Analysis of the Poem To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell


To His Coy Mistress is a poem by the English poet Andrew Marvell, published in 1681, after Marvell's death. "To His Coy Mistress" is a carpe diem (Latin phrase that means “seize the day!) poem. The poem comprises the attempts of the speaker to convince his beloved, a mistress, to be ready to make love with him. It also talks about the transience of life and the transient nature of time. However, the speaker dwells with grotesque intensity on death itself. 

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Title: An attribution to somebody’s shy beloved. Though the title is written in third person point of view, the poem is written in first person point of view.

Form: written in iambic tetrameter, where the lines consist of four iambic feet. (not the more commonly used iambic pentameter - five iambic feet. An iamb is an unstressed syllable, followed by a stressed syllable.) The lines are composed of closed couplet form. (each line of the poem rhymes with the line next to it. Such a couplet form presents an idea in the unit of two lines.)

Rhyme scheme The lines of the poem contain the AABB rhyme scheme. (simple rhyming scheme)

Tone: words are ironical, critical about beloved’s coyness, hasty, appealing and patient (the tone is revealed through the poetic persona’s monologue.)

Mood: erotic, generates a sense of gruesomeness due to the mentioning of death and decay.

Themes: Love, Sex and mortality, Time as an antagonist between the lover and the beloved, enjoying the moment by forgetting about the future (Carpe diem theory), inevitability of death.

Narration: the male counterpart, an English born speaking to an anonymous beloved who is silent or not present in a dramatic monologue. the poetic persona’s arguments are more appealing and emotionally forceful.


Deep-end Analysis

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 love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
A hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.


metaphormy vegetable love (which shows how slow and how steady it grows), the last age should show your heart (finally she should give the consent)

conceitmy vegetable love (love and vegetable are unusual comparisons, usually love is compared to delicate and beautiful things like the rose)

allusionsIndian Gange’s side/ Shouldst rubies find (in legend the river originates from a huge jujube tree near a hermitage where stands some stairs made of rubies and corals) I by the tide/Of Humber would complain (England, the tidal river Humber, in East Yorkshire.)  flood (refers to Noah’s flood) conversion of the Jews (a biblical allusion to the conversion of the Jews)

hyperboleAn hundred years should go to praise…. but thirty thousand to the rest (his exaggeration is evidently ironical showing his lady’s coyness is to be a crime as thy have no enough time in the world and on the other hand it shows his love and admiration about his beloved’s beauty.)

apostrophe – whole poem is a direct address to an absent person.

enjambment and end stopped lines

caesurawe would sit down, and think, shouldst rubies find; (there are some places in the poem which shows purposeful pauses to show the patience of the poetic persona while his explanation.)

alliterationthirty thousand, but at my back

assonancean age at least to every part, and the last age

symbol - heart (hinting at a genuine romantic love rather than simple lust)

visual imagery - Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side/Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide/Of Humber would complain, My vegetable love should grow/Vaster than empires


First of all, the far-fetched comparisons between coyness and crime, vegetables and love make it a metaphysical poem. The poem is about a shy mistress, the speaker says that life is not endless and that she should not be shy or hesitant. He asks her to spend all the days of their life together. He talks about her physical beauty and says if time allows him, he will admire every feature of her body before reaching her heart. He also comments on the destructive nature of time and suggests that they should make love before her beauty decays in death.

Use of allusions like Gange river from India and the tidal river Humber in England might show their huge gap between ideas related to love relationship. Hence, this is the era of the colonization, expansion of British empire, poet might bring it to the poem. His beloved might be an Indian woman; whose cultural barriers stop her from sexual affairs before marriage. 

The use of the traditional love elegy format (otherwise known as ‘carpe diem’ poetry) might seem as though it is ironically used. However, given that this was written at a time when such emotion was not freely expressed, the beauty of the language and the overwhelming focus on the woman’s beauty, the respect is shown therein, makes the poem quite progressive for its time.


But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
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:
The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.


symboldeserts of vast eternity (death), turn to dust (death and decay)

personification – time’s winged chariot hurrying near

metaphortime’s winged chariot, deserts of vast eternity (reference to death and the uncertainty of life beyond)

similethe youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew, like amorous birds of prey

satire - then worms shall try/That long preserved virginity, The grave’s a fine and private place, /But none, I think, do there embrace.

alliterationsits on thy skin

assonancemy echoing song; then worms shall try, and your quaint honour

allusiontime’s winged chariot (reference to Greek mythology, another form of deifying his lady love)

conceits - Deserts of vast eternity (eternal life after death is compared to a desert)


The mood shifts, and the poet is at once pleading and urgent, reminding his beloved that the time is running short and future beyond life is uncertain and unknown. He further reminds of the decaying nature of beauty and mortal body. He persuades his beloved to see that there is no use of preserved things after getting old and died. He satirizes the coyness and unwillingness of the beloved reminding that ‘worms shall try That long preserved virginity.’  The poetic persona keeps on juggling with his intention and death making the poem gruesome one rather than an erotic one.     


Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all (41)
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run. (46)


symbolmorning dew (youth)

metaphorthy willing soul transpires, at every pore with instant fires (implies the viability of force of emotions) his slow – chapped power (refers to aging) last lines from 41-46 are extended metaphor for fighting against the force of death by means of the consumption of love while they are capable of (seize the day - Carpe diem theory)

similelike amorous birds of prey (like free as birds giving way to the natural desires to be fulfilled)

alliterationlet us roll all our strength and all

assonanceour time devour, tear our pleasures with rough strife

hyperbole though we cannot make our sun/stand still, yet we will make him run (exaggerates the power of love and passion over death and decay)

conceit - amorous birds of prey (lovemaking is compared to an animalistic action) iron gates of life (death is compared to an iron gate/ a strong barrier) 


Last part of the poem starts with ‘now therefore’ suggesting the resolution for passing time, death and decay vs the coyness of the lady. He suggests hence they cannot stop passing of time, death and decay, they should consume their life to the maximum while they can, as he says that is the best answer to the restrictions laid upon by life itself. The last few lines take on the imagery of roiling passion: the poet wants to ‘tear our pleasures with rough strife / through the iron gates of life’, thus somehow elevating their own passion above life itself.

“Our pleasures,” he argues, will tear through “the iron gates of life.” Though he does not imagine that their pleasure will defeat death, he does believe that pleasure is the only reasonable response to death. Indeed, he even says that enjoying pleasure is a way to defy death. However, poet cannot deny the fact that death is an irresistible force.

'To His Coy Mistress' has been rightly lauded as a small masterpiece of a poem, primarily because it packs so much into a relatively small space. It manages to carry along on simple rhyming couplets the complex passions of a male speaker, hungry for a sexual liaison with a lady before all-devouring time swallows them up.

In conclusion, 'To His Coy Mistress' explores the realm of human mortality, approaching the seriousness of this finite reality with humor, logic and ironic reflection. Why let time get the upper hand when being pro-active could bring fulfillment?


Hope you could get a clear understanding of Marvell’s best known poem. If you have more things to be added or evaluated, please leave a comment below. Share the post if you find it useful to others.


Sources: poem



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