To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

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Explain how the 'Carpe Diem' theme is expressed in Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress."

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James Kelley eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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"Carpe diem," as you probably already well know, means "seize the day" or, less literally, "make the most out of the time we have." The phrase is often credited to the Roman poet Horace (or Quintus Horatius Flaccus). It's a pretty common sentiment in literature. For example, Henry David Thoreau talks in Walden about "want[ing] to live deep and suck all the marrow out of life."

Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress" opens famously with the assertion that, if we had all the time in the world, we would have no need to hurry with our passion:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.

The second section counters this first section by making clear that we, in fact, do not have al the time in the world:

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;

The third and final section of the poem brings this argument to a close ("therefore") by urging the "coy mistress" to act with him now on their love:

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,

Most readers see this poem as presenting a thinly-veiled and self-serving argument. The speaker wants a woman to go along with what he wants, which is her now. The sentiment of "carpe diem," apparently, can be either thoughtful or superficial.

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pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The term "carpe diem" means "seize the day."  In modern English we would probably say it as "take what you can get, when you can get it."   In other words, don't put things off -- life is short.

Given this, you should be able to see how this theme is shown in the poem.  The speaker is telling his love that if life wasn't short, he would be really patient.  For example:

And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.

But, in the second stanza, he says that time is flying by.  Because of that, there's no point in waiting.  He says that they should start sleeping together sooner rather than later.  Otherwise,

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.

This is very much a "carpe diem" idea -- we will soon be dead, let's live life now and not wait for later.

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subrataray | Student


- Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is built on ‘Crape-Dime’ theme. In his poem we find a lover more active in the courtship urges his lady-love to make love at her youth. The shy mistress remains always from the immediate response but the lover builds the logic of syllogism and concludes that the only way of courtship is enjoying life while ones are young.



These assumed prepositions are used to awaken the lady-love from her negation to physical union out of her shyness. The only object as we understand is to enjoy the bliss of mutual love hence the ‘Carpe-Diem’ theme becomes the supreme goal.

The second stanza introduces the reality of life. In the real world the lover and the lady-love are placed in a transient or they could surely be devoured by time and the lady-love would grow and die. The lover would not be able to make love in the ‘marble vault’. Her long preserved virginity would be tasted by warms. Again the lover can feel and it is sure that the lady-love has her ‘quaint honour’. She is within full of desire of love-making. But for her shyness she is simply making a ‘crime’.

Here once again we find that all arguments are made to show the lady-love the reality of life and to make her conscious of what she should do. The concept ‘Crape-Diem’ has been built on argument.

The concluding stanza becomes a conclusion of the lover. And the conclusion is drawn from the first two stanzas. As life is not placed in eternity and as the lover and the lady-love would grow and die, so they should not loss a single moment of youth. For, youth is fast-fading. This idea has been decorated, with a number of images as ‘willing soul’, (transpires) ‘instant fires’, ‘amourous birds of prey’, ‘one ball’, ‘rough strife’, ‘iron gates of life’. These images are suggestive to signify the quick and violent love-making. Besides, during the love-making the lover and the lady-love would be forgetful the effect of time upon them aesthetic delight in which they would be dipped into estasy would be to them the highest bliss of the mundane existence,

“Thus though we can not make our sun

Stand still yet we make him run”

Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is a logical exhibition of carpe-diem theme. In this lyric Marvell avoiding the emotional out burst of his predecessors, analyzes, explains, and concludes the essence of ‘Carpe-Diem’. That is “Gather ye rose, buds while ye may” or “Seize the day” (from Horace’s odes) or “To the virgins, to make much of time” or “Go, lovely rose” etc. hence the present poem in its contents bears the epitome of the essentials of ‘Carpe-Diem’.


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lit24 | Student

The Latin phrase "Carpe Diem" means 'seize the day.' It originally formed a part of the longer phrase Carpe diem quam minime credula postero from an Ode by Horace. The translation of this phrase would be "Seize the day, trusting as little as possible in the future."

The implication is that one should live in the present and take complete advantage of a given situation to exploit it to the  maximum extent possible. This is exactly what the lover in "To his Coy Mistress" endeavors to do.

Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is a metaphysical poem.Systematic reasoning is one of the chief characteristics of metaphysical poetry. Stated simply, the argument of the poem is that man is mortal {"The grave's a fine and private place/But none, I think, there do embrace"} and hence it is advisable not to waste time {"But at my back I always hear/Time's winged chariot drawing near"} in long drawn out gentlemanly methods of wooing but to quickly consummate the sexual union {"And tear our pleasures with rough strife/Thorough the iron gates of life"}.

This  argument is presented in the form of a syllogism. The first two stanzas contain the premises from which the conclusion is derived in the third stanza: 1. "Had we...(if)  2. "But"  3. "Now therefore."

The irony, lies in the fact that the argument of the impatient lover is fallacious.  It is a clear case of 'denial of the antecedent': The propositions of the  first two stanzas are 'true' but the conclusion is invalid - just because time is short  doesn't mean that they must hastily indulge in sexual intercourse.

But then,  all  is fair in love and war and the impatient  lover uses all his seductive powers-even fallacious arguments- to gain his objective.

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