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To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

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How does Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress" present the conflict between love and time?

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In this "carpe diem" poem, Marvell presents time as the enemy of the young couple, personifying him as one whose "slow-chapped power" can ultimately defeat them unless they make the decision to "devour" him in turn by taking action. It is interesting that this active verb, "devour," is offered as something the young couple can do to their time; normally it is time who is imagined devouring mortals. This word choice serves to prove the speaker's point that, while time is inexorable, there is something to be done about it. By acting upon their love now, they cannot make time "stand still, yet we will make him run."

The concept of time in this poem, then, is of an adversary who is expecting the couple to behave in one way, but whom they can defeat by behaving in a different way. If the "coy mistress" insists on being courted extremely slowly and holding onto her "long-preserved virginity," then "time's winged chariot" will overtake them, and the result will be that they run out of time and end up food for "worms," lying in their graves. It will be too late for their love, and time will have won. The speaker acknowledges that his mistress deserves to be loved and courted for many aeons (look at the beginning of the poem for the fantasy of slowed-down time he creates) but also states that this is not possible. Instead, the only way to defeat time is to "sport us while we may."

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