What does the speaker always hear at his back in "To His Coy Mistress"?

The speaker always hears "Time's winged chariot" at his back (line 22). He wishes to impress upon his demure lover how quickly time passes and youth and beauty fade, because he would urge her to take advantage of them now. He uses this personification of time in order to convince her to sleep with him because, he argues, death will come sooner than they think.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The speaker says that he always hears "Time's winged chariot hurrying near" (line 22). In this line, time is personified as someone driving a fleet and fast-moving vehicle, signifying how quickly time seems to move. The speaker is attempting to convince his mistress, who is behaving coyly and standoffishly by refusing to sleep with him, that they should, in fact, sleep together now because life is short and time passes so swiftly. For now, they are both young, beautiful, and passionate, and he wishes that she would have no concern about her "quaint honour" and simply give up her "long-preserved virginity."

The speaker describes death, the "marble vault" into which her body will eventually be deposited, and how the worms will eventually eat away at her. Her body will, he suggests, be assailed by those worms no matter what, and so what good would her virginity be then? The speaker employs this specter of death, suggesting that it is closer now than it seems, as a way of reinforcing his claims about time. In youth, we may feel that we have lots of time, but the older we get, the faster it passes, and the speaker uses this personification of time, as driving a winged chariot, to emphasize how quickly youth and beauty will fade and passions cool as the couple ages.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial