To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell’s metaphysical poem ‘To his Coy Mistress’ Theme and analysis

Introduction Metaphysical poetry and poets: Metaphysical poetry that belongs to the seventeenth century is still famous in 21 century. The credit of first coining the term ‘metaphysical poetry’ goes to Dr Samuel Johnson in his work ‘Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets’. He noticed many common characteristics in the poetry of these metaphysical poets.

Practitioners of this type of poems are John Donne (1572 – 1631), Richard Crashaw (1612 – 1649), Henry Vaughan (1621 – 1695), Abraham Cowley (1618 – 1667), George Herbert (1593 – 1633), John Cleveland(1613 – 1658), Edward Benlowes (1603 – 1676) and Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678) etc.

Andrew Marvel has composed so many poems like ‘A Dialogue Between the Soul and the Body, The Unfortunate Lover, The Coronet, The Garden, The Mower to the Glow – Worms, Bermudas, The Appleton House, The Definition of Love, An Horatian Ode Upon Cromwell’s Return from Ireland’ and ‘To His Coy Mistress’ etc.

But none of these poems has got so much popularity as ‘To his Coy Mistress’. So, dear readers! In this article, we will not only discuss Andrew Marvel’s this famous poem but its various aspects as well.

To his Coy Mistress summary

The poem is centred around a lover, who is the narrator of the poem as well, and his beloved. The poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ commences with the speaker’s talk about his beloved, who, in spite of the fact that he loves her warmly, she has no interest in him. So the speaker tries to convince his sweetheart and provides so many arguments in front of her.

In his opinion life is ephemeral, they (the lover and his beloved) have not too much time to waste in useless activities, therefore the beloved should not hesitate or be reluctant in accepting his love. The speaker tells his beloved that humans have to live on this earth for a short and limited time. Every person who comes into the world will have to die one day, even they (the lover and the beloved) will die.

So he tells his beloved that if they would have enough time, her shy nature would not have been a problem. He would get success in showing the depth and eternity of his love. In that case, he would not only love her but praise every part of her body including her eyes for ‘a hundred years’.

Her forehead is extremely attractive to the speaker, therefore, he could not neglect it, he would gaze at it as well. He would spend two hundred years ‘to adore each breast’, thirty thousand years would be spent to admire the remaining.

He further affirms that he would pass the minimum one age in the praise of ‘every part’ of her body. In the final age, the heart of the coy lady would reveal itself. The beloved deserves such glorious types of dedication and any lesser type of love would not be accepted by the lover.

In the second part of ‘To His Coy Mistress,’ the speaker tells the beloved that the time is not static, it is dynamic and is moving swiftly. For both of them, the coming time will be similar to the long – unending desert. At present, the beloved who is young and charming, in near future will grow old and her beauty will be no more.

After sometimes she will die, and the grave will be her final destiny. In the grave, she would be unable in listening to the lover’s ‘echoing song’ in her admire and love and there (in the grave) her ‘long preserved virginity’ for which the beloved has paid no attention to his love will be the prey of the worms. 

In the grave coy lady’s sense of honour and his love and lust will be of no use and of no importance. Undoubtedly ‘The Grave is a fine and private place’  but there will be no person to embrace her.

The third and the last part of the poem ‘To His Coy Mistress is a final effort to convince the beloved to accept her love. So, at present, when she is young, beautiful, and her ‘every pore with instant fire’, let them have physical love and enjoyment of the contact of each other.

They should utilise the time in the style of the lovesick birds of the prey rather than waste it (the time). He proposes to put their strength and sweetness together and use it as a weapon against ‘the iron gates of life’.  Although, by doing all these, they may not be able to defeat the time surely they can make it (time) to work hard to take both of them.

‘To his Coy Mistress’ Analysis

 The classical tradition of Latin love elegy has been followed by Andrew Marvell in this poem.  Probably no other poem in English Literature is the finest and best recognised as this one for its carpe diem or seize the day. There is no evidence to indicate when the poem was composed.

It is assumed that this poem may have been composed in the early years of the 1650s and at that time Andrew Marvell was working as a tutor to the daughter of Sir Thomas Fairfax, the retired commander of The New Model Army.

In ‘To His Coy Mistress’ the speaker is a male lover, who is addressing his beloved. His effort in this poem is to make sure that she would love him. The poem is simply divided into three sections.

The first part which starts with the line ‘had we but world enough and time’ and ends with the line ‘nor would I love at lower rate’ deals with the idea that what would happen if the young lover and beloved had endless time.

The middle section which starts with the line ‘but at my back, I always hear’ and ends with the line ‘but none, I think, do there embrace’ talks about the limitations of human lives because no person is immortal.

The final section of ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is the urging of the protagonist to his beloved to seize the day and submit runs between the lines ‘now, therefore, while the youthful hue’, ‘stand still, yet we make him run.’

‘To his Coy Mistress’ Theme

Love, time and death are the important themes in ‘To His Coy Mistress’. The lover is growing impatient because the lady is not showing any interest in him. He argues that at present both are young.

So they must use the time in loving each other and must have the enjoyment of the youth time which is called sex. The wheel time does not stop for any person. The time will pass swiftly, they will grow old and die one day. In this way, carpe diem or seize the day is also an important theme of the poem.

Characteristics of metaphysical poetry in ‘To His Coy Mistress’

As we know that use of intellectual wit, hyperbolic expression, satire and irony, paradox, passionate feelings and logical arguments and use of metaphysical conceits etc. are the characteristics of metaphysical poetry. Most of these features are found in this poem by Andrew Marvell.

It is not possible here to discuss all these characteristics which are available in the poem, so will cite some examples of metaphysical conceits only.

As it is known by all the students of literature that metaphysical conceit is a strained or far – fetched comparison between two (dissimilar) things. Metaphysical conceit is also known as ‘extended metaphor’. ‘To his Coy Mistress’ is full of metaphysical conceits in all its three parts. Examples are given below 

Example (I)

         ‘My vegetable love should  grow

         Vaster than empires, and slower.’

         (Lines 11& 12)


Example (ii)

                                        ‘I always hear

         Time’s winged chariot hurrying near;

         And yonder all before us lie 

        Deserts of vast eternity.’

       (Lines 21- 24)


 This article was mainly concerned with Andrew Marvell’s glorious metaphysical poem ‘To his Coy Mistress’. So, here we have first talked about metaphysical poets and metaphysical poetry in the introduction. Then come the summary and analysis of the poem and.

In the past, we have tried to trace the characteristics of metaphysical poetry in this famous poem of Andrew Marwell and two examples of the metaphysical conceit are also given from the same poem.

Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’- FAQ

u003cstrongu003e1. When was Andrew Marvell’s poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ published?u003c/strongu003e

‘To his Coy Mistress’ was published posthumously in 1681.

u003cstrongu003e2. What are the names of rivers which are mentioned in ‘To His Coy Mistress’?u003c/strongu003e

‘Indian Ganges’ and ‘Humber’ are the mentioned rivers of ‘To His Coy Mistress’.

u003cstrongu003e3. In what meter ‘To his Coy Mistress’ has been composed?u003c/strongu003e

‘To his Coy Mistress’ has been composed in iambic tetrameter rhymed couplets.

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