To His Coy Mistress Poem Summary and Line by Line Analysis by Andrew Marvell in English


“To His Coy Mistress” persuades a young woman to appreciate life’s joys before passing away. In fact, the poem is an attempt to woo the coy mistress who serves as its title. However, the speaker obsesses over death itself during this process with horrific intensity. The apprehension of death seems to overtake the poem, replacing the speaker’s sensual drive.

About The Poet

The political legacy of English poet Andrew Marvell, who was born on March 31, 1621, in Winestead, Yorkshire, England, and died on August 18, 1678, in London, eclipsed his literary reputation until the 20th century. He is today regarded as one of the greatest poets of metaphysics.

Rhyme Scheme

The opening two lines of “To His Coy Mistress” demonstrate that it is an iambic tetrameter couplet poem. The length of the stanzas is not precisely defined, since some are lengthier than others. Despite having a form, the poem does not have a predetermined form.

Part 1

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.

The man starts by describing to his lady how, given the opportunity, he would engage in worshipping her. He uses phrases like “love you ten years before the Flood,” alluding to their love in almost Biblical terms, “vegetable love,” which depicts how slowly and steadily, before stating that “a hundred years” would be spent commending her: her eyes, her hairline, two hundred years to worship her breasts, and “thirty thousand to the rest of the things. 

Part 2

But at my back I always hear
Time’s wingèd 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.

The poet took his time detailing the woman’s beauty and all the reasons she deserved to be adored.  When the poet tells the woman that he hears “time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” the tone turns to one of desperation and urgency.  While still praising his woman’s beauty, the poet informs her that time is rushing by and that he does not have the time to adore her. They are in store for “deserts of vast eternity,” and her beauty will dwindle. It is intimated that all the waiting will be for nothing because her virginity will “turn to dust” along with her honour. Even while it’s not overwhelming, there is undoubtedly a feeling of apprehension. 

Part 3

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-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

The poet finds a resolution in the final set of lines.  They should be with each other now, while they still have the chance, while they are still young and attractive, and they shouldn’t concern themselves with the future.  The poet implores his lady love, telling her to pay attention to him, the word “sport” was used to refer to sexual activity. He compares them to “amorous birds of prey,” demonstrating their natural and spontaneous urges while also elevating them above and beneath man. The poet attempts to somehow elevate their own desire beyond existence itself by attempting to “tear our pleasures with rough strife  through the iron gates of life.”