Analyse “To his coy mistress” by Andrew Marvell

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The poem is about Marvell’s desire to bed the woman to whom he’s writing the poem. He is talking to the woman and the piece is essentially persuasive writing, the writer is writing to prove a point and to get his on way. He’s breaking into the woman’s emotions and using it against her. He talks about “Vegetable love,” love of the mind. He also says that this love,

“Should grow

Vaster than empires and more slow.”

This statement is such a massive exaggeration because it’s impossible, but nevertheless it shows how deeply he feels for her, or how deeply he wants her to think he feels about her. This type of exaggeration runs right through the poem, it is exaggeration to prove a point, the point that the writer loves this woman and that he wants the best for her.

“A hundred years should go to praise

Thine eyes…

…But thirty thousand to the rest.”

He then goes on to say,

“You deserve this state;

Nor would I love at a lower rate,”

But in actual fact, how can he manage to love at half that rate, the exaggeration is silly but the idea is breathtaking. For someone to have this said to them must feel good, she must think that he must feel some love for her and not just want to bed her. The writer’s language has more than likely won the woman’s trust by this point, as she is being flattered.

Prior to this, Marvell presents the exoticness of the Indian Ganges and he compares it to the Humber; the bland Humber against the exotic, far-flung Indian Ganges, and although it is so far-flung, he chooses it that way. It shows how far apart they are in their desires and it also links in with what he thinks about her, she’s exotic because he’s not had her yet, but as soon as he has, she and the love that he has for her will disappear and she’ll become bland like the Humber. It doesn’t matter if they are apart in person; their thoughts are the same at this point. This is the topic he’s trying to get across.

He does however touch on the point that they both have similarities. They are both by rivers. Even though he has to be beside the dullest most common river it would work, because they are together in thought. The woman is however unattainable, just like the Ganges would have been at that time. But there is a common factor; there are rivers that you get to with ease, the Humber for example. All this talk of water, and then he brings up “the Flood,” by which he means the greatest flood of all time, the biblical flood. He is comparing something biblical to their love, although it hasn’t started yet, he is so sure that the love they would share would be a legend, just like the great flood.

But after section one he brings in the negativity. It is begun with a sudden change in tone, “But.” He is saying what will happen if she doesn’t do what is in effect just what he wants. It’s yet another way of getting his way. He tells of time loss in life and therefore death, which is quite a macabre idea for a love poem. This shows the lengths he’s prepared to go to, to prove his point and persuade someone to agree with what he’s saying. Another interesting thing he says is,

“Deserts of vast eternity.”

Surely a marriage or partnership should fruitful, more like forests of vast eternity? Perhaps Marvell wants to portray the image to this woman that anything could lay before them, it’s just present at this time in the form of a desert, and the blanks need filling in with anything that you may want. Before this Marvell says,

“I always hear

Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.”

He is also therefore saying that he has his own concerns about the future, and running out of time. He himself is getting old. The imagery he uses, worms, death, decay and rotting flesh is a very strong thing to say, and must be well justified in a love poem. It is justified because of the fact that he uses this effectively to scare the young woman into doing what he wants, making it a persuasive phrase. He even says,

“Thy beauty shall no more be found;

Nor in thy marble vault shall sound

My echoing song: then worms shall try,

That long preserved virginity:

And your quaint honour turn to dust,

And into ashes all my lust.”

This section highlights the fact that everything is lost in death, from material possessions however grand, “Marble vault,” to moral feelings and thought. So why hold on to anything at all in life? He’s talking about death yet again and now he’s linking it to everything that’s lost, including moral values and in this case the girl’s virginity.

“That long preserved virginity.”

He’s telling her that since we’re going to lose it all ultimately in the end, why not take a chance, lose a little and perhaps even come out on top? Live a little, seize the day, “Carpe Dieum,” as is said; rather than be stripped of what we have left, with no glory.

“Rather at once our time devour,

Than languish in his slow-chapped power.”

He says, do it now, do it well grab the opportunity all at once, right now, and don’t let it escape.

“Let us roll all our strength an all

Our sweetness up into one ball:

And tear our pleasures with rough strife,

Thorough the iron gates of life.”

Marvell is getting quite romantic and mutual here; he’s talking about everything happening between them, them sharing everything as one person. He wants to share everything, yet another indication of love.

“Our strength…Our sweetness…Our pleasures.”

He then goes on to say what life is like to go through, heavy, cold even. The imagery is very simple yet appealing.

“Iron gates of life.”

It is the final two lines that made me realise what the writer’s saying. He’s gone from talking mythically about the bible and the conversion of the Jews to death and decay. He has made so many points because there’s simply so much to say, and now he’s saying there’s so much to love that you must seize every moment of life to grasp not only love, but also life itself. He’s contrasted the lows of decay with the highs of youthfulness, and he realises that you only have one chance.

Although Marvell is writing to this woman in terms that don’t seem to pass just lust, he has made valid points, and therefore it’s use as a piece of persuasive writing is invaluable.

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