ is with reference to death. A desert is a place of very little life, a dead place; and the vast eternity is portraying how death is an expansive period of time and an eternity means to last forever, essentially Marvell is telling her that death is everlasting and she needs to hasten or else she will have wasted her life.

Marvell is hurrying her; he wants her to commit to him so that they can enjoy the rest of their life. ‘Thy beauty shall no more be found; / Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound / My echoing song:’ Once dead, in her marble vault, her beauty will have decayed and his love song will have disappeared.

It is at this point, on line 27, there a caesura. There is a break in the line and it divides two ideas. It is now that the real shock tactics begin. Marvell aims to frighten her into joining him. The main theme is a funeral the language Marvell uses related to the funeral process. First of all, Marvell is saying that when she dies, if she has not accepted his love, the worms will enter her and take her virginity, ‘Then worms shall try / that long preserved virginity;’

The following two lines are heavily associated with a funeral. This is the climax of this stanza. It is at this point that Marvell is hoping for her procrastination to stop. The saying in a funeral ‘From ashes to ashes from dust to dust’, these two lines use this very quote:. ‘And your quaint honour turn to dust’ her quaint honour is her virginity, and by saying it has turned to dust Marvell has directly quoted it to a funeral. ‘And into ashes all my lust’ again the funeral quote, his lust will die.

Marvell is begging her not put off this marriage any more. He wishes to marry her, he craves a physical relationship with her and he wants their platonic love to grow. Marvell desires the two of them to make the most of their lives he wishes to consummate their relationship.

The social contexts of the time apply a great deal to the poem and to Marvell’s line of argument. In the time Marvell wrote the poem, once a girl had passed the age of twenty five she was seen to be no longer illegible for marriage, Marvell is warning her not to waste her life by delaying their affiliation from progressing. She is certainly a wealthy girl; this is shown by her ‘marble vault’, only the wealthiest of families could even contemplate owning a marble vault. By coming from a wealthy family she will no doubt have been chaperoned when meeting Marvell. Marvell is stressing to her that she must relieve herself of the chaperone and join him in matrimony.

The third stanza is a final conclusion. The tempo of this stanza has been quickened dramatically, their a real sense of urgency. Marvell is hoping to resolve the problem.

The stanza begins with ‘Now’ this is the perfect way to open his conclusion and definitive and most crucial stanza. There is a real sense of urgency, he is telling her to commit and consummate their relationship, while she is young, before it is too late ‘while the youthful hue / Sits on thy skin’.

Marvell is saying if there is a single part of her that wants to have a sexual relationship with him then she must do it. He is telling her to follow her instincts and not to care about what anybody else says. Marvell also believes that she deeply wishes to have a physical relationship with him too: ‘And while thy willing soul transpires / At every pore with instant fires,’ he is claiming that she wants to have a sexual affiliation, she is desperate to have this deeply passionate bod with him.

Marvell tells her she must join him, she must break free of her constraints and do as she wishes which is to marry him so they can have a full and sexual life: ‘let us sport while we may’ let us have a sexual and intensely passionate relationship while it is possible ‘like amorous birds of prey birds of prey were thought to be promiscuous, Marvell is using a simile he is telling her to be promiscuous with him.

Marvell is constantly probing her, making her give in to her desires. He is telling her that they should make the most of their time together, he is telling her not to cheat herself out of time with him relish her life, not to be cheated by time.

Now, Marvell is concluding his poem he is ensuring that she will join him in matrimony. He speeds up the tempo of the stanza with ‘our time devour’ he brings about a sense of urgency yet again. Marvel the slows down the stanza on the following line ‘Than languish in his slow-chapped power.’

The final two lines in this stanza are there just to complete his message. ‘thought we cannot make our sun / Stand still, we will make him run.’ Marvell is closing his argument by saying that they are not able to stop time so they can spend an endless time together, but they will make their time run, or in other words they will make the most of their lives together.

Marvell has based his final stanza on two teachings. First and foremost Marvell is saying ‘carpe diem’ or ‘seize the day’, he is telling her to make the very most out of her life, he want her to fulfill her needs to have a physical, sexual and passionate relationship with him. And secondly Marvell uses the saying ‘tempus fugit’ or’ time flies’ to warn his love that if she does not cease to procrastinate her life will amount to nothing, she will die alone and her life would not have been worth living. These two teachings are the basis of Marvell’s whole poem.

Lovelaces’s poem ‘To Althea, from Prison’ is concerned with many different types of love: his love for his wife, his fellow Royalists, his love his king and finally his love for his God. Lovelace is a Royalist; he followed the King and believed that he King should have definite power and rule over his kingdom. Lovelace lived in the era of the English Civil War; Lovelace will no doubt have been a follower of King Charles II and as a result was imprisoned by the Parliamentarians.

In this first stanza, Richard Lovelace is addressing his love for his wife. His love for his wife is complete and platonic. ‘When Love with unconfined wings / Hovers within my gates, / And my divine Althea’ he claim his love for her is free, it transcends all other things. His love for his wife is irrepressible, it lies deep within him and despite his body being trapped and confined this love is never contained. He describes his wife, Althea, as ‘divine’ divine meaning holy he is claiming his love for his wife is on level par with his love for God.

Now, Lovelace uses irony to depict his platonic relationship to his wife. ‘When I lie tangled in her hair / And fettered to her eye,’ he uses language that symbolise his imprisonment like tangled and fettered, both meaning to be trapped or connected. Love is informing us that he is willingly bound to his wife; they are locked in an embrace that cannot be broken despite him being imprisoned.

To end this first stanza Lovelace is comparing something that one would assume to be free, and claiming that in fact they aren’t free, that they cannot comprehend what freedom is as they haven’t experienced it. ‘The birds that wanton in the air / Know no such liberty’ these birds are free, they wanton in the air or in other words they fly without restraint, they are unconfined. These birds represent promiscuity. They ‘Know no such liberty.’ Means that they don’t know what true meaning of what being free is.

‘Know no such liberty.’ concludes each of the first three stanzas. This statement is paradoxical, Lovelace claims that he is free because his love for his wife, his fellow royalists and his king are free, despite him being trapped and confined in prison.

The second stanza is regarding his allegiance to his fellow royalists. It is apparent that Lovelace is imprisoned with other royalists. Lovelace is trying to put forward that despite him being physically trapped his allegiance to his fellow royalists cannot be subdued. A similar message is portrayed in the third stanza in which Lovelace is speaking of his love and loyalty for his king which to will never be repressed.

In prison Lovelace drinks heavily with his fellow royalists, they sit and drink to their camaraderie. They drink undiluted alcohol, most likely wine and they praise their king. ‘When flowing cups run swiftly round … Our careless heads with roses crowned, / Our hearts with loyal flames’. They continue to drink until they become quite drunk and red faced, they become merry and drown their sorrows in alcohol. They toast to each others health and their companionship.

As mentioned before the final two lines are contradictory. ‘Fishes that tipple in the deep / Know no such liberty’. Fish that drink freely at the bottom of the ocean don’t know true freedom. Their camaraderie is truly free because their bodies are confined but their cause perseveres. Their adherence cannot be incarcerated so they continue to feel liberated.

The third stanza follows much the same suit. He is discussing how he is trapped but his loyalty to his king carries on. He compares describes himself as ‘linnet-like’, or he claims that he is caged like a linnet bird, a recurring theme.

He speaks of what he does once he is drunk. Lovelace sings about his king with his companions in prison. ‘With shriller throat shall sing / The sweetness, mercy, majesty / And glories of my King; / When I shall voice aloud how good / He is, how great should be’. Once Lovelace is drunk he begins to sing his drunken, high pitched voice. He is more than happy to honour his king, he praises him and all his traits. He is willing to fight and argue for his king and hopes that he will have absolute power,

And expectedly Lovelace closes his stanza paradoxically. ‘Enlarged winds that curl the flood / Know no such liberty’. These gusts of wind that are capable of creating huge waves do not know of the freedom he experiences. The winds that are seen to be the freest of all things, are not free compared to the love he holds for his king.

Lovelace’s final stanza concerns his love for his God. This is by far his most important love, it supersedes all his other loves and it unites them as one.

Lovelace has a dig at the people who have imprisoned him, ‘Stone walls do not make a prison make / Nor do iron bars or cage’. He is using imagery of a prison. He claims that jail is only confining his body but his beliefs and his views cannot be imprisoned and what is most important, his soul, roams free.

‘I have freedom in my love / and in my soul am free,’ Lovelace is claiming he is still free because his love and his soul are free. He has done no wrong and he has no guilt for being in jail and his values remain.

To conclude his final stanza, unlike the first three stanzas, there is no paradoxical, contradictory conclusion. ‘Angels alone that soar above / Enjoy such liberty’ Lovelace is claiming that he is as free s an angel, only angels who are close to God know anything about freedom. His prevailing love for his God, his wife, his comrades and his Kings enable him to be free.

Finally I will analse Herrick’s ‘To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time’. This very much coincides with Marvell’s ‘To his Coy Mistress’ as they both are concerned with the pressures of time and their love being coy and procrastinating.

Herrick’s love is posing the same problems as Marvell’s love did in ‘To his Coy Mistress’ she too seems to be procrastinating and Herrick as a result is forced to convince her to relinquish her stance and join him in matrimony. ‘Then be not coy, but use your time, / And while ye may, go marry, / For having lost but once your prime, / You may for ever tarry.’ Be not coy is a direct link to Marvell, he is telling her to stop procrastinating. Herrick then uses the exact same argument as Marvell, he tells her not to waste time but to marry him quickly before the prime of her life is over and she is no longer illegible for marriage.

Similarly to Marvell, Herrick also stresses the issue of time and how it sneaks up from behind them, ‘Old time is still a-flying’ time is chasing them and it will eventually catch them up. Herrick imposes the pressure of time by using the sun as a metaphor. ‘the sun / The higher he’s a-getting, / The sooner the race will be run,’. Herrick is referring to the sun’s cycle. Once the sun reaches the highest point or midday, which Herrick is using to signify the girls prime point in her life, the sooner the sun will set or the sooner her life will come to a close. Herrick is telling his love that she needs to make the most of her life because once she has passed a certain stage in her life she will not be able to marry and enjoy herself,

To conclude, Marvell and Herrick use their poems to impose the concerns of a lack of time and how it affects their relationships. They both are dealing with partners how are being coy and aren’t willing to commit. Both Herrick and Marvell are concerned with having a physical and passionate relationship with their lovers. Lovelace’s poem deals with a completely different aspect of love. His love is completely on physical and he is only concerned with showing loyalty and pure spiritual love to his God, his wife, his fellow Royalists and his King.

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Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress. (2017, Oct 08). Retrieved from

Andrew Marvell's To His Coy Mistress
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