Friday poem: 'To His Coy Mistress' by Andrew Marvell

27 June 2014

This week's Friday poem is about one of our favourite topics, love.

One of the pleasures of this poem is the way time is stretched and compressed to illustrate the speaker's argument. I love the lingering 'vegetable love', with each syllable given delicate attention, and the rushing of the last few lines, leading to the insistence of the final couplet. The sheer energy of this poem is startling.

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 wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found;
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long-preserved virginity:
And your quaint 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 glue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball:
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

 

The Picador Book of Wedding Poems 'To His Coy Mistress' is published in The Picador Book of Wedding Poems edited by Peter Forbes