“TO HIS COY MISTRESS”
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
- [A woman (more or less young), is the object of this older gentleman’s eye. She could be a coquette, one who uses arts to gain the admiration and the affections of men, merely for the gratification of vanity or from a desire of conquest; and, without any intention of responding to the feelings aroused in her plaything. At any rate, it was more the convention in Marvel’s day for a pretty woman when she found herself interacting with an available man, to display shyness or reserve or unwillingness, at least for the first little while.]
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side
Should’st rubies find: I by the tide
- [Remember the times of the poet, in this case Marvel: circa 1650. England was beginning its era of great exploration and the discovery of the exotic east.]
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.
- [These lines stumped me, until I received this e-mail from margaux: “… the flood referring to Noah a part belonging to the Genesis in the Bible. So he would love her since ever. And then he adds ‘Till the conversion of the Jews’ … most Jews never have converted … Those two religious references are just a way to tell her that he would love and praise her during a very very long time before getting into any kind of sexual intercourse with her, but …” And another, “in your analysis of to his coy mistress: the flood part happened sometime after creation. The conversion of the jews is suppose to happen before Armageddon. That’s the allusion that Andrew Marvell is using.” Well, OK. So, there we have it.]
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow ;
- [“Vegetable love”: What do you suppose Marvel meant by this? One of my correspondents wrote, “A vegetable comes from the vegetative part of a plant, as opposed to a fruit, which comes from the reproductive part.” At any rate, their love for one and the other may well grow slowly, for what ever reason; but it is a growing thing: deep, complex and vast. A lover is devoted to the loving business of praising his or her lover and is endlessly fascinated with the body and general presence of the other: this is part of being in love.]
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 ;
- [Nice bit, “the last age should show your heart.” I remember it being said, that once the heat of sexual passion subsides, as it always does, then — one will be left with a blemished person and the best that can be hoped is that one is left with a beloved who tells the truth, who shuns sham, who has a heart.]
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
- [Sexually speaking our older lover could take things slowly with her; if that is what she wants, then, that, is what she should have; he is committed to the conquest, a conquest that can only come about as a result of him fully satisfying her; and, no doubt it is his goal to satisfy her, though it may take thousands of years; and, he would take pleasure throughout the long wait, if, if, only if, there is some prospect of sexual fulfillment. Now, take a breath, for, it is at this point that there appears the most dramatic shift in tempo that I have ever felt in a passage of poetry.]
- 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 you quaint honor 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.
- [I just do not have the heart to break into any of those last lines of Marvel’s: they belong together and to be left uninterrupted, undisturbed. By God, this man wants this woman, this central focus point of his sexual passion. He cannot wait, he begs her not to put off sexual union. He eloquently points out that the cares of the moment do not much matter as time is slowly absorbing them both, as it does all things. Marvel displays in full glory his epicurean philosophy.]
By Andrew Marvell (1621-1678).
With analysis by Blupete.