Wednesday, September 5, 2007

To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Warning! This poem has some decidedly PG-13 imagery. Proceed at your own risk.
To His Coy Mistress

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
Shoudst 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;
An 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.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├ęd 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 honor turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

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
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
--Andrew Marvell

This poem starts off sweetly enough -- that's the part I had heard before looking up the whole thing to post here. The man is waxing poetic as he tells his lady how he'd love to spend eternity letting their love slowly grow. I really like this imagery. I've though a lot about the idea of living forever, and I've come to the conclusion that it would only be worth it if you had someone to share it with as you both grow and change.

The second section also begins with a reasonable concern. The speaker reminds his lady that they are not going to live forever, and so they'd better hurry things along. About the middle of this stanza, I realized that he's not talking about marrying this girl, he just wants to satisfy his lust at the expense of her "quaint honor." The poem just got a whole lot less romantic to me. The image of the worms is in especially bad taste.

The third section picks up the pace without changing the meter. A neat trick accomplished by using shorter words, and longer sentences without much punctuation so the reader feels out of breath after a couple lines. Here, the man drops all charade of being a gentleman with a bald faced plea for sex right now. In one of the comments I read about this poem, someone said they hoped the scene ended with the lady giving him a well deserved slap in the face.

While looking for this poem, I found a neat site that has an in-depth analysis of it using several different methods. I'd encourage you to give it a try, since I only touched on a few of the technical aspects here, and almost none of the historical.

1 comment:

  1. I thought he was trying to get his garden to grow faster so the birds wouldn't get it.