Andrew Marvell – To His Coy Mistress – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker


Marvell wrote this at about 1650. This puts it at post-Shakespeare times
in the history of English literature. He is situated among the metaphysical poets
along with John Donne. The metaphysical poets are a
loosely connected group of writers often, like most poetic groups,
situated by geography and history, more than by any specific thing
they were attempting to do. But I think it’s fair to say that
when we look at the metaphysical poets, if I phrase it this way, ‘metaphysical poets tend to
investigate the world through witty yet rational discussions of its phenomena,
rather than by intuition or mysticism.’ That definition – it could be argued against –
but it covers a lot of the bases of what they’re attempting to do,
and Andrew Marvell is one of those guys. In this particular poem,
‘To His Coy Mistress’, which is justifiably
his most famous one, he gives us a poem which
I think is just great fun. It’s really fun
to analyse it. And it’s fun because
– and I don’t want to sound like I’m attempting to be deliberately crass
to come across as cool, but this is the way
to look at the poem. In the poem, Andrew Marvell
is trying to get laid. He’s trying to seduce a young lady. And what’s so much fun about this poem
is the different strategies which he adopts to inveigle
his way into her affections. One could say that these strategies
are in fact very honest. It’s not a love poem that,
‘I say this to you, therefore I expect you to fall
head-over-heels in love with me’. For example, if you’ve read
John Donne’s ‘The Good Morrow’, we expect the girl to fall
head-over-heels in love with John Donne at the end of that poem. We expect him to be successful. We expect her to agree
with what he has said. In this poem, we’re not so sure. We’re not so sure how
the girl should respond to Andrew Marvell’s affections,
and we’re not even so sure how seriously we should
take his sincerity during his attempt to
woo and win the girl. This poem has a great complication in it,
and by complication, I mean area of extreme interest. The things we’re really interested in
are always those bits which are slightly more complicated
than the easier things, I think. The area of interest in this poem,
or the complication in this poem, take it how you will, is how we hear the
actual lines that Marvell says. Do we hear them as sincere? Do we hear them as angry? Do we hear them even as perhaps, sarcastic? I’ll try and say the lines when I do
the sentence-by-sentence read-through for you. I’ll try to say them in certain different ways
to see how you can hear the rhetoric that Marvell
is putting across, because the way that a line is said
can be very important for our understanding of what is actually being said. And this is a great poem to
demonstrate how that truth is manifest. So, what I’ll do in
the way we teach this poem, I’ll do the read-through,
I’ll then do a brief discussion on the actual title of the poem itself,
and the different permutations of that, and how we could look at that. I’ll then do the
sentence-by-sentence read-through, and as I said,
I’ll try and draw attention to how we might interpret different lines
through the way that we hear them being said. And finally, I’ll address whether this poem
is anything more to us, or can be read as anything
more interesting to us, should it need to be, than merely Andrew Marvell attempting to
seduce a young woman with various strategies. Is it just a poem written just
so that the poet can get laid? Or does it bring
anything more for us to use? Aside from the possible seduction
of young woman ourselves, through using the lines that Marvell attempts, and some of the lines that Marvell uses in this,
I would strongly suggest you don’t use to attempt
to seduce anybody with. Actually, because an appreciation of this poem
is very dependent upon us recognising that the lines in the poem can be
said in different ways, let me briefly draw your attention here
to the importance of recognising how easily a simple stress on one line
can change the tone of it. I’ll take a line from one of Henrik Ibsen’s plays,
it’s from ‘Hedda Gabler’, I think. And the line is: “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” That’s the line,
it’s got 13 words in it. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” Listen to what happens when
I stress different words in this. I’ll stress the first one first, alright? “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” We must assume we’re at a party,
and someone has come up to me and – you in fact, have come up to me
and told me to leave, because they might arrive together again. And my response to it – “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” I’m affronted that
you have told me to leave. I’ll stress the second word. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” I’m affronted by the fact that
you have told me to leave. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” Different way of reading it, alright? ‘Telling’. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” That one would work in a situation whereby
the social conduct was to write me a letter
to tell me to leave, but to actually speak to me to leave
was a breach of etiquette. ‘Me’. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” See, there’s a subtle difference to
what’s being conveyed each time I stress a different word. ‘To’ doesn’t do anything. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” That would imply that it’d be
okay for me to go to another room, but for me to leave is terrible. ‘Because’ doesn’t change much. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” In that instance,
my indignation is put towards the ‘they’. ‘Might’. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” They might arrive, they might not. I’m being asked just because
they ‘might’ arrive together again. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” So, if they arrive apart, it’s okay. If they arrive together, it’s a problem. And my personal favourite is this one: “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” You keep on telling me to leave
because they might arrive together, and I keep ignoring you,
and you’ve just told me again, and I’m going to ignore you once more. “Surely you aren’t telling me to leave
because they might arrive together again.” The point of that is we don’t know
which one’s the correct way of saying it. However, some of them would depend on
the context in which the line is said. But it demonstrates that in
a simple line of 13 words, there are lots of different ways of
saying individual words which alter the setup of the line. Now, in a poem like Andrew Marvell’s
‘To His Coy Mistress’, the way that you say
many of the lines in it, or in fact, the way that you hear
many of the lines being said is drastically going to alter your
interpretation of what is being said in the poem. This was 13 lines of me
changing individual words in the lines. When you come to a full poem,
the tone with which you hear the words being said is going to be of
extreme importance; especially in this piece. So, this great, fun piece,
‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell. This is the first read-through. 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; 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 winged 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. 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-chapt 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. There’s some great bits in that. Ok. The title. The title, ‘To His Coy Mistress’. So this is Andrew Marvell
writing a poem to his mistress. ‘Coy mistress’. Coyness is an affected shyness, isn’t it? If we describe a girl as coy,
she’s shy, but it’s an affected shy, she’s not really being shy. That’s ‘coy’. ‘Mistress’.
Mistress means girlfriend or lover. So it’s to his coy girlfriend. Except ‘mistress’ doesn’t just mean
girlfriend or lover. Mistress has a slight
sadomasochistic element. In a sadomasochistic relationship,
the mistress has more dominion over the male. And it’s curious to know
which one we should read the girl as in this. Do we read her as a silly, shy, little girl
who he is trying to seduce? Or do we read her as a girl,
or a woman with affected shyness, who knows exactly what she’s doing. She knows exactly what
she’s putting him through here, or at least Marvell suspects that
she knows exactly what she’s putting him through here,
and we get the impression he quite likes that. ‘To His Coy Mistress’. ‘Coy’, affected shyness. ‘Mistress’,
either being lover or or carrying a connotation of
‘rather excitingly dominant sexual partner’. So, let’s start off. The first fascination of this poem
is to do with the way each of the stanzas are going to present a different strategy
for wooing, seducing, inveigling himself into the affections of the girl,
the mistress. And he starts off by saying, Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime It’s quite a famous line, this. Had we but world enough, and time ‘Had we’ means ‘if we had.’ So, if we had world enough, and time enough,
this coyness would be no crime. This coyness of yours,
this affected shyness of yours, the way you’re behaving wouldn’t be a problem,
if we had world enough, and time. Now what he means by ‘world enough, and time’ is,
all of the time in the world, and basically, all of the world. So if we had forever to play with,
and we had all of the world at our disposal, basically, wasting time wouldn’t matter,
because we’d have world enough, and time. It always reminds me of,
well since I’ve seen the film, this bit reminds me of
the film ‘Inception’. The bit when Cobb and Mal,
Leonardo DiCaprio and Marion Cotillards’ characters, and they go far enough into the dream world,
so basically they’ve been there forever, and they’ve created
a whole world for themselves. They’ve had world enough, and time. So that’s his point there. If we had 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. So basically, we can do anything we like,
because we’ve got all the time in the world, and all the world to do it with. We can sit down,
waste some timeů We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love’s day. So basically, ‘we could sit around thinking about
what we were going to do all day,’ because they’ve got world enough, and time. This whole poem is done in rhyming couplets,
by the way, so I’ll present each couplet
to you and explain it. Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide Of Humber would complain. So, what he means here is that
she could be faraway in India, looking for some rubies,
while he would be closer to home in the Humber River in England,
presumably complaining that he is at the Humber River in England,
while she is out in India, which is a much more
exciting place to be. But the point is that this wouldn’t matter,
because they’ve got world enough, and time. They can waste as much time as they like. 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. Now what we have here
is Biblical allusion. And the Biblical allusion is
of course to Noah’s flood, and to the expected conversion
of the Jews to Christianity. I think this probably was written at a time
whereby the idea that Jewish people could be converted to Christianity
was thought to be something which was desirable, but was never going to happen. The idea of I would
Love you ten years before the Flood means pretty much, before the dawn of time,
I’ve got world enough, and time, so I could love you before the omnipotent deity
decided to destroy the world with a flood. I would love you ten years
before the Flood could mean I would love you before,
to use Christian mythology, ten years before Eden. But it doesn’t rhyme or
scan so well, so he says, I would love you ten years
before the Flood And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews. Now, I think ‘Till the conversion of the Jews’
is one of those things that is just not expected to ever happen. So I could love you from
before the beginning of time till after the end of time. It’s a comic line,
as if to say that, ‘if we had world enough, and time,
it wouldn’t matter, because we could even outlast
the conversion of the Jewish people to Christianity. And we know that Jewish people
are never going to convert to Christianity, but it wouldn’t matter, because we’ve got
world enough, and time at our disposal. So I’ll read that part again,
just so we’ve got the tone of what he’s using in the opening stanza. 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. I certainly hear that last line as comic.
Though, perhaps here it is sad. Totally up to you how you hear this. My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow; he tells us. ‘My vegetable love’. This type of love that he would have for her,
had he world enough and time, would be vegetable love. It would grow slowly,
and it would grow vaster than empires. Now, the idea is that empires grow very big,
but they grow very slowly; and his love for her
would grow like that. ‘Vegetable love’. I think it’s rather tricky for us to-
or rather, difficult for us to associate a positive connotation
with vegetable love. It’s not exactly dynamic,
particularly when it is going to be contrasted later with the
‘amorous birds of prey’ that he’s going to speak of. My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow; ‘Vegetable love’ is certainly not related to us
in a flattering way here. But because he’s got
world enough and time, An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze; He’s got world enough and time so he can
praise her eyes for a hundred years. ‘Oh darling, you’ve got the most
beautiful eyes I’ve ever seen. Oh, that is absolutely stunning.
Your left eye is beautiful, I’m going to spend 50 years
telling you what a beautiful left eye you have. And your right eye, your right eye,
50 years I’m going to explain..’ Pretty much I’ve got bored with it already. The reality of this is that
100 years to flatter someone’s eyes – the girl is surely going to get
bored of it after a while. But this isn’t really the point,
this is hyperbole, isn’t it? If I had all the world and time,
I’d have all the time needed to waste flattering you
over and over again. An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze; Two hundred to adore each breast I’m sure she’s got very nice breasts,
but 200 years each of flattery towards each breast seems
a little bit excessive to me, and I’m fairly sure it seemed
a little bit excessive to him when he was pitching this to the girl
as a seduction technique. Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest; 30,000 years he’s going to spend
flattering the rest of her. An age at least to every part Obvious stuff. And the last age should show your heart. So presumably his sentiment here is that
‘I’ve got all the time in the world so I can flatter every little bit of you
for years and years and years. And eventually, you will succumb to my desires
because you have been sufficiently flattered. And this is what you deserve. You deserve to be this flattered,
though in reality of course the girl would be bored to death
after a- who knows how long? The last age should show your heart.
means you would reveal your heart to me having fallen for me due to the
excessive flattery which I have given towards you, which I’m quite willing to do. And the final couplet
in that opening stanza is, For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate. He’s saying, this is what I would do
if I had world enough and time. And I would do it because you deserve it. It is worthwhile for me to
spend years, years, years, hundreds of years flattering you because you’re so beautiful,
if we had world enough, and time. Now of course, we have to come back
to the first line, don’t we? Had we but world enough, and time This is one of those conceits that you
can start anything really romantic with – ‘if we had’. One of my favourite poems is William Butler Yeats’
‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’, which starts off: Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: If I these cloths – to which you could say,
‘well you don’t, do you?’ If you had these clothes,
you would spread them under my feet, but since you don’t have these cloths,
it’s not a particularly big deal saying that you did have them. ‘If we had world enough and time, I would do this’. But since we haven’t got world enough and time,
it’s not a really big deal you claiming that this is
what you’d do if you did have it. ‘If I had a million pounds,
I would buy you a mansion. But I haven’t actually got any money at the moment,
can you lend me a fiver?’ It’s that type of thought process. Had we but world enough, and time But you don’t do you? And he knows that,
and he ridicules, I think, or I think this is totally dependent of course
on how you hear these words being said. And I can’t hold a gun to your head
and say that this is definitely how you should hear these words,
because I don’t know. I suspect that there’s a high degree of irony here
in what he is saying, but I can only suspect it. He starts the second stanza. But at my back I always hear And you should have suspected
that ‘but’ right at the start. ‘If I hadů. butů’ But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near Fantastic line. But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near He means time is passing quickly,
and time is passing violently. It’s as if a chariot was- I tend to associate chariots
with Roman gladiatorial arenas. Chariots move quickly.
But also, they tend to bring violence with them. Or at least in my
associations with chariots. Behind me, I always hear time passing,
and time is passing quickly, and above us, there’s nothing we can do about it,
it’s a winged chariot, and violently. And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity. So what we’ve got to look forward to
is ‘deserts of vast eternity’. Emptiness.
A future of nothingness. Now this takes no account of a
perspective of an afterlife or anything. He’s saying that the future
we’ve got to look forward to, there’s just nothing there.
And time is passing quickly. But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity. There’s a certain beat to the rhythm,
a movement to the rhythm which he gets going here. It speeds the story up as if
he’s becoming more aggressive, more desperate perhaps,
in this second stanza and the way he is presenting
his argument in the second stanza. Thy beauty shall no more be found, he tells her. ‘So, in the future, basically you’re not going to
be as beautiful as you are now.’ Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound my echoing song ‘Thy marble vault’ will be the place
that she will go when she dies. So, when you die,
the song which I am saying to you now, which is basically that first stanza,
at the point when you die, my song will echo around your burial chambers,
the marble vault of your burial chambers because you will be dead.
You’ll be unable to hear it. Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound my echoing song If you don’t love me now,
and you were to die, the beauty of this song
which I am saying to you, and the love which is carried with it
will come to nothing. And he tries a new tact. then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity, Ok. Now I’m not trying to sound
crass here to come across as cool. What he basically means there is that your hymen,
your long preserved virginity, your hymen will be broken by worms and maggots
crawling in and out of your vagina. Has any woman ever been seduced by words more beautiful? If you’re reading that and
you don’t understand sarcasm, trust me, that is sarcasm
at its most obvious. That is literally what he is saying here. ‘If you don’t have sex with me now,
and you were to die, worms will be crawling
in and out of your vagina. Worms and maggots,
and what a waste that would be.’ Worms shall try
That long preserved virginity, And your quaint honour turn to dust So her honour is the
preserved virginity. Notice the word ‘quaint’ here,
which is definitely being used as a pejorative. If something is quaint,
it is out of fashion, or old-fashioned, pointless,
somewhat silly from a previous generation. The quaintness of her honour
is going to turn to dust; just fly away in the wind,
it won’t benefit anyone. ‘And into ashes all my lust’,
he tells her. ‘All the lust which I feel
for you now will just burn out.’ ‘Lust’ will be like a fire, life-affirming,
the fiery lust he feels for her. He continues that metaphor
with the idea of ashes, that his lust will have
burnt out and become nothing. It’s violent stuff, actually. He’s either sounding threatening to her,
perhaps, or desperate. I mean, literally speaking,
what he’s saying is not wrong as well. Then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity, And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust Anger, could be one of the emotions
with which I hear that being said. It’s definitely not flattering to her. He concludes this second stanza
with the couplet, The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace. And let me give you
three ways to read that here. Let’s read it with sadness. And obviously if my acting capabilities
aren’t up to this, I apologise, but I’ll give it
the best shot I can. The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace. Maybe you could hear it like that? Let’s try and hear it with anger. The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace. Sarcasm.
Let’s try and read it with sarcasm. The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace. Rising intonation on ‘think’,
‘none I think do there embrace’ means that you hear it as sarcastic. And of course it certainly
sounds sarcastic to me, because we know that
nobody embraces in the grave. But obviously, nobody there,
nobody who’s dead embraces. So he’s basically saying in that second stanza,
‘look, we better have sex now, because if we don’t, it will be a complete waste,
and you’re just going to die and rot away in a grave, and all of the passions
we feel for each other, or at least that I feel for you
at the moment will come to nothing. And what a waste that would be.’ He begins the third stanza. The third stanza begins,
incidentally, with ‘now therefore’. So it starts with ‘had I’,
which basically is ‘if. And so it’s ‘if’ in the first stanza,
‘but’ in the second stanza, and ‘therefore’ in the third stanza. ‘If, but, therefore’. If we could do this, this would happen;
but we can’t, therefore, we’ve got to do this. That sounds flippant, but it’s a way of
convincing somebody of something, isn’t it? If we could, but we can’t,
therefore, we do this. Now as flippant as I’m sounding
about this poem at the moment- and flippant doesn’t necessarily mean
that I don’t think it’s great, cause I do, I think it’s terrific. I think this third stanza is just beautiful.
It’s really, really well put together. And once again, there seems to be a
different tact that he is moving with in order to attract the girl. He says, ‘now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,’ which basically means,
‘while you are still young, ‘the youthful hue’,
the ‘hue’ is the colour. So you’ve still got the
colours of youth on your cheek, which he uses this simile,
‘like the morning dew’, dew being there in the morning
as a simile for youth, Dew is youthful in the morning,
the girl is youthful. While you’re still young,
and while thy willing soul transpires At every pore with instant fires It’s actually quite a comical line,
this one, actually. And while thy willing soul transpires ‘Transpires’ means,
is there to be seen. So her willing soul,
her actual willingness to have sex with him is easy to see. Thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires, She’s really up for it. He can see that she’s really
sexually active and really wants him, he says. But she’s just being coy. This is one of those,
‘go on, you know you want to’ styles of argument, isn’t it? Thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fire, ‘You’re desperate to have sex with me right now,
you’re just pretending to be coy’ is what he’s saying. Now let us sport us while we may ‘Sports us’ of course,
means ‘have sex’. Now let us have sex while we still can. The point being, while we’re still
young enough, vibrant enough, interested enough, enthusiastic enough, that sort of thing;
Now let us sport us while we may You’ve got to love the next line as well. ‘And now’ So wow let us sport us while we may,
And now, we’ll do it right now. Like amorous birds of prey When he’s describing ‘amorous birds of prey’,
I don’t think he really means birds of prey having sex.
Because I haven’t really got any idea what hawks and eagles look like
while they’re mating. But I’m assuming he means that they should,
the image he manages to convey here is of amorous birds of prey acting
like birds of prey, really quickly,
flying down at a victim. Or birds of prey also
tearing things apart with their talons. He’s talking about immediate,
violent sexual activity. Which is of course being
contrasted to the vegetable love which he has discredited in the opening stanza. My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow; Forget that. What we should do is sport us while we can,
‘and now’, like amorous birds of prey. Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power. It’s quite a complicated line, this one. We should devour our time. We’ll eat our time.
We’ll let our time nourish us. Than languish in his slow-chapt power. Time is given a gender, a he.
And ‘chapt’ means teeth. So time is eating us.
Which, as a metaphor it is, I mean, we’re all getting older;
time is eating us. But instead of allowing time to eat us,
we will eat time. This is one of those-
it’s that carpe diem idea, ‘seize the day’. Instead of languishing around,
doing nothing, waiting to die, we will seize the moment
while it’s presented to us. Although time is trying to devour us,
we will eat time itself. Time will be used to
nourish our selves. I certainly understand the sentiment
that he’s getting at here. And the bit that he writes from now on,
I think is a terrific piece of poetry. I just like the power and the energy
that he manages to power this sentiment with. The words which he’s using
power the sentiment so well. Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball, So everything that is good in us,
everything that is life-affirming, our strength and our sweetness, those are
life-affirming things, we’ll roll it up into one ball. And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life: So, I get the image of the iron gates
being like prison gates, and we put all our energy
together into one ball, and it rolls through the gates of life
and we crash through the gates of life into the-
once you crash through the gates of life, one might ask
where are you afterwards? But the power and the energy of the sentiment
is not to be denied. 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: We’ll seize all the living moments. This is very much like what Dylan Thomas
advises his father to do in ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’.
isn’t it? If you’ve seen the Mycroft Lecture
that we’ve done on that one. Although it might not be easy for us to do it,
there might be strife involved, it might be rough. We’ll be tearing our pleasures,
but the actual pleasure which we will get from the vibrant sexual activity
which we are going to undergo, like birds of prey,
will be used as a ball to break down the barriers of,
for me, it’s boredom. Thorough the iron gates of life: As long as there’s a gate there,
that prevents you from getting somewhere, that’s what’s being knocked down.
That’s the metaphor he’s trying to use here. ‘Trying to use.’
For me at least, he’s using incredibly successfully. We seize the day in each other’s company. We eat the day for all its worth,
get all the nourishment from it, and live the more exciting and
vibrant life because we’ve done so. And he comes up with the final couplet: Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run. Now of course he’s talking about
the act of ageing here. To make the sun stand still is
to cease to age; and of course we can’t cease to age.
‘We cannot make the sun stand still.’ ‘Yet we can make him run.’ And for me, he means,
‘we can make the sun run after us’. We can’t make the sun stop, but we can make it
difficult for the sun to catch us. I mean literally, it’s nonsense of course.
But that’s not the point, is it? That we will age, but we will not make it easy
for the ageing process to be upon us, because we will live the full and vibrant
and exciting and sexually active life. Thus, as near as it is
possible to do, defying age. And of course, you can imagine-
I get the impression of him looking up after delivering this poem to this girl,
and thinking, ‘now, will you sleep with me?’ And he was doing ok in the first stanza,
I think he was a bit sloppy and he was getting nowhere
in the second stanza, there’s just no way in the world
the girl was going to sleep with him after that point. But I think he really pulls it back
in the final stanza and I think he’s definitely in with the chance
of seducing the girl there after that. Brilliant final stanza. Now, as crass, crass is the wrong word;
as flippant as I’m being about the poem there, that is exactly what is going on in the poem,
and that is the way to look at it. Though the main interest beyond what Andrew Marvell
is telling us in the piece are to do with interpretation,
how you hear those lines being said, and that is solely up to you. I would suggest that each stanza of the poem
seems to be said to me in different ways. The first one, soppily,
though perhaps very ironically. The second one, aggressively;
also perhaps, even ironically. And the third one,
the big guns of his argument, this is the bit he
genuinely believes in. Either he’ll be able to seduce her
with this stanza, or he won’t. As I say though, the degree of irony
you hear in this is solely up to you. But I think also,
another area of this poem, particularly the last stanza that’s
worth looking at is, is this just a poem about Andrew Marvell
trying to seduce a young woman? I don’t think it is, because
I think what he addresses very blatantly in that final stanza about
‘don’t waste the moment which is presented to you’, does he have to be
talking about sex? I don’t think he does. I think, for an easy comparison I could use,
he could be talking about bungee-jumping. He could be talking about anything whereby
you feel slightly nervous or frightened about doing it,
and he is- and I feel horrible about the fact that
I’m just about to quote a Nike commercial- but it’s the idea of
‘just do it’. You don’t get that many opportunities
for certain experiences in your life, and when that experience comes around,
just do it. That’s the point or the moral, I suppose,
of Andrew Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’. And in that, Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run, this seize the day idea,
this gather ye rosebuds while ye may, this time is passing so whenever
opportunities come for you to enjoy them and experience something usual and passionate,
seize them as blatantly and obviously and powerfully and tightly and immediately
as you can. That sort of idea, I think
has impact on us in our lives. As I say, the sentiment,
the moral of this isn’t just about sex. It’s about any area in our lives
where we are given the opportunity to experience something new, and possibly
through cowardice or timidity or coyness – affected shyness –
we neglect to do so. Ok, I’ll read the poem through
one more time. This is Andrew Marvell’s
‘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
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; 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 winged 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. 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-chapt 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. That was the final read-through
from the Mycroft Online Lecture on Andrew Marvell’s
‘To His Coy Mistress’. I am Dr. Andrew Barker. Thank you, goodbye.

61 thoughts on “Andrew Marvell – To His Coy Mistress – Poetry Lecture and Analysis by Dr. Andrew Barker

  1. A thoughtful and thorough analysis that includes various ways to emphasize, in reading aloud, certain words, giving different meanings. 

    People must appreciate the sound of the words to appreciate poetry.

    Thank you Dr. Barker, for generously devoting time and effort to this project. 

    Next, I'll watch your Philip Larkin video.

    Jock Stender, Charleston, SC

  2. hi, thank you soo much for the lecture,
    can you please do a video on the analysis of I am by john Clare please. thank you

  3. Alex Blackwell, if you asked your question with a particular expectation of a significance in your mind about the rubies and if that is the same as what you have now put in my mind, thank you and it is a bit comical.

  4. "Iron gates of life" particular part of the female anatomy the author is after.
    "Am'rous-birds of prey" birds that in the act of sex fly high in to the sky and free fall down to earth in the act and separate before they hit the ground. Andrew Marvell is attempting to not only remove her inhibitions but to also to have her be a force intent to his wills. This poem is greater than the analysis.

  5. "My vegetable love should grow…" could this mean his manhood personified as a vegetable…zuchinni, cucumber, or any other phallic vegetable?

  6. the iron gates of life for me seem like the obstacles that prevent the lady of having sex

  7. after watching this lecture, I was all smiles and almost shy (I felt like this poem was written to me). great lecture…

  8. I've really enjoyedyour lectures on Seamus Heaney, and so I was curious to hear his lecture on another of my favorites. But I'd like to suggest that you (and a lot of other readers) may have gotten Andrew Marvell's poem inside-out. Some of the comments already posted have alluded to some of what I would call "irritants" that make a reading of this poem as a simple carpe diem poem difficult to sustain. To take one of those, the "iron gates": though the speaker presents them as opening into life (maybe eternal life), iron gates are more likely to be associated with death or even Hell. The gates of life should be made of something more exalted than iron, which I think Marvell intends as one of the final warnings in the poem against the speaker's seduction.

    As the smooth sophistication of the first part gives way to the violent imagery of the later parts, we go from mineral love to vegetable love to animal love, but we don't ever get even to human love, let alone anything higher than that. Marvell's audience would have recognized that we had made it less than half way up the great chain of being before descending into violence like birds of prey. There is also the false syllogism on which the entire poem is built, which would have been obvious and maybe even funny to his reader:
    P1. "If we had world enough and time, this coyness, lady were no crime"
    P2, We don't have world enough.
    C. Therefore, this coyness is a crime.
    Logically, that is the slightly more complex equivalent of saying
    P1. If an animal is a dog then it is not a cat.
    P2. It is not a dog.
    C. Therefore it is a cat.
    I don't remember the technical term — something like "negating the premise," but you can see that it is a blatant logical fallacy: nothing that would have been lost on Marvell's readers.

    So, I''m afraid that to read it the way you do is to be taken in by the parody, as if we were to take seriously Swift's proposal for eating babies. You and I, I'm sure, find Marvel's proposition much more appealing than Swift's, but I don' think he intended it that way at all. Marvell was more of a Puritan than a Cavalier. When the poem was written, he was serving as a tutor to the daughter (or some dependent) of the Parliamentary General Thomas Fairfax: not a position in which he would have wanted to be found out writing seduction poems for young women! More likely, I think it was a poem intended for her as a warning against the dangers of such seduction, shown to be dangerous, illogical, and without any real possibility for movement beyond the animal love. Though it's been too long since I read him to quote chapter and verse, a lot of my understanding of this poem is indebted to a wonderful college professor of mine from UMass by the name of Charles Kay Smith.

    I have so enjoyed your other lectures that if you find these ideas at all helpful in rethinking this wonderful poem, I will be glad to have repaid some of that enjoyment.

  9. Don Ulin's reading added to my interest in re-reading a poem that we may assume we know well because it is so celebrated on account of its perfect balance of wit and imagery. At the same time I can't see how we can tell for certain that Marvell's readers would interpret it infallibly as a cautionary, parodic love-poem. If that were the case, his memorable final couplet would have been utterly counter-productive to promoting that particular end. If we can detect hermeneutic subtleties in Shakespeare and Donne, we are certainly capable of detecting them in Marvell whose English is closer to modern English than theirs. Of course one could argue that Marvell has his cake and eats it by making his meaning deliberately ambivalent. If so, what would be the point? Don, who certainly sounds very knowledgeable on Marvell, implies that there is an arcane knowledge shared by 17th C literature specialists that the rest of us don't really know about. Much of the imagery, e.g the iron gates, if decontextualised, can be interpreted either way. The difference between this alternative, reading of the poem and Swift's Modest Proposal essay is that the irony and bitterness of tone in the latter is clearly discernible by a contemporary reader too. By contrast, Marvell's supposed desire to promote chastity is a lot less obvious to the contemporary reader, and is open only to those insiders who can deconstruct his apparent wit to uncover a Puritan ascetic….in such case he's really in deep cover and assumes the enemy's style and tone impeccably. At the same time I agree that the references to mortality tend to lend a serious undertone to the light flippancy and irony of the poem's style. All in all a fascinating dialectic on a timeless (wingèd chariot or no chariot!), truly great poem, Mike

  10. The question of audience is important here, as is the audience for whom Shakespeare is writing. Patron? Dark lady? Boyfriend? It's more than that. And the same is true for Marvell.

    The immediate assumption one would make is that this poem is addressed to a woman as part of a seduction. But that becomes increasingly less likely as the poem becomes more macabre. Is Marvell just being a guy who has no idea how to seduce a woman and doesn't realise that by the end of the poem few women would be in the mood to leap into his bed? I don't think so – the poem is a tour de force, a wonderful demonstration of wit and ingenuity, and that, I think, is the key.

    For whom would such a pyrotechnic poem be intended? I think it's the boys – Marvell's fellow-writers. The poem manipulates and undermines the conventions of seduction, and employs the tools of philosophy and rhetoric to build a soaring conceit that is both absurd and convincing in its sleight of hand and magician's control. He doesn't use the poem for seduction or warning in any conventional sense. It's entirely about virtuoso performance – a monument to his poetic genius, not a means to an ordinary moral or amorous end. The response is not, 'Yeah, baby, take me now!' and neither is it, 'Hmmm. I''d better be circumspect with persuasive poets and take to heart these reflections on the frailty of the flesh.' It's 'What a master-craftsman! What a wordsmith! What an artist! How do I top that?!'

    Martin

  11. Love this lecture, it was very helpful,by the way are you working on another poem of Andrew Marvell's The Garden?

  12. Mistress? BDSM? really? Mistress is a term to mean an unmarried woman. I would say the poem is one between equals, a man who is clever enough to offer the poem (or plea) and a woman who has already avoided seduction over a courtship, and who can read its multiple meanings in the poem. He is persuading her, and hinting as the sexual physical pleasures as way to further tempt her. Thus we can read her as intelligent and string willed, but also a sexual woman (quite progressive idea of women for 17th C).

    I see it as the Mistress is not a silly girl (weird idea) but a young lady (LONG preserved virginity – long courtship at the least) from a good family who understands premarital sex is forbidden, but equally is open to be persuaded. Marvel actually uses romantic ideas of the physical love making, being no longer possible after death.

    Vegetable love is clearly phallic … the poem is a string of double entendre, its about sex…. a wooer thinly veils sexual references as he is tempting her into bed. Its a tongue in cheek poem, that disguises the obvious message (let us lay together) in a language which appears to be polite but conveys sexual temptation.

  13. Wow, thanks, thanks….. Enjoyed your analysis immensely . There's also a fun response to this poem by Annie Finch. One day you may want to analyze it also. For the fun and pleasure of your ardent fans like me.

  14. thanks a lot Dr. Andrew sir. i have enjoyed ur lecture.i was little confused about this poem bt ur lecture is awesome tht everything is transparent to me now.

  15. thanks a lot for such wonderful analysis. .kindly do some research on keats too

  16. Dr. Barker, your lectures and notes have been really helpful and are a massive contribution to my scores. It would be really helpful if you could post an analysis of sonnet 146 by William Shakespeare.

  17. Thanks a lot for the detailed analysis… I personally think that in the first stanza he flatters the mistress in the hope that she might succumb to his desires, but when that didn't seem to get him anywhere he begins to get desperate and becomes aggressive, and finally tries to reason it out with her by pointing out to the fact that she should enjoy the pleasures of life during her youth itself…The image conveyed through the phrase 'iron gates of life' might refer to the rules that she adheres to which keeps her away from him..The restrictions that she has laid down in her life willingly or for the society..He suggests her to break free of all these restrictions and enjoy herself …

  18. I pictured William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet when I was reading this poem. I pictured Andrew Marvell and his mistress as in the balcony scene, where Marvell (Romeo) was reciting this poem to his mistress (Juliet). But the only difference between the two would be one was about love and the other one would be about wanting to have sex, which was comical in a way. The three stanza of the poem could be divided into three cconcepts. The first stanza would be a love poem from Marvell to his mistress. The second stanza would be Marvell's statement listing out the problems of not having sex with her right now. And the final stanza being the idea of having sex/cape diem. The three concepts somehow fit together that proved his arguements and desire to have sex, which I find that it was logical and funny at the same time. But what is funny is that the first stanza of the poem was something Shakespeare was trying to tell his fellow poets not to do like using false similes and unreal ideas in "My mistress' eyes are nothing like the sun".

    And by taking the sex part out of the poem's context in the second and the third stanza, I like the idea of time passing quickly than we could imagine, and the idea of seizing the day and live life to the fullest. I like the first 4 lines in the second stanza which showed the feelings of time passing and the emptiness of future that we could not escape. I also like the idea of hope and optimism in the third stanza – time eats us and we have to eat them back, and the sun is chasing us but we can make it harder for time to catch us that quickly.

    I don't believe Don Ulin's idea that this poem was a parody that he was writing to her and warning her against the dangers of such seduction. It is because there are no lines in the poem to suggest that idea. If we are to belive that view, why do Marvell ask both of them to enjoy sex while they still can?

    I also want to know more about the stressing of different lines in the poems that could give different meanings. How do you write about their difference? Do you simply just write their stresses or what?

  19. If the speaker is to seduce a girl through this poem, the sarcasm really goes too far beyond to impress a girl and to make her sleep with him. This is obviously not a poem about the speaker and his affection to certain woman. I think I will agree it is a satire to people who write seducing poems just by reading the first two stanzas. The image of “worms crawling in and out of vagina” is surely sarcastic enough to sneer at those who write such kind of poem. But it also fits with the interpretation that people should live in the moment and have fun. Also, in the last stanza, especially the final couplets, sounds very positive to me and hard to read it as sarcasm to the style of love poems at that time.

  20. This poem is somewhat ambiguous for me. Even if the flow of the poem itself looks like seducing a young lady who's sexually conservative or pretends to be conservative, it is just too much and doesn't make any sense for me. I wonder who on earth will be so sarcastic to seduce a lover, especially the second stanza is the worst when he says "then worms shall try that long-preserved virginity and your quaint honour turn to dust". It sounds almost insulting. If we take a look of the first sentences of each stanza, the logic of the poem is IF we had enough world and time, you being sexually conservative doesn't matter because we have enough world and time to spend for spiritual love without sex BUT the reality is not like that. Life is too short and time goes quickly. THEREFORE, let's enjoy everything that we're supposed to do (definitely having sex with me)'. This logic of him asking love for a lover is too blatant and focused on 'physical' love which does not seem to be attractive or sincere at all. Because it is too blatant and explicit, it raises doubts in my mind that it isn't really a love poem. After searching about Andrew Marvell, I found out that he was a puritan, a group of religious people who had strict principles and disapproved of physical pleasure. The combination of fact that the poet was Puritan and the too much blatant and even sarcastic poem kinda worked for me that the poem itself is full of paradox or sarcasm which implies that warning against seduction or physical pleasure.

  21. On the surface, Andrew Marvell is asking the lady to have sex with him, however, more than a love poem, I would say, “To His Coy Mistress” is a meditation on time and death. Marvell dramatizes the questions: What are the implications of physicality and mortality? In using time most wisely, should one focus on this life or the afterlife? Marvell avoids a simple, conventional answer, and the poem works well as an argument for either view.

  22. this whole poem is so flirtatious…like on another hand yes he is complimenting her youth and beauty, but there's also a certain undertone conveyed in his lines that she would fall in love eventually, the only thing matter is how long it will take; which is why he wrote "and the last age should show your heart", so he's simply saying "since you gonna fall in love with me anyway, why not speed things up and use the youth and beauty with me while you still have it." And how cocky he sounded when he talked about her virginity, as if he is the only one who would be interested in love with her, by implying that "if you don't have sex with me, no one gonna be and you will just die a virgin." Pretty sure if this tone is used nowadays with his "you know you want me" it will be despised by women

  23. I can see how impatient Andrew Marvell was as he wrote what he would do if he had enough time and world. But in fact he did not have such amount of time to do all those things. And he turned to write in a very aggressive tone in the second stanza. The contrast that Andrew Marvell created between the first and second stanza intensified the great desire of how desperate he wanted to have sex with the mistress. The way the poet seduced a girl gives me a feeling that he had some kind of psychological problems or else I cannot imagine someone talking to a girl like this.

  24. This is an amazing poem. I think this poem can be divided into three parts: Perfect assumption, the cruel reality or there is a delicious irony in all this, and conclusion or what he wants to say.
    Why do I love this poem or what do I think this poem is amazing are because it is so true! The sight floated before my eyes! At first, he makes a perfect assumption: had we but world enough and time, it is same with if we had the enough time. If we have enough time, I could love you forever, and I could spend time to love “an age at least to every part”. You know, it could be so romantic, but also could be so strange. Maybe we could say that I love you forever, but we will not say how, because we almost know how long will our life with this body last, but he did. And second part, the first sentence, but at my back I always hear time’ s winged chariot hurrying near. This sentence is so amazing, I use amazing to describe this sentence because I could feel it, it is sound like a time bomb, in some movies, we couldn’t see the time bomb, but we could hear the sound, di di di di… and along with the sound be faster, we could feel the atmosphere become serious, this sentence also gives me this feeling. And “then worms shall try that long-preserved virginity”. This sentence is shocking me. It is not wrong, but will you write this sentence to your lover? Obviously not! But he did. And the last part, “while the youthful hue sits on thy skin like morning dew, and while thy whiling soul transpires at every pore with instant fires”. Oh my god. This poem is a letter to a “Coy Mistress”, but it is so exposed. Again, will you do this? Not, but he did. So I think this poem is so amazing.

  25. I think the moral lesson about "just do it" expressing by the poem works for me.

    From my point of view, the coyness represents an excuse for the mistress to refuse his flattery, as well as an excuse for people who refuses to try a new thing. At the first stanza, he creates the argument by saying if he had all the world and time, he would be doing all the preparation to get the girl. For me, he knows he will succeed since he would spend all his attention to her. However, it is not the case. Time flies like winged-chariots and the passion to his mistress may disappear. It symbolises people's desire in things they want to pursue may be washed away by time. Therefore, the last stanza, he suggests to the mistress not to pretend to be shy. They should get together when they are attractive to each other and enjoy their time. I think this symbolises that people should do whatever they desire when they are young and passionate.

    I think the reason i came up with the argument above is that the association between lust and desire. Lust is the in-born sexual desire of human. But after civilisation, these kinds of basic wants have to be hidden and we learn to seek other sources of happiness. But lust itself is the first desire human being is supposed to have, so the representation of lust to be every desire works for me well. Thus, the allegory "just do it" also works for me.

  26. As a girl, my impression to this poem is that this man isn't deeply in love with this woman, because I don't think if you love a woman wholeheartedly, you would write something like the second stanza as to seduce her, because it would be total failure for her to enjoy the pleasure obtained from sex. I think the whole poem is to suggest that sex is something that couldn't be waited.
    I like the speed of this poem which turns from slow to fast and finally slowing down again. It makes me feel like he is doing a sarcasm in the first stanza because he doesn't agree to most poets on the idea that 'love is ever glow' or 'I love every edge of you no matter how time flies'. He is showing his urgency of having sex with his girl. He wants it violently and desperately like wanting to eat her alive immediately. So the speed here goes quick. Another interpretation to the speed of this poem is that, I think the writer is hinting the process of having sex. At first, we have to slowly seduce and flatter your partner as to create the atmosphere. Then everything will get more hyper and active and at last when it's done, they will be lying down resting together on bed. The speed of it is also going from slow to fast to slow.

  27. If Andrew Marvell really writes this poem only for flirting a girl to have sex with him, then it is properly the most inappropriate romantic poetry I've ever heard and I don't even know how to appreciate this poetry.
    However, I know how the carpe diem poetry goes on and this poetry is really a typical example of it.
    I'm not sure whether Marvell intended to write it like a satire because as I remember that metaphysical poets always love to make fun of some serious stuff in their period of time. If it's meant to surprise or shock people, I think Marvell did it in a humorous way to express his understanding of love and time. It's just like what we always say in our generation:YOLO(You Only Live Once). It's not hard to understand right now but in 500 years ago? I think it's a bold idea.

    It's so funny.

  28. With Don Ulin’s argument about the poem being built on a false syllogism in mind, perhaps we can read this poem as Marvel’s acknowledgement of the fleeting nature of life and also his criticism of those people – exemplified in poems such as John Donne’s The Flea – who exploit the notion of ‘carpe diem/ seize the day’ to justify their sexual desires?

    For Marvel, life is brief – ‘at my back I always hear/ time’s winged chariot hurrying near’ – and so we should live life to its full potential – ‘though we cannot make our sun/ stand still, yet we will make him run’ – is a perfectly logical notion. And yet how brief is life exactly? Is it so brief that one should give up one’s virginity so easily and casually? I bet the answer for Marvel is not, as evidenced by the contrast he made between the first and the second stanza regarding the urgency of death. In the first stanza the poetic persona argues that he would ‘praise thine eyes’ and ‘adore each breast’ if they have ‘an hundred years’ or ‘ two hundreds’ even to live. But because they don’t they have to ‘sport us while we may’ without a moment of hesitancy or his mistress would die – almost immediately/ in the next stanza – and ‘then worms shall try/ that long preserved virginity/ and your quaint honour turn to dust.’ As a reader I think this note of urgency in his argument is too hyperbolic to the extent that it sounds absurd, for the persona has given his mistress a Hobson’s choice – it’s either death with ‘worms trying that virginity’ or sensuality, and since no one would opt for the former the mistress doesn’t really have a choice. And this should not necessarily be the case.

    The persona’s argument is logical by the looks of it, but is in fact illogical; and the persuading techniques he uses also seem farcical. I tend to believe Marvel intends to present the argument as such in order to criticise those people who attempt to take advantage of the rational, logical notion of seizing the moment to satisfy their irrational, illogical sexual desires. And his criticism could be further evidenced by the simile he used in the first stanza – ‘vegetable love’ – which has two meanings: that of the persona’s, which denotes his love for his mistress to be growing slowly but vastly; and that of Marvel’s, which connotes that the persona’s love for his mistress being lowly – as the ‘vegetable soul’ is lower than the other two divisions of the soul (i.e. ‘animal’ and rational.’)

    The aforementioned ideas that I've come with, indeed, are based on the assumption that the poetic persona is not the poet, namely Marvel himself. In the video you refer the poetic persona to Marvel (‘In the poem, Andrew Marvel is trying to get laid’), but I am inclined to consider the poetic persona of this poem as some man other than Marvel, as evidenced by the title of the poem, which is called ‘To HIS Coy Mistress’ rather than ‘To MY Coy Mistress’. In using the pronoun ‘His’, Marvel has distanced himself, and by extension his readers – us – from the poetic persona and his views, and in turn positions us to be more critical – even to challenge – the persona’s argument about having sex while we still can because time is our enemy – ‘yonder all before us lie deserts of vast eternity.’ And I think such argument as befitted his being a metaphysical poet, who, as you say, ‘tend to investigate the world through witty yet rational discussions of its phenomena rather than by intuition or mysticism.’

  29. This poem takes the form of argument and reasoning. In the first stanza, the poet has put emphasis on the time. He assumes that our love can built on conversation and speech instead of sexual relationship, given that we all have enough time to do so. If we have enough time, we can establish a close relationship without any sexual acts. However, in the second stanza, he says ‘But’, we in fact actually do not have the time and we all are going to die. He demonstrates that the assumption above is not grounded by saying that our life is short and time is limited. The fact is that we all have not enough time to develop that kind of relationship without any sex at all. In the third stanza, he concludes his argument by claiming that we will not be young forever and therefore we have to take advantage of it while we can. On the surface, the poem seems to be a lover’s argument in favor of pursuing sexual pleasure. But if we dig deep, he actually put forward the idea of seizing the day and live it the fullest as we can. I believe that there is no escape from the life and the laws of time. Though we cannot stop the time, we still can make use of it and enjoy it while it is passing. Personally, I am in favor of the idea of seizing the day. Like many metaphysical poet, he might suggest us that we should enjoy the present and trust as little as possible to the future. If we have seized the day and live life to the fullest, we might possibly avoid the regret of not having engaging in the adventurous side of life.

  30. You mentioned the importance of changing stresses within the poem. If its applied to the title “To His Coy Mistress”makes me wonder who are the target readers of this poem and the significance of the persona. I had great doubt about who the "he" in the poem is.

    I understand it is most common to study the poem with carpe diem as a focus, but what concerns me is that Marvel is justifying his illogical reasoning with Time and he made it explicit, like saying we should not rush into things only for the sake of time.

    Mistress a only an imaginative character, as you believe this poem actually talks about opportunities. I agree that the poem can be talking about different things, I think Marvell is talking about his writing ideas, as good ideas will be silenced if you don't put them forward and they will be forgotten in time. In the later part of his poem the ball imagery reminds me of a knowledge sphere and that the poem concludes with the hope of his idea or message runs.

  31. I like the broader interpretation that this is not just a poem about sex. I think the "ball" near the end is a reference to the entangled bodies of a couple engaging all their "strength" and "sweetness" in the act of lovemaking, and the "iron gates of life" refer to the birth canal and her vagina which is currently locked for him.

  32. would you explain about the poem Love after Love by Derek Walcott???

  33. Your lectures are actually very helpful. Please make some more vids .

  34. In the beginning of the poem he is flattering her that he can spend years gazing into her eyes!
    In the end of the poem he tells her, let's have sex now,violently and quickly!

    lol typical man!

  35. Sir, your videos are my life savers. Can you please make some more? 😉

  36. Simply great. Your exposition of To His Coy Mistress. My regards.

  37. Wonderful lecture. A great sense of humor you have. Love to hear more of your lectures.

  38. I have told many a coy lady that she makes my 'vegetable love grow', to great effect. FYI as needed, add 'like an eggplant' and wiggle one's eyebrows.

  39. This is really great sir…but it would be even better if you had a white board to make us understand better.

  40. Why does Dr. Barker keep choosing poems which were so important in my youth? Wait, did he just say Marvell was trying to get laid? There go my ideals…

  41. It's really helpful for understanding the poem. Thank you for uploading this!

  42. Hi Andrew came across your lectures while searching info on John Donne. Thank you so much for your lectures and time . Illuminating and so interesting. I have become a fan.

  43. What are Elements of Literature, Point of View, Symbolism and Imagery, and Tone and Mood ?

  44. I think one cannot but laugh and blush to hear this poem, especially the last stanza, as you have done 🙂 I have enjoyed it in class but you do have a different take for poetry appreciation, and I've really loved this video, so please try to continue filming videos like this.

  45. Dr Andrew , you are just awesome..To His Coy Mistress which I just read for reading sake during my study at the college but after hearing the explanation of the same poem from you it became one of my favourites.

  46. Kudos aplenty to the good Dr! Loved this poem and the interpretation of it.👌👍👍

  47. I absolutely love your lectures and they are incredibly helpful! Thanks alot sir.

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