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To His Coy Mistress

Updated on July 18, 2012

To His Coy Mistress

“To His Coy Mistress” was published in the 1600’s and was written by Andrew Marvell. The poem consists of 301 words, 46 lines, and three stanzas. “To His Coy Mistress” is considered a metaphysical poem, meaning it includes topics of life, love, and/or religion. There are many interpretations of the poem. The “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” (2012) describes the term “coy” as, “showing reluctance to make a definite commitment.” This means that the woman is not an easy catch and she could be playing hard to get. Also, according to the “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” (2012), the term “mistress” means, “a woman other than his wife with whom a married man has a continuing sexual relationship.” The term could also mean sweetheart or lover. So basically, from the title, “To Coy His Mistress,” readers can interpret that the speaker of the poem is trying to convince an unwilling woman to have a sexual relationship with him.

The poem is fiction and the speaker of the poem is not real. The plea of the male speaker is from a first-person point of view. Andrew Marvell enters the mind of a very impatient, desperate, and possibly manipulative. The male character in “To His Coy Mistress” is trying to get a woman to except his love and give in to him. The only thing we know about the mistress is that she is coy. There are many interpretations of the theme of “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell. According to the texts and flow of the poem, one can interpret that the speaker of the poem is trying everything he can to get his mistress to except his love and possibly have sex with him. He puts great attention on time and how they do not have the luxury of time. They will not be young forever and they will never know what tomorrow would bring. Therefore, the theme of “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell could be to seize the moment and live like there is no tomorrow. But I believe there is an irony hidden within the theme.

The imagery Andrew Marvell used in “To His Coy Mistress” is very over the top because the speaker is trying to swoon his lady. The speaker starts the poem by telling the woman that her coyness wouldn’t be a crime if they had plenty of space and time. He continues explaining all what they would discuss if they had enough time. Lines five through ten reads: “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.” According to “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” (2012), “Ganges” is a very long river in Asia. The speaker uses imagery to suggest that she doesn’t have to submit herself to him if she stays young for a long time, or as long as the Indian Ganges. Rubies, of course are red gems. In folklore, rubies protect and maintain virginity. The setting of “To His Coy Mistress” is not specifically mentioned, but lines six through seven of the poem gives a clue: “Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide/Of Humber would complain.” According to “Merriam-Webster Dictionary” (2012) “Humber” is a river in northeastern England that flows through Hull, which happens to be Andrew Marvell's hometown. This is the only link between the author and the character in the poem. “The Flood” is capitalized in the poem which suggests that he is referring to Noah and the Flood in the bible. When he speaks of the Jews, his imagery suggests that he would still desire her and lover her until the Jews revert to Christianity when the world ends. The speaker uses great imagery of their religion to show her how much he loves her and to persuade her to except his love.

There is more imagery in “To His Coy Mistress” that stands out in the poem. Line eleven, “My vegetable love should grow,” confused me. But after analyzing I came to the conclusion that “vegetable love” is love that is nurtured like a vegetable so that it can grow. He is asking for her tender, love, and care. A vegetable takes time to grow. Nothing can make it grow faster but the power of nature. Lines 13 through 17 states, “A 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.” Here, the speaker states that he would complement all the parts of her body if he had time. But he does not have all the time in the world to do that. Line 18 suggest that she should “show her heart” by possibly having sex with him. Line 22 (“Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near"), can relate to the song, “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” which suggests that the speaker does not have enough time and death is getting closer and closer as the moments pass. Lines 23 through 24 states, “And yonder all before us lie/ Deserts of vast eternity.” Here, the speaker is saying that soon they both will be dead and again relates to Christianity; The Book of Genesis states that, “For [people] were made from dust, and to dust [people] will return.” He continues by telling her that she will not be pretty in the grave and worms would try to have sex with her. Here, the speaker now tries to scare her into having sex with him. Line 30, “And into ashes all my lust,” suggest that he would have sex with no one if it’s not with her.

I believe that the speaker deems his persuasion as successful because in line 33, he uses the words, “Now therefore.” But what makes this poem so great is that the readers do not know for sure if the woman accepts his attempt or refuse it. I think she willfully accepts because of the title, “To His Coy Mistress.” The title suggests that she already belongs to him, otherwise the title would be, “To The Coy Mistress.” But I also feel that the speaker is not honest. I do not believe he loves her because if he did he would wait forever and a day for her. I do not think he believes everything he tells her about the grave and time. He is selfish and is trying to manipulate a poor virgin to have sex with him. He even tries to persuade her through religion. But if he was so religious he would know that it is not God’s way to have sex before marriage. Throughout the poem he never asks her to marry him or spend forever with him. He just wants to have sex with her but never speaks of what will happen afterwards. Readers rely on imagination for interpreting the meaning of the selected poem. And it is important to take each line and word and break it down to determine the true meaning of a poem. “To His Coy Mistress” is ironically about the manipulative man’s lust for a proud woman for whom he would say anything to get what he really wants; sex.

A man will do and say anything to get into your pants!

"To Coy His Mistress" by Andrew Marvell


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