Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress as a Love Poem

To His Coy Mistress as a Love Poem

To His Coy Mistress as a Love Poem

To His Coy Mistress is a supreme instance of metaphysical love poem. However, Marvell like Donne has revolted against Platonic love and stressed the intensive physical love that actually happens to man. The poem as his ‘The Definition of Love’ is the poet’s protest against the practice of Elizabethan love lyrics, famous for their sentimental effusion and the preponderance of heart.

The conventional Elizabethan idea of love is that love is a sacred thing a divine phenomenon that happens to man. Love is considered as sacred union between two human beings. That love is private and personal is alien to the Elizabethan thought for the poets of the age always give a religious colour to it. But a poet like Marvell in this poem ‘To His Coy Mistress’ is more intellectual than emotional in his treatment of the theme of love. The experience of love is emotional but the analysis of that experience is intellectual.

Like Ben Johnson’s Song to Celia with the refrain ‘Come my Celia, let us prove‘, ‘To His Coy Mistress‘ in its very theme owes much to the Latin poet Catullus. The carpe-diem theme is the belief in the virtue of enjoying oneself while one is still young. Though Marvell is indebted to the classical concept ‘Let us eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die’, the poem is still an improvement on the carpe-diem theme.

It is the usual Elizabethan’s lover’s plea during Renaissance to plead with the beloved to give up coyness and respond to the call of love and promptings of the heart in the prime of youth. But the poem is a Marvell in the sense that the very theme of carpe-diem is complicated as it is moulded most metaphysically. The poem is no mere love poem for it goes beyond a simple and joyous invitation to love.

The pith and essence of the poem “To His Coy Mistress” is genuine’ If we had infinite time, I should be happy to count you at leisure’ But our life lasts only for a moment. Therefore, in order to live we must seize the moment as it flies. The very idea is better conveyed in a metaphysical manner through argument. The lover tries to persuade his mistress to yield to his sincere call and accept his love-suit and he continuously changes the tone of the poem in three successive sections.

In the first section of the poem, the lover is gay and light-hearted with a playful conversation. The tone of the poem is that of polite and not too serious verse. The worldly lover is all hypothetical fancying sumptuous state where time is not linear but circular. In such a state with infinite time at his disposal the lover will have ample opportunity to adore various parts of the beloved. The lady is to pick up the rules by the side of the Ganges and he would protest against her irresponsive attitude to love.

The tone of the poem takes sudden twists as the lover’s conjecture about the possibility of infinite time is nullified. The lover’s mood takes a sudden and shocking turn as he is painfully aware of the “Times winged chariot”, “the desert the vast eternity” and the stillness of the “marble vault”. The lover’s haunted sense of the brevity of life and the inevitability of death and physical decay looms large. The lover’s tone grows serious and carries a sling of banter as he says the grave- worm is the ultimate lover to taste her long-preserved honor. Thus, there is the ironical understatement in second section.

The very word ‘Therefore’ marks a resolution in the poem. The knowledge in the second section:

“The grave is a fine and private place

But none I think do there embrace”

teaches that the beloved should give up her coyness and make the best use of time. They may not master death but they can master life by exercise of their will as intensely as possible. The fierce and determined lover looks triumphant with his bold assertion.


“Though we cannot make our Sun stand still,

Yet we will make him run.”

In ‘The Definition of love’ Marvell cherishes a love which is ‘begotten by despair upon impossibility’.


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