Critical Analysis on To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

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"To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell Critical Analysis

Andrew Marvell is famous for his poem, “To His Coy Mistress”. Marvell is viewed by many as being a chauvinist. This is a typical carpe diem poem where the writer encourages his love to seize the day. He is basically trying to coerce his love into physical intimacy. In modern times, Marvell seems like a chauvinistic jerk, particularly in his selfish nature. However, I agree with a lot of what he stands for in the poem such as not taking the present time for granted. More than I feel time should not be taken for granted, I feel that this poem is representative of the selfish love we see too often. Love that is based on physical, instant attraction rarely lasts.

There are many flaws in Andrew Marvell’s poem because he does not show much respect for the point of view his love may have. He is trying to convince her that having sex now will be better than waiting until they are married. Marriage is not specifically spelled out in the poem, but speaking in current social terms, marriage is not his goal. He seeks instant gratification with his shy girlfriend. She is portrayed as no being ready to give him what he wants. His urgency is criticized because he is not thinking of consequences. What if he gets her pregnant? This unanswered question, along with the issue of not accepting the mistresses position of not being ready, make the impatient gentleman seem crude and ungentlemanly. Most men have a great desire for sex, but it is my opinion that the desire and lust for sex grows with the knowledge of what it is really like.

It is a choice of opinion whether one wants to believe the speaker of this poem is speaking sweetly to get what he wants, or if he truly feels this passionately about his mistress. It is my opinion that he is not even speaking of passion at all. He is moved by lust, an intense sexual desire. First, he does not even want to giver her time to think about whether or not this is the right thing to do. The poet says some sweet things to his mistress about her body and her heart and that if he has to, he will wait. However, these statements are followed by more pressure for physical completion of their relationship. He “always hears time’s winged chariot hurrying near” (Coy Mistress). He goes on to say that in a few years, she will no longer be beautiful. He implies that he may be kept from taking her physical chastity, “but the worms will devour it anyway, so what [will she] have gained?” – another implication that her aging will make her inept in his eyes (Sound). He is basically saying now or never. With the lines, “The grave’s a fine and private place, but none, I think, do there embrace” (Marvell), he brings the thought to her mind that if they don’t act on their love, perhaps she will die without love at all. After making her self-conscious that no other man will want her in a few years, he moves in for the kill and pushes the concept that the here and now will be unforgettably powerful passion between two lovers.

More than all of this, it should certainly be pointed out that the theme of this story is not even sex. The speaker and the mistress are, indeed, talking about sex in detail, but the ultimate theme of the poem is to seize the day. I agree that the poet has many great points about appreciating the time with a person. If we have learned nothing about the recent tragedy in our country, it should be that time is fleeting and uncontrollable. I completely agree that it is a bad idea to take great people, and our time with them, for granted. However, using fleeting time as an excuse for sharing love is not acceptable. Love should be given voluntarily (of his or her own free will). The poet expresses this great passion for life and love with his mistress, but it seems so conditional when he refers to what the passing of time will do to her body. If she does give in to his incessant badgering, one has to wonder whether he will still be there in a few years when her appearance has faded and become “dusty” as he has so clearly pointed out.

Marvell focuses his entire poem on throwing out our “neatly divided clock or calendar. We cannot control the fact that life is followed by death, nor should we try to do so through fantasizing about the future, but we can control each moment that we are alive; each irregular, spontaneous, surprising moment” (Sound). In all, I think Marvell developed an extreme, profound way to capture the attention of everyday people that take life for granted.

Works Cited

Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress” Literature and the Writing Process.

Elizabeth McMahan, Susan X Day, Robert Funk. 6th ed. New Jersey: Prentice
Hall, 2002. 461-462.

“Carpe Poem” Gladstone Website

“Marvell’s Use of Sound in ‘To His Coy Mistress’” Humanities Composition Website

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