To His Coy Mistress Andrew Marvell
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The poem To His Coy Mistress was written by 17th century poet Andrew Marvell. This poem has been claimed to be the poem that endorses living for the moment. (Han 2003) The story of the poem is about a man who is trying to convince his love to be with him. By the tone and the lines of the poem, being with him would entail engaging in sexual intercourse. This idea is very radical especially during Marvell’s puritanical time, the reason for which the title is “His Coy Mistress” instead of “My Coy Mistress” in an attempt to divert the readers’ attention to another instead of Marvell’s own disposition regarding love. (Han 2003) However, in his poem, Marvel was able to present his argument as to why the mistress of the male speaker should engage in love at the soonest possible time and he did so using numerous styles of poetry.
Marvell, in his poem To His Coy Mistress, uses the following styles to present his case: alliteration, allusions, metaphors and similes.
In the first line, “Had we but world enough, and time, This coyness, lady, were no crime.” (Marvell 1) Marvell states that if the male speaker had the time then he would go through the normal processes of courtship. He also uses crime to indicate that there is something wrong with the lady’s coyness for he had no time to spare.
He continues on, in the first stanza, to use metaphors like “My vegetable love should grow” (11), and allusion like “I would Love you ten years before the flood, And you should, if you please, refuse Till the conversion of the Jews” (7-10) to portray his eternal love. By using the metaphor that his love is that of a vegetable, the idea that his love is constantly growing and nourishing comes into mind. It could also refer to his sexual form of love symbolizing the need for a vegetable to be planted the same way that a man’s semen has to be planted in a woman’s womb. Thus this use of “vegetable love” paves the way for the following stanzas.
“But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot near” (21-22) this is the line that indicates the need to live for the moment because the speaker feels that time drives by so fast that it may wasted in coyness. Marvell continues on to indicate, with reference to the passing of time which, if not taken hold of this minute, will just waste away with aging and death: “then worms shall try That long preserved virginity, And your quaint honor turn to dust, And into ashes all my lust: 30 The grave ‘s a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace.” (27-32). Again, the reference virginity and lust indicate the speaker’s desire for physical love.
He finally ends his poem with the conviction that “while the youthful hue” (33) “roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball” (42-43) meaning that they should enjoy physical pleasures in the form of sex while they can.
Modern day poetry which could be seen in present songs is more straightforward than poetry during the 17th century.
In the song Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore by Bon Jovi, the approach of the speaker is very direct as compared to To His Coy Mistress, nevertheless, the similarities, due to the eternal theme, are existent. The story of the song is that the speaker, which could be either male or female, is asking his love, who also happens to be his friend for some time, to engage in the act of love making as well.
The first two lines of the song “It might be hard to be lovers But it’s harder to be friends” (Bon Jovi, 1-2) sets the mood of the song giving the reader or the listener the idea that the speaker wants to be more that just friends; that the feelings of the speaker go far beyond just friendship. Unlike the 17th century where sex topics are being avoided, modern day accepts the presence of physical love in an intimate relationship which explains the reason why there is no need to make any allusions to it, the way Marvell did with his poem. The beauty of romance in the song is alluded to with the line “Maybe light a couple candles I’ll just go ahead and lock the door” (5-6) making the request not too physical in nature, the same way that Marvell spent the whole of the first stanza to indicate that his request is not based on pure lust but on love as well.
“Baby pull down the covers It’s time to let me in” (3-4) is the direct desire of the speaker to make love with his love. However, the lines “Till we ain’t stranger anymore” at the end of every stanza indicates that the love interest, the same as the Coy Mistress, is with being skittish or hesitant. The hesitancy comes from a fear of their friendly relations to get destroyed if intercourse takes place and this can be seen through the assurances that the speaker gives: “It ain’t too late to get back to that place Back to where, we thought it was before” (13-14) which means they can still continue to be friends; and, “love can pull us through” (19). The same as the Coy Mistress, the reference to time and wasting it, is referred to in this song when the singer sings “To spend your whole damn life Just keeping score” (30-31) and “Don’t you think its time we say Some things we haven’t said.” (11-12)
Marvell’s To his Coy Mistress and Bon Jovi’s Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore have exactly the same theme. Both works are requesting their love interests to engage in physical love. Both works also base the foundation of their request on their romantic love just that time is of the essence. Although the presentation and the style of writing may be different, the themes of the two works are the same despite a time separation of 3 centuries. It just goes to show that the desire for physical love and the need to enjoy love while there is time to do so is an eternal aspiration and refrain.
Han, John Ph.D. “Love, Time, and Eternity: Teaching Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress”. Missouri Baptist University Website. 2003. 17 November 2007. < http://www.mobap.edu/academics/fl/journal/2.1/han.asp>
Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.” The Oxford Book of English Verse ed. Arthur Quiller-Couch. London:1919. 1250–1900.
Bon Jovi. “Till We Ain’t Strangers Anymore.” Lost Highway. Island, 2007