To His Coy Mistress

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 Loves Day. Thou by the Indian Ganges side Should'st 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 alwaies hear Times winged Chariot hurrying near: And yonder all before us lye Desarts 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 preserv'd 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 hew 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 am'rous birds of prey, Rather at once our Time devour, Than languish in his slow-chapt pow'r. 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.

Marvell’s achievement in English poetry is supported by very few poems, which focus on things relating to Renaissance understanding of love as a pervasive metaphysical principle, a faculty or even a potential fulfillment implied, an understanding of the magic on which the whole universe seems to have been constructed. The Renaissance concept of love follows from Platonic premises, which are explained by Diotima in Plato’s Symposium. But we also discover the synthesis of classical and medieval forms of literary artifacts in the Elizabethan poetry. Again Marvell had the supreme command of the comic medium of poetry, which characterizes such distinguished writers of metaphysical school as Herick, Lovelace and Suckling, whose poetry was comparatively free from more serious moral concern; on the other hand, Marvell’s poetry has a genuine transcendental bias, even a doctrinal tension in love as in Donne, and finally a masculine strength in the verbal articulation of poetry.
To His Coy Mistress consists of separate sections or stanzas linked in syllogistic chain, and employs those standard terms of reference, which were used by Aristotle to illustrate the validity of truth in Inductive Logic. The first movement of the poem is introduced by the supposition “had we”and continues to enlist a series of hyperboles, which suggests that, if they had a sufficient expanse of time and space in their hand—the lovers could desist consummation wit sweet admirations and shy denials. The fundamental opposition to amorous dallying is posed by the consciousness of the brevity of human life. The anxiety generated by the sense that life is short, dismissive of human interest, provides some of the basic themes for poetry in classical antiquity. Horace introduced the carpe diem theme in his odes, one of which contains the famous lines including the phrase, which translated stands for an appeal to “seize the day,”

“Carpe diem of credula …minimum posters.”

What Horace actually suggests is a need for the stoical endurance of life, an ascetic possession of the self. But in Marvell’s poem the stoical carpe diem has been transformed and grafted on to the context of love.

In the first section, however, the persuasion to love is mildly stated. The poet says: “My vegetable love should grow Vaster than empire and more slow.”

That Marvell understands that his love for the ministers is not merely of vegetative nature but also of a spiritual one is indeed significant for the proper understanding of the poem. This is a love, which is cosmic and eternally oriented, as Donne had also stated in The Extasie:

“Love’s mysteries in souls do grow But yet the body is his book.” Donne is here speaking of Platonic love in its purest definition, that is, a graduation from the bodily to the universal, and from particular to general love.

The deliberate emphasis on the absurd statements in the first stanza is countered by the opening couplets in the second:

“But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near.” Not only this Time’s devastating march is conceived in ghastly terms in an almost existential annihilation: “And yonder all before us Deserts of vast Eternitie.”

It is this counterargument, which provides the emotional basis for the poet’s attitude to love in the poem. The conclusions of things are, after all, negative and negating—the termination of life in the grave offers no hope. From the perspective of the non-believer, the decision to make best possible use of time is merely hedonistic. But Marvell’s intention is fraught with more philosophical suggestiveness. We are reminded of Donne’s remark that there is no working in dark night, meaning that spiritual self is helpless without the body and it is only on our existence as flesh and blood that we can exert our will power.
The proposition that the lovers should concentrate their energies “up into a ball”—is, in fact, a reference to emblematic imagery common throughout the Renaissance. The fired cannon ball symbolizes wisdom or prudence—wisdom, especially of the kind that suggests a freedom from the operation of transient natural form. In pleading to the mistress to be constituted as a ball and fired, the speaker hints at an usual sexual consummation of their love, but this is not the only wisdom, which the lovers are capable of achieving. Consistent with the Platonic form f the poem, it may be inferred that Marvell is also thinking of harnessing the spiritual potential in order to give to it a meaningful release at a proper time. According to some Neo-Platonists, the mode of conserving and employing one’s energies in consonance with the forces of permanence and eternity in nature was one of the primary awareness of wise man. Marvell embodies this idea in the last image and significantly the lovers seem to have defied time:

“Thus, though we cannot make our sun Stand still yet we will make him run.”

The defiance is not in the fact that the functional property of time has been retarded, but in the fact, which is more insulting to time’s capacity. The lovers will make the sun run with more speed, but the passage of days achieved by this will not have its effect on the permanence, which the prudent lovers will have in their possession.

TO HIS COY MISTRESS

(Explanations.)

“Had we but World enough…I love at lower rate.” [Lines 11-20]

These lines occur in the opening stanza of Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress and form part of the speaker’s monologue aimed at rationalizing his call for the consummation of their love.

The speaker tells his beloved what he would have done if he had at his disposal as much time as he wants. If he were granted a long enough period of time, he would not have been in such a hurry to consummate his love. He would then have all the time in the world to walk by the side of Humber and he would not mind her finding rubies by the side of the Ganges. Indulging in some more bold hyperboles, the speaker says that their love affairs would then have gone back in time to the years before the Great Flood described in the Bible. The lady herself—who is obviously not willing to oblige the lover-- could then have gone on refusing him endlessly or at least until the conversion of the Jews, which is said to be an impossible event. The speaker thinks that if they were so rich in time, they would have all the scope necessary for the slow growth of love. He would have time to devote an age at least to every part of the lady’s beauty. His love would grow like a vegetable. The word ‘vegetable’ is a genuine metaphor, not a generic term here. Vegetables in Marvell’s time included trees and all the rest of the plant-life. Like ideal love, the first property of vegetables was growth. If the speaker had thirty thousand years and more, his vegetable love would have grown vaster than empires—though like some trees slower than empire to grow.

These lines present one of the most famous metaphysical conceit, especially in the bewildering conjunction of vegetable and love. The question naturally arises what exactly Marvell means by vegetable love. J. V. Cunningham has shown that ‘vegetable’ in Marvell’s time was also a philosophical term. Its context was the doctrine of the three souls: the rational which in man subsumes the other two; the sensitive which men and animals have in common; and finally the lowest of the three vegetable soul, which is the only one that plants possess, and which is the principle of generation and corruption or augmentation and decay. The speaker means, therefore, that his love, denied the exercise of the senses but possessing the power of augmentation, will increase vaster than empires. It is an intellectual image and hence no image at all but a conceit. That Marvell understands that his love for the ministers is not merely of vegetative nature but also of a spiritual one is indeed significant for the proper understanding of the poem. This is a love, which is cosmic and eternally oriented, as Donne had also stated in The Extasie:

“Love’s mysteries in souls do grow

But yet the body is his book.”

Donne is here speaking of Platonic love in its purest definition, that is, a graduation from the bodily to the universal, and from particular to general love.

2. II nd stanza:

“But at my back…do there embrace.” [Lines 21—31]

These lines occur in the second section of Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress and form part of the speaker’s monologue aimed at rationalizing his call for the consummation of their love.

In these lines the speaker employs a grim humour to make his mistress aware of the absurdity of her objection to the consummation of their love. He reminds the mistress that they do not have all the time in the world at their disposal. In fact, if they had an abundance of time, the speaker could have waited for thousand of years praising meanwhile each part of the lady’s uniquely beautiful figure. But unfortunately, time relentlessly marches on. It is like a swift chariot driving human beings forward into the bleak and desolate land of death. The grave is the ultimate destiny of every mortal and it is also a denial of all human passion and warmth. Coy ladies, even if they consent to spend a few moments with their lovers, usually look for a quiet, solitary and private place. The lover brutally reminds his mistress that nothing could be more solitary and private than the grave; but unfortunately the grave is not a place where lovers can reach a consummation of their passion. On the contrary the grave symbolizes the decay of all human flesh. The lady who is so anxious to preserve her virginity from the advance of the lover, must remember that after death the same prized virginity will be a prey to the worms of the earth.

It may be said that Marvell’s image of the advance of time in “winged chariot” is almost is felt almost in existential terms. This forms the counterargument provides the emotional basis for the poet’s attitude to love in the poem. The conclusions of things are, after all, negative and negating—the termination of life in the grave offers no hope. From the perspective of the non-believer, the decision to make best possible use of time is merely hedonistic. But Marvell’s intention is fraught with more philosophical suggestiveness. We are reminded of Donne’s remark that there is no working in dark night, meaning that spiritual self is helpless without the body and it is only on our existence as flesh and blood that we can exert our will power.

3.Final Section:

“Now therefore while the youthful …Stand still, yet we can make him run.”

[lines 32—40]

These lines occur in the final section of Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress and form part of the speaker’s triumphant conclusion to his monologue aimed at rationalizing his call for the consummation of their love. [These are the closing lines of Andrew Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress and bring the speaker’s monologue, aimed at rationalizing his call for the consummation of their love, to a triumphant conclusion. ]

Throughout the poem the speaker has repeatedly reminded the mistress that they have little time at their disposal, that they are, in fact, relentlessly being pursued by their enemy, Time, and that it would be a shocking waste if the she goes on resisting the call for consummation of their love. Now he asks her to prepare for the moment when their love will triumph over time. He says that they should form their strength together and add to it her sweetness so that they can make themselves into a formidable force. If they can do that they will be able to beat time. He then uses a powerful image to convey the idea of the lover’s passing through all obstacles put in their way by Time. The image he uses to say that is that of a ball crushing through the gates of a besieged city. This should be viewed in relation the next image of the “fired cannon ball”, which symbolizes wisdom or prudence—wisdom, especially of the kind that suggests a freedom from the operation of transient natural form. In pleading to the mistress to be constituted as a ball and fired, the speaker hints at an usual sexual consummation of their love, but this is not the only wisdom, which the lovers are capable of achieving. Consistent with the Platonic form f the poem, it may be inferred that Marvell is also thinking of harnessing the spiritual potential in order to give to it a meaningful release at a proper time. Marvell embodies this idea in the last image and significantly the lovers seem to have defied time. The defiance is not in the fact that the functional property of time has been retarded, but in the fact, which is more insulting to time’s capacity. The lovers will make the sun run with more speed, but the passage of days achieved by this will not have its effect on the permanence, which the prudent lovers will have in their possession.

The proposition that the lovers should concentrate their energies “up into a ball”—is, in fact, a reference to emblematic imagery common throughout the Renaissance. According to some Neo-Platonists, the mode of conserving and employing one’s energies in consonance with the forces of permanence and eternity in nature was one of the primary awareness of wise man. Marvell here subtly uses the conceits in order to convey a philosophical understanding of the concept of love. This is a love, which is cosmic and eternally oriented, as Donne had also stated in The Extasie:

“Love’s mysteries in souls do grow

But yet the body is his book.”

Marvell, like Donne before him, is here speaking of Platonic love in its purest definition, that is, a graduation from the bodily to the universal, and from particular to general love.

  1. “Had but world enough, and time…”

What would the speaker do?

Ans: In Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress, the speaker argues that had they had enough time and space at their disposal, they could wait for each other. The lady could look for rubies by the river Ganges in India and the lover could sit and complain by the river Humber in England. He would have loved her from before the great biblical Deluge and she could go on refusing him until the conversion of the Jews.

  1. How does the speaker propose to praise the beauty of the beloved, had he had enough time and space?

Ans: In Marvell’s poem To His Coy Mistress, the speaker argues that had they had enough time and space at their disposal, he would not insist on the consummation of their love. Instead, he would spend a hundred year in praising her eyes and gazing on her forehead. He would allot two hundred years for adoring each of her breasts, and thirty thousand years for the rest of the body. He declares that he would devote at least an age for each of her organs. In that case, he would expect her to reveal her heart just before the end of the world.

  1. Comment on the expression “vegetable love”.

Ans: In Marvell’s time the phrase “vegetable love” was a philosophical term. Its context was the Aristotelian doctrine of the three souls: the rational which in man subsumes the other two; the sensitive which men and animals have in common; and finally the lowest of the three vegetable souls, which is the only one that plants possess, and which is the principle of generation and corruption or augmentation and decay. Like ideal love, the first property of vegetables was growth. The speaker means that, if he had thirty thousand years and more, his love, denied the exercise of the senses but possessing the power of augmentation, would increase vaster than empires—though like some trees slower than empire to grow.

  1. “…I would

Love you ten years before the Flood”

What incident does the speaker refer to here?

Ans: The speaker here refers to the Great Deluge that destroyed the world soon after the Creation and the Fall of man.

  1. Why does the speaker use the expression “till the conversion of the Jews”?

Ans: It was a popular conception that the Jews would never be converted into Christianity. The speaker in Marvell’s poem refers mockingly to the popular notion of the impossibility of the Jews into Christianity as an impossible event. But it should be remembered that it was believed also that the Jews would be converted in 1656.

  1. What is meant by the phrase “iron gates of life”?

Ans: Marvell has used the phrase philosophically. He follows the Neo-Platonic notion which sees the body as the prison of life. In order to realize the true nature of life and love, one must rise above the condition dictated by the physicality of human beings. Marvell implies, following Plato, that in order to reach and realize the spiritual one must proceed through the body.

  1. “Let us roll all our strength, and all,

Our sweetness, up into one Ball.”

What does the poet mean by the lines?

Ans: The ‘Ball’ here refers to the cannon-ball, which was used for crushing through the gates of a besieged city. During the Renaissance period the “fired cannon ball” symbolized wisdom or prudence—wisdom, especially of the kind that suggests a freedom from the operation of transient natural form. But for that freedom, concentration of energy, that is, spiritual energy, like the gun powder in the case of a cannon ball, is necessary in order to go outside the influence of operation of time. In pleading to the mistress to be constituted as a ball and fired, the speaker hints on the surface at a usual sexual consummation of their love, but this really implies the harnessing of spiritual energy in order to defy time.

  1. “Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.” What is the meaning of these lines?

Ans: Here the poet has transformed the conjoined ‘Ball’ into the sun of their own. Literally it means what remains of his and his beloved’s time in this world. Consistent with the Platonic form of the poem, Marvell is thinking of harnessing the spiritual potential in order to give to it a meaningful release at a proper time. The defiance is not in the fact that the functional property of time has been retarded, but in the fact, which is more insulting to time’s capacity. The lovers will make the sun run with more speed, but the passage of days achieved by this will not have its effect on the permanence, which the prudent lovers will have in their possession.

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Anonymous said…
thank you for the tasty knowledge!

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