Critical Appreciation of “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell


To His Coy Mistress is the masterpiece of love poetry ever written by one of the most famous metaphysical poets, Andrew Marvell. He has not written many love poems; this particular poem is enough to mark him as a great poet of love.

In this post, I will help you better understand the poem by critically looking at it from multiple perspectives. Here, I will give you several strong reasons why Andrew Marvell should be your favorite too. 

The epigrammatic style, the idea of carpe diem, metaphysical conceit, and the syllogistic structure of the poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvel have made it a masterpiece in English metaphysical poetry. Anybody who loves to read poetry and talk about them, especially the metaphysical ones, must NOT miss To His Coy Mistress.

The Poem Represents An Epigrammatic Style 

In this poem, the Petrarchan hyperbole and Elizabethan conceits combine with a metaphysical condemnation of style, almost epigrammatic. 

Marvell has shown his skills in the use of words. The style of the poem is mocked by the compression of ideas and the economy of words. Each line carries profound meaning.

The poet has compressed the idea of swift time passing admirably into a few words. An example of the epigrammatic manner of writing is as follows:

“Thy beauty shall no more be found; Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound.”

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

Carpe Diem: The Lover Wants to Have Physical Intimacy Right Now

In this love poem, the speaker offers a strong plea for the beloved to be soft towards him and relax her rigid attitude of stiff resistance to grant him sexual favors.

The poet who might be the lover himself put forward strong arguments that no sensible woman can reject. It is a “carpe diem” theme, a Latin phrase meaning “seize the opportunity.”

The whole sentence in Latin conveys a significant theme in this world of illusion. It calls upon man to enjoy the present day, trusting the least possible to the future.

If Not NOW, Then NEVER

The lover reminds his beloved that time passes fast, and soon they have to face the desert of vast eternity. Otherwise, he would have taken a long time to soften her rigid refusal.

If they had enough time at their disposal, he would have started loving her ten years before the great flood while she could refuse to satisfy his desire until the Day of Judgment. In the meantime, he could spend hundreds of years praising her physical beauty.

Now she should yield to his request as her beauty will no longer be found on this earth. She will be in her marble tomb, and he would no longer be there to sing her love song.

There in the grave, worms will attack her long-preserved virginity. All her delicate sense of humor will then turn to dust, and all his desire to make love will then turn to ashes.

Finally, she will stay in the grave, but nobody can enjoy the pleasure of lovemaking, although it is a peaceful and private place. All their desires will end in nothingness.

Syllogistic Structure: Condition to Conclusion

Marvell has written the poem in a syllogism form. A syllogism means an argument developed in a strictly logical form and leading to a definite conclusion.

A syllogistic argument consists of these stages, and each stage begins with three words, “If,” “But,” and “Therefore.” In this poem, we find three marked sections. The first section begins with “If”:

“Had we but world enough, and time.”

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

The first word of this sentence, “Had,” conveys the sense of “If,” and the sentence means, “If we had only enough space and time at our disposal.”

The second section of the poem begins with “But”:

“But at my back, I always hear.”

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

And the third section begins with “Therefore”: 

“Now therefore, while the youthful hue.”

To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell

The poem states a condition in the first section. Then in the second section, the reasons this condition is beyond fulfillment have been given. Finally, the arguments end in a conclusion. The poem concludes that the lovers should lose no time enjoying the pleasure of love. The conclusion that Marvell draws in the poem justifies the “carpe diem” theme that one should seize the opportunity when offered without losing the present.

Metaphysical Conceits & Wits Prevail in To His Coy Mistress

The poem abounds in several fine concrete pictures and metaphysical conceits. Marvell first gives us a fantastic picture. If the lovers had enough time and space at their disposal, they would be able to wander as far apart as the Indian Ganges and the English Humbler.

Next, the metaphysical wit is evident in the following lines. The lover would love his mistress from a time ten years before the Great Flood and would spend hundreds and thousands of years admiring and adoring the different parts of her body. The passing of time’s winged chariot hurrying and coming closer to overtake the lovers presents an image of a vehicle before our mind’s eyes.

Using a metaphor, the poet has turned an abstract idea of passing the time into a vivid picture. Another metaphysical conceit is visible in the picture of the woman lying in the grave where the worms will consume her prolonged preserved virginity. Thus the worms are shown to have the power of seducing a woman.

The poet speaks of rolling all their strength into one ball in the last lines. The poet enjoys their pleasures with rough strife through the iron gate of life, which is undoubtedly a fine example of metaphorical wit to enrich the poem.

Conclusion

It has already been mentioned that the poet builds an exemplary case in the poem. The entire poem represents a metaphysical wit, and a streak of irony runs through the poem. The lady’s coyness has been mocked as her lover proposes to spend thousands of years praising her physical beauty.

Some critics have charged Marvell with a lack of passion in his love poems. But here in this poem, passion is allowed to take its natural path; as a love poem, it is unique and that for sheer power, it shanks higher than anything Marvell ever wrote.

“To His Coy Mistress” has the strength and passion of Andrew Marvell without his obscurity and horrible taste and runs efficiently and harmoniously. This poem of Marvell is the masterpiece of metaphysical poetry in this genre, and it also shows a return to the anacreontic theme. It is repeated with a new intensity and comes from a heart intense and passionate, and the love which is demanded is silent and forceful.  

Let us look at the picture below so that you can easily remember the whole thing:

A H M Ohidujjaman

I'm the Founder of Hamandista Academy. I live in Dhaka, Bangladesh. I studied English Literature and ELT. Now, I'm working as a Lecturer of English at a Dhaka-based Private University.

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