To His Coy Mistress "Had We But World Enough, And Time"

Andrew Marvell

"Had We But World Enough, And Time"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Politician, diplomat, poet and satirist, Marvell had a keen and often biting sense of humor; there are several fine examples in "To his Coy Mistress." The poem, however, is much more than a witty exercise in which the exasperated lover chides a mistress who keeps him at arm's length: in it Marvell balances the brevity of life and pleasure against human reluctance to enjoy them when the opportunity arises. Cloaking seriousness in wit, Marvell points out that none of this procrastination would matter if the "Deserts of vast Eternity" did not await his lady and himself. If no time limit existed, he assures her, "My vegetable Love should grow/ Vaster than Empires, and more slow;" then, in stark reference to death, she is reminded that ". . . then Worms shall try/ That long preserv'd Virginity." A grim joke follows: "The Grave's a fine and private place,/ But none I think do there embrace." Time is their enemy, he concludes, and if they cannot stay its flight they can at least hurry it along in a far more pleasant fashion.

Had we but World enough, and Time,
This coyness Lady were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long Loves Day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges side
Should'st Rubies find: I by the Tide
Of Humber would complain. . . .