man and women intimately close in the starry night sky with an infinity sign below them

To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Start Free Trial

What does "vegetable love" mean in "To His Coy Mistress"?

Quick answer:

In "To His Coy Mistress," Marvell uses the expression "vegetable love" to refer to love that grows slowly.

Expert Answers

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

The central idea in Andrew Marvell's poem "To His Coy Mistress" is that the two lovers have only a little time in which to enjoy their love. The first part of the poem is taken up with the speaker's protestations of how he would behave if this were not the case. If they had hundreds or thousands of years together, he would be quite happy to proceed slowly with his courtship.

This idea of addressing one's mistress in these terms is not an original one and is particularly common in the cavalier poetry of the seventeenth century. Marvell's poem would probably not be read today if it were not for the compelling and unusual imagery with which he makes his case. Much of this is grotesque, like the notorious image of worms violating his mistress's "long-preserved virginity" in the grave.

The idea of vegetable love is not as shocking as this, but it is unusual, striking, and slightly grotesque. Love is often compared to a beautiful flower, seldom to a slow-growing vegetable. The meaning of the image is clear: vegetable love is love that increases so slowly that its growth is imperceptible. Its poetic value, however, lies in the fact that the image is original enough to stay in readers' minds, perhaps even changing the way they think about love.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial