In the poem “To His Coy Mistress,” Andrew Marvell uses the sun as a figure of speech—a metonym—to represent the abstract concept of time. The sun's connection to time recurs in several places throughout the poem, but it is only expressed explicitly in the final two lines. The poem centers around the speaker's attempt to convince his beloved to make love to him without delay:
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Her coyness, he argues, would not be such a “crime” or hindrance if they had plenty of time for flirtation. Indeed, he claims that if they had time, they could duly sit and take walks together, and their relationship would have a chance to develop slowly as they gradually grow to know each other more substantially. Time would allow them to have a deeper, more genuine “long love.”
But alas, he asserts, they do not have much time, so he wishes to hasten their relationship along. He feels at his back “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near.” According to Greek mythology, each day the sun god Helios drives a chariot pulled by four winged horses across the sky from east to west. This movement of the sun signifies the passage of time.
Marvell argues that over time, her beauty and honor will fade and turn to dust. Therefore, they should seize the day and make love before it is too late. He notes that right now, and only fleetingly, her
Sits on thy skin like morning dew
But as the sun crosses the sky and the day passes, they will run out of time and opportunity. Marvell concludes his argument with
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
Although he and his potential lover cannot stop time, they can try to control or combat time by taking action. There is an irreverence to this idea that their youthful amorous antics will “make him run.”