Love in To His Coy Mistress
In Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress the poem's speaker attempts to persuade "his coy mistress" to have sex with him. As “he is aware of his imminent death as he is of hers” he wants his desire to be fulfilled here and now. Thus I introduce my thesis as follows: Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress argues that, in a world where death rules supreme and time is limited, life’s true meaning and purpose can only be found in physical (i.e. sexual) pleasure.
My thesis is based on the analysis of the three sections which complete a logical argumentative pattern (“Had we . . .”, “But . . .”, “Now therefore . . .”)
In the first section (l. 1- l. 20) the speaker tells his mistress what they could achieve in their relationship if they had time. It is a very traditional and religious view of love.
However, the subjunctive and conditional structures in the first section indicate: They do not have time. The coyness of the Lady is a crime. The result of these two points is that the speaker is not interested in spiritual or romantic but just in physical, sexual love immediately.
This “false vision of history-as-courtship”, “false vision of endless time and endless courtship” is shown in a satirical, cynical and ironic way. Marvell uses a lot of allusions to the bible illustrating the huge dimensions of “world enough and time” (l. 1). The image of “world enough” (l. 1) is shown by the “Indian Ganges” (l. 5), an exotic country which is far away from the “Humber” (l. 7) in England . The image of “time” (l. 1) is illustrated by the “Flood” (l. 8) and the “conversion of the Jews” (l. 10). According to the Bible-based Stuart chronology, the World was created in 4000 B.C. and the First Age ended with Noah’s Flood in 2344 B.C. Marvell was living in the Seventh Age of the World, some 4000 years after the Flood. The conversion of the Jews is a symbol of the Last Age, the apocalypse. This means that the period of time from the “Flood” (l. 8) until “the conversion of the Jews” (l. 10) is extremely long. However, “To His Coy Mistress is an example of ironic allegory which implies the opposite of what it at first appears to argue.” Therefore, all these images of neverending courtships must be converted into images of immediate consummation of the speaker’s physical, sexual desires.
One can find a metaphor of these sexual desires in the abstract and philosophical term “vegetable” (l. 11), known as such to the educated man of Marvell’s day.
Its context is 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 which is the principle of motion and perception; and, finally, the lowest of the three, the vegetable soul, which is the only one that plants possess and which is the principle of generation and corruption, of augmentation and decay.
Hence his love is compared to vegetables and plants whose first value is growth. It means that his love gets bigger and bigger illustrated by the image of an “empire” (l. 12). Referring to my thesis stated at the beginning, the speaker here “compares his sexual potency (‘My . . . . Love’ here implying the tumescent penis) to the absolute power of the final Kingdom over all other Empires.” Again the speaker just thinks of the satisfaction of his own sexual lust.
Looking at the next lines one can discover a climax from “hundred years”(l. 13) to “thirty thousand” (l. 16) which demonstrates the periods of time the speaker would “praise” (l. 13) and “adore” (l. 15) the parts of her female body. Marvell misuses the terms “praise” (l. 13) and “adore” (l. 15) which are predominantly religious terms. “The adoration of ‘each breast’ (l. 15) suggests an apt image of a statuesque Madonna and a kneeling adorer” but “the enumeration of the lady’s charms reads like a parody of Canticles.” Again, Marvell uses irony as a stylistic device to express something completely different from what he says. If one knows that the whore’s name was written upon her forehead in order to identify her the whole religious and puritan situation of adoration changes its meaning. Everyone knows what whores do. Sex. Hence the speaker sits in front of the lady stares at her breasts and dreams of physical satisfaction.
 Rosalie L. Colie, My Echoing Song: Andrew Marvell’s Poetry of Criticism (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton UP, 1970) p. 54.
 Andrew Marvell, The Complete Works Of Andrew Marvell (New York: AMS Press, 1966) l. 1/ 21/ 33.
 Margarita Stocker, Apocalyptic Marvell (Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1986) p. 206.
 Stocker 207
 Bruce King, Marvell’s allegorical poetry (Cambridge/New York: Oleander Press, 1977) p. 67.
 J.V. Cunningham, “Logic and Lyric”: ‘To his Coy Mistress’. Marvell: Modern Judgements. Ed. Michael Wilding (London: Macmillan, 1969) p. 159.
 Stocker 215.
 Michael Craze, The life and lyrics of Andrew Marvell (London: Macmillan, 1979) p. 316.
 King 68.