To His Coy Mistress "At My Back I Always Hear Time's Winged Chariot Hurrying Near"

Andrew Marvell

"At My Back I Always Hear Time's Winged Chariot Hurrying Near"

Context: The poetry of Marvell is in the metaphysical tradition of Donne, which has been defined as that poetry in which "the gravity makes fun of itself, and the levity takes itself seriously." It is marked by a special type of "wit," which depends upon the ingenuity of the poet in pushing every elaborate figure of speech to its utmost limits, thus producing a grotesque effect which is made bearable only by the gravity making fun of itself. Marvell is more lighthearted than Donne; hence, more enjoyable though perhaps less impressive. In this poem he is pointing out to his mistress that, if "had we but world enough and time," her reluctance to yield to him would not be a serious matter. But both of them are human beings and subjects to Time: When they are dead, it will be too late for love, for they will be dust and ashes. Therefore, she should yield while they still live in finite time. His figure of speech to illustrate time's implacable onrush has become famous:

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