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To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

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What is the structure of the poem "To His Coy Mistress"?

Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is structured as a one-stanza poem written in iambic tetrameter and organized into rhyming couplets. It can be considered a dramatic monologue.

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"To His Coy Mistress" was written by the English poet Andrew Marvell and was originally published in 1681, three years after Marvell's death. It is often presented as a three-stanza poem; however, Marvell originally wrote one single stanza, which is separated into three parts or poetic paragraphs that consist of forty-six lines. The second part starts with line 21, and the third part starts with line 33. Each line has four iambic feet, or iambs; thus the poem is a non-stanzaic iambic tetrameter poem. It also rhymes in couplets and follows an AABB rhyme scheme.

Due to its interesting structure, the poem is often considered a dramatic monologue and a three-part argument, as the speaker presents three arguments to convince his beloved to sleep with him.

Because of the way the speaker tries to persuade his "coy," or shy, mistress to give up her virginity and enjoy the pleasures of life while she still has her youth and beauty, "To His Coy Mistress" is commonly regarded as a "carpe diem," or "seize the day," poem. The main themes in this type of poetry are love, lust, satisfaction, the passing of time, and the imminence of death. Due to the use of conceits, allusions, and metaphors, "To His Coy Mistress" is also classified as a metaphysical poem.

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What type of poem is "To His Coy Mistress"?

There are several ways to classify Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress.” First, it is a metaphysical poem. Literary scholars regularly link Marvell to a group of seventeenth-century poets known as the metaphysical poets, whose themes tended to revolve around religion, love, and morality. In “To His Coy Mistress”, love and morality are key concerns. The speaker encourages his beloved to not be coy and to embrace their love because, after all, their time on earth is temporary.

“To His Coy Mistress” is also a lyric poem. Lyric poems are generally short poems that convey intimate emotions. Marvell’s poem is a good example of a lyric poem, given its relative brevity and its expression of passionate personal feelings.

From a thematic perspective, "To His Coy Mistress" is a carpe diem poem. Carpe diem poems follow some version of the argument that because life is short and time is fleeting, one ought to take advantage of the pleasures and joys of life before it is too late. In the case of Marvell's poem, the speaker uses this carpe diem conceit in the context of an amorous appeal to his beloved, whose coyness is antithetical to his own sense of urgency.

Finally, to classify the poem from a formal perspective, "To His Coy Mistress" is a forty-six line poem composed in iambic tetrameter, with a couplet rhyme scheme. This means that each line is composed of four iambs, an iamb being a metrical foot consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable. Each successive pair of lines form a rhyme, as seen in the opening two lines:

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

The poem is divided into three sections of uneven length, demarcated by indentations. These sections can be thought of as stanzas, but they are not separated by the break that typically divides stanzas. Overall, these formal features give the poem a musical, humorous, discursive tone.

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