Words on “To His Coy Mistress”
Either you have sex with me or you die. This is a very strong
statement which, when said, has to get someone’s attention; and that is
exactly what Andrew Marvell intends for the reader in this poem. He
wants the undivided attention of this mistress so that he can scare her
and rush her into making a decision the way he wants and in due time.
Filled with time flavored symbolism, this carpe diem poem, “To His Coy
Mistress” by Andrew Marvell, exemplifies the seize the day theme.
The cyclical, life symbolizing river, the water flowing by like
time, is the first place Marvell places the characters. And even
though they are very far apart, time still flows by for them both. As
the water flows, this concept begins to hint at the shortness of time,
for them to have sex, the source of new life. He then proceeds to
claim that he could love her ten years before the flood, something
already ancient, and up to the end of the world, using the
juxtapositioning of the two views of time enhance his argument and to
convince to accept his offer by telling her of his long-term commitment
for her in the short-term. This flood also symbolizes life in the
fresh start of the new covenant. Because time keeps going, with or
without them, they must be active participants and not just the static
spectator. Otherwise, the fate Marvell relates would become their
Marvell’s vegetable love is rather oxymoronic. Love is not
normally like the uncaring, thoughtless, and noncommunicating plant.
And yet his love is vegetable in that it is not adaptable. She is the
water, food, and light for his love; and as long as she is there, he
will love her. She is evrerything that supports his love, and if she
is not there, his vegetable could not be supported and would die. His
idea of love seems to just be to say that he loves her for the
possibility that he can share carnal knowledge; however, this is why he
tries to convince her to seize the day. And because of this love he
felt they must take advantage of what time they have.
Next comes the threat of punishment if she happens to continue
down her dark path of stubborn unwillingness to engage with him.
Suddenly the desert is before them and beauty is gone forever. The
life giving and symbolic water is gone. She’s dead and the worms are
her only company. These worms are symbolic of two different ideas.
First they are phallic in shape and do stand as phallic symbols. They
are also another cyclical representation of time, in that they are part
of the cycle that will break her body down into soil, feed the trees,
feed an animal, etc. So he tries scare her and to force her into the
decision to seize the day.
Marvell then stresses the youth she still possess and his plan to
save them. He talks about her youthful hue and the morning (of life /
youth) glow to remind her what she needs to save from the imposing grip
of her grave. He gets very aggressive and speeds up the meter to add
effect and urgency to his pleas. Then he talks about birds of prey,
hurrying, and devouring to really twist the proverbial knife and to
convince her. After adoring her body for ages and wading through
innuendo, he says let us roll all our strength and all our sweetness
into one ball and says he wants to spend the rest of time with her
making the sun run.
Although the message in this poem is universal, throughout time,
Marvell’s methods are unique for his time. The fact that he used death
to persuade a less than eager woman is not new. The way he does it,
is. According to Paul Brians, from the English Department at
Washington State University, Marvell’s
imagery of death is so powerful, that the poem transcends
the cliched ‘lines’ of more frivolous writers to become a
stirring meditation on the importance of living fully
during the brief span allotted us (Brians).
Andrew Marvell tries in this carpe diem poem, “To His Coy
Mistress,” to use time and symbols to convince her to seize the day.
He uses the river, the worm and many direct references to time to
express the urgency of the situation. He then says that his love is
vegetable and that this coy mistress is the only one that can sustain
this living love. Then he threatens death, gets aggressive, and shows
her that her youth is fleeting, and that if she does not change, she
will be miserable.
Brians, Paul. “Study Guide for Classic English Love Poems,” Paul
Brians’ Homepage. n. pag. On-line. Internet. 3 Sept. 1996. Available: