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To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

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How can one write a critical appreciation of Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress"?

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In "To His Coy Mistress," the speaker essentially reduces his female companion to a mere body, and then uses that body as an excuse to engage in a lifetime of sexual pleasure. The poem is traditionally read as an allegory for the pursuit of pleasure, but it can also be read as a misogynist vision of how men think about love. In "To His Coy Mistress," Andrew Marvell presents a shallow and misogynistic view of love.

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A critical appreciation essay is a unique academic form, which assumes that its subject is an excellent work, and uses the tools of literary criticism  to show ways of arriving at that foreordained conclusion.  In general, it is an assignment used primarily within the discourse of New Criticism. Therefore you should address in your essay New Critical themes. Begin with analysis of how Marvell fits the "carpe diem" diem, looking at how such passages as the following exemplify the theme:

But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

Next, discuss Marvell's choice of iambic tetrameter couplets, the narrative persona, the use of figures of speech, and the syllogistic nature of the poet's argument.

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In what way does Andrew Marvell present the male interpretation of love in "To His Coy Mistress"?

Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" is a poem that deals with many themes, especially the themes of love, time, human mortality, and the pursuit of pleasure. However, for all its complexity, "Mistress" is also a representation of the shallow, male interpretation of love, as it essentially equates love with sex.

Initially, the speaker insists that he wishes he were able to engage in a long courtship and get to know his lover in an intimate way. However, the speaker also asserts that this process is sadly impossible, because he and his mistress will get old and die. As such, the speaker concludes that it is necessary to love each other (have sex, in other words) while both parties are young and good looking so that they can have as much pleasure in life before they die.

The elevated verse of the piece suggests there's a certain logic to the speaker's argument, but it's important to remember that the speaker is advancing a stereotypically male (and even misogynistic) view of love. For the speaker, getting the most out of a romantic relationship means having sex (and, he implies, lots of it). As such, he essentially reduces the woman in the relationship to a body and nothing more. After all, the speaker is essentially saying that what's most important is the physical aspect of the relationship. Everything else (getting to know one another, developing a strong emotional bond, etc.) is secondary and ultimately superfluous for him. As such, the speaker advances a classically patriarchal view of love, as he callously reduces his female companion to a mere body and refuses to view the emotional development of a relationship as important.  

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How would you explicate "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell?

In Andrew Marvell's poem, "To His Coy Mistress," the speaker is trying to convince a woman he desires to give in to him.

He begins with the idea that if it were possible, they could take all the time they want. She could be coy and flirtatious—no big deal. They could go their separate ways: she to the "Indian Ganges' side" to find rubies, and he to complain of Humber (where he grew up). He would love her ten years before the Flood (of Noah, in the Old Testament of the Bible), and she could continue to refuse him until the Jews were converted to Christianity. He would praise her eyes for a hundred years; each breast for two hundred years, "but thirty thousand to the rest." He would devote "an age" to every part, the last being her heart. She would deserve this and he would give her no less.

However, in the second stanza Marvell introduces the theme popular with the Cavalier poets: Carpe Diem, which literally means "seize the day," or let's live for today." Basically the speaker is saying, "time is wasting," for:

...at my back I always hear / Time's winged chariot hurrying near...

Tine is rushing up behind us; our lives are flying past. The future holds nothing but "eternity." She will lose her beauty. In her "marble vault" where they bury her his song will not be heard. The worms will do their work, and her virginity and honour will "turn to dust." And the passion he feels for her will burn itself out till nothing but ash remains. The grave is all well and good, he says, but people don't hug there.

So, he says in the third stanza, let's make the most of this moment: let's not waste time...not while your skin is young "like the morning dew," while her willing soul is pouring itself out of her pores with the fires of her passion. While we are still young, let us make the most of our time together and use all of our time to its best advantage. Let's roll strength and sweetness together and take all our pleasure as we may. We may not be able to stop the sun (time), but we can make the sun "run to keep up" with us.

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Please discuss the poem "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell.

This is perhaps one of the most famous invitations to love in the English language. This poem is an excellent example of a carpe diem poem, as it urges the speaker's beloved to "seize the day" and to not be "coy" and to engage in a relationship with him. This poem is all about seduction and time, and the way that these two concepts are linked by Marvell throughout the poem is worthy of some serious attention. Practically, the poem is broken down into three parts, with lines 1-20 featuring the use of hyperbole to describe how the speaker would court his beloved if there were time, lines 21-32 focusing on the brevity of time and man's mortality, and lastly lines 33-46 ending with a challenge to allow them, through their embracing of love (and of each other) to rule time rather than be ruled by it.

Every carpe diem poem is really about seduction, but what is unique about this poem is the way that time is also a constant them. In the first section, time is referenced with the slow passing of the years that the speaker would like to express his love in the way he wants:

My vegetable love should grow

Vaster than empires and more slow...

The second section features time as the enemy of man, with the famous image of time as a "winged chariot hurrying near." The focus is on how defering or delaying the consummation of love actually will lead to regret and sadness at the wasted opportunity of not seizing the moment. After all, the only thing that we as humans have to look forward to is "deserts of vast eternity."

Lastly, there is a dramatic change of tense in the final section as we move into the present (which after all is the focus of the poem as the speaker wants his beloved to love him now) and the speaker urges his beloved to live the moment and not regret her coyness. The ending of the poem is a famous and masterful appeal to how they can master and dominate time through loving deeply, richly and passionately:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Note how these lines present the lovers as being in control of the sun in the way that their passion can make the sun speed up and accelerate time.

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Please provide a summary and analysis of "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell.

In the face of the general nature of your inquiry, "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell is a fine and extremely well known "Carpe Diem" poem, written during the time of the Cavaliers in the reign of Charles I of England. Before the religious Puritan leaders, such as Cromwell, overthrew him, his court lived by this "seize the day" motto—nothing was certain in life, so live only for today. You can imagine that the very strict Puritans felt this was sinful living at its worst.

However, for the time that these poets were writing, it was all about instant gratification. In this poem, the speaker is trying to convince a young virgin to sleep with him: his argument is that life is too short.

Had we but world enough, and time,


This coyness, lady, were no crime.

If life went on forever, the speaker says, playing "hard to get" would not be a problem. He would love her (he says) longer than time itself, and she could say "no" indefinitely:

I would


Love you ten years before the Flood;


And you should, if you please, refuse


Till the conversion of the Jews.

They could spend endless days doing whatever they pleased if time were not an issue. He would praise her forever if time were not so short. But he tells the woman that time (which he personifies) is flying by and that they cannot waste it:

But at my back I always hear


Time's winged chariot hurrying near...

He reminds her that after time has gone, the only thing left is old age...and eternity. After death, refusing to yield her virginity to him will leave it to the abiding dust as her body decays over the years. Perhaps even sardonically, he speculates that the grave ends every essence of life, even a lover's embrace:

The grave's a fine and private place,


But none I think do there embrace.

He infers that while they are young and she is beautiful, now is the time to love with abandon, to forget what society expects, and love each other now.

Let us roll all our strength, and all


Our sweetness, up into one ball;


And tear our pleasures with rough strife


Through the iron gates of life.


The speaker notes that while they cannot outrun time, they can move fast enough that he (time) must run to keep up with them.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun


Stand still, yet we will make him run. 

Carpe diem poetry is very clear in its message. It...

...expresses a philosophy that recognizes the brevity of life and therefore the need to live for and in the moment.

This sentiment reflects the need to live for today—a theme reflected in countless other songs, poems, stories, etc., over the ages. The theme of this poem is very much like Robert Herrick's "To the Virgins, To Make Much of Time." His poem begins with this stanza...

GATHER ye rosebuds while ye may,

Old time is still a-flying :

And this same flower that smiles to-day

To-morrow will be dying. 

Frank Sinatra, in Forget Domani, sang, "Let's forget about tomorrow for tomorrow never comes." The term "tempus fugit" means "time flies," and this is a central aspect of the carpe diem theme.

Marvell's message is not the first of its kind or the last: his desire is to convince a young virgin to yield to his advances, arguing that time is short: life is short. He advises her to make the most of the relatively short time they have together.

Additional Source:

Adventures in English Literature, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Publishers: Orlando, 1985.

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