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Analysis of to His Coy Mistress

In: English and Literature

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Words 2479
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English 109
Literary Criticism
O.P. 1

Name: RENTINO, Christina Jane R.
Year & Section: III – English

To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress is a poem which is really hard to understand. One has to be meticulous and scrupulous in reading the poem for great understanding and analysis. Nevertheless, this paper aims to analyze the literary piece using historical-biographical and moral-philosophical approaches. Specifically, this paper aspires to understand the relevance of the writer’s life to the poem, to know if the writer’s experiences were reflected in the poem, to identify the historical events or movements that influenced the poet to write the literary piece, to identify the speaker’s viewpoints in the poem, to know the morale present in the story, and things alike. Initially, Andrew Marvell was born on March 31, 1621. His father, Reverend Andrew Marvell, was a lecturer at Holy Trinity Church and a master of the Charterhouse. He was one of the metaphysical poets during his time. Along with John Milton, Thomas Browne and others, Andrew Marvell was considered as one of the prominent English writers in the seventeenth century. In fact, he was also the assistant of John Milton, Latin Secretary for the Commonwealth. John Milton could have also influenced Marvell in writing his masterpieces. As what I have learned in our English and American Literature subject, seventeenth century encompassed several events like the succession to the throne of James, son of Mary Stuart, an outsider, after the death of Queen Elizabeth; the execution of Charles I, the son of King James, because of his overindulgence in luxury; and other events. It was also discussed to us that the writers of this period took an undeviating participation in the political and religious struggles of England. These events in the history of England could have led Andrew Marvell to write his masterpiece. From the title alone, To His Coy Mistress, it could be observed that the masterpiece was written between sixteenth to seventeenth centuries. Mistress, in our generation is defined as a woman having an affair to a married man, but during Marvell’s time, mistress was defined as a woman who acts as a patron. Why have I arrived in this explanation? The period prior to the existence of Andrew Marvell was a period of Tudor Literature. And as what I have learned from one of our professors, one of the unique traits of Tudor Literature is popularity from patronage. Writers from sixteenth century write in securing a patronage from a noble, specifically, Queen Elizabeth. As I scrutinize the masterpiece, I have come to realize that Andrew Marvell, as a son of a priest, who is basically exposed in a religious environment is evident in the poem. His use of Biblical allusions can be greatly observed. More so, he also incorporated courtly love in his work. Courtly literature is also one of the characteristics of the characteristics of Tudor Literature. From lines 1 to 12, the speaker entices the lady in accordance to the tenet of courtly love. Line 8,
Love you ten years before the flood, which means the flood during Noah’s time and line 10, Till the conversion of the Jews, are Biblical allusions. Lines 45 to 46 also present Biblical allusion,
...though we cannot make our sun stand still... represents Joshua praying to God to make the sun stand still in Gibeon while he was battling with the Amorites. However, this has been contradicted on the latter part of the poem, which I will discuss later. Moreover, in line 5, Indian Ganges’ also presents a sacred allusion because during Marvell’s time, Ganges River is considered as a sacred and holy river all over the world because it is pure and pristine. Andrew Marvell had his education at Trinity College, Cambridge, wherein he was exposed to classical literatures, logic and other fields. I have learned in our aforesaid subject that seventeenth century is the Age of Restoration. After the execution of Charles I, his son, Charles II was restored to the throne. This period also sowed the seeds of Neo-classicism, wherein English writers adapt the classical style of writing. Our professor told us that classical writings include Greek and Latin Literatures. Since Marvell was exposed to this style during his education, it could also be the reason why he employed the allusions to Greek mythology in his work. Line 22,
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near, could mean Kronos, the Titan God of time and ages. Additionally, line 11,
My vegetable love would grow, presents a metaphysical conceit, which is an evident characteristic of a poem from the seventeenth century. Vegetable love could mean an Edenic garden, just like in the Paradise of Eden. More so, it was also apparent in the poem that death seemed a preoccupation of the speaker. The speaker speaks of turning into dust. It’s as if the speaker is certain that there is death. This then lead me to remember our discussion in our English Literature class that during the seventeenth century, England suffered from a plague which caused the death of several people. Marvell could have experienced loss of a loved one or a relative. Or it could be that he sympathize those who lost their families because of the plague. Contrary to the religious upbringing of Marvell’s parents, the speaker of the poem also presented the loss of Christian faith. Marvell, even brought up by a priest, for me, had somehow lost his Christian faith. This could be due to the political and religious struggles during the period. Moreover, I have learned before that there are certain irregularities during the time that the Church has the power to manage taxes. Marvell could have seen this indiscretion, thus leading him to decline on his Christian faith. The decline on his Christian faith was presented on the lines where sexual urges are being talked about by the speaker. Why did I say this? It is because lust is one of the seven deadly sins and it is against the Christian teachings. After a thorough understanding of the poem, I can also say that the mistress was regarded by Marvell as the representation of England. At first, the poem presents great love and admiration. This could have been the time during the sixteenth century where there is peace, order and courtly love. It was also a period of Humanism wherein moral life was seen as the sole responsibility of the human being. However, upon the succession of the poem, it could be observed that in the 21st line, the pure yearning was transformed into physical gratification and lust. Since Marvell also supported an anti-royalist, Oliver Cromwell, who was also the Lord Protector of England in the seventeenth century, this transition in his masterpiece could mean the period when the outsider Stuart Kings, King James, Charles I and II, had ruled England after the death of Queen Elizabeth. Since they are outsiders, they don’t know much on how to govern England, thus, a lot of chaos occurred, even leading to the execution of Charles the First. Lastly, the poem ends with the lines,
Thus, though we cannot make our sun stand still, yet we will make him run.
For me, this line could also be a call to the attention of Charles II. These lines are somehow a challenge to Charles II to save England just like what Joshua did with Israelites during his battle with the Amorites. Analyzing Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress in Moral-Philosophical Approach is another thing. This approach focuses on the moral teaching and the philosophical thought that the author wants to convey to the readers. What did this poem teach me? The beginning of the poem presents us of tempus fugit which means time flies. The first two lines,
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime, the speaker tells the mistress that if the two of them had all the time in the world, her coyness would not matter. But the speaker tells her that time flies so the mistress has to hurry and give in to the plea of the speaker. Also, To His Coy Mistress tells me of carpe diem, an old Latin term which means we should seize the moment. This is also the same concept as “you only live once.” In the line,
Now let us sport us while we may, the speaker tells us that we should enjoy every day for we are not certain on how long we will live. The poem tells us that regardless of our gender, age and race, we should always savour the pleasures of the moment. More so, this poem tells me that life is transitory, it is not stagnant, but it keeps on moving. This made me realize that as life keeps on moving, we should also move forward and forget the past. Let us dwell on the present, for us to visualize our future. A future that is not just all right, but a future that could affect eternity. Also, according to one of my readings, the first part of the poem presents a Platonic love. It means an emotional and spiritual relationship between a couple that does not involve sexual desires. As we all know, it is different from other love concepts. According to Plato, this concept has its underlying stages. First, the love of beauty of face, then the love of physical beauty, then the love of spiritual beauty and the last is the love of universal beauty.
... I would love you ten years before the Flood:
And you should if you please refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews. These lines in the first part of the poem tell us that love is Platonic or is forever. The speaker used the words “Flood” and “Conversion of the Jews” to tell the mistress that his love will last forever. Why did I arrive at this statement? We all know that in the Bible, the flood during Noah’s time washed out the people, thus, it meant a new beginning...the beginning of the world. The speaker then tells the mistress the he’ll love her until the conversion of the Jews. Accordingly, the conversion of the Jews will take place before the Last Judgment...the end of the world. However, the concept of Platonic love was violated as the poem progressed, since the main character spoke of yearning and sexual desires. According to this work’s view of life, there is a possibility that an individual can lose his Christian faith. This presents the reality that occurs in our society. It really saddened me that there are people who don’t believe that a supreme being exists, but I cannot blame them. Just like Marvell, a typical atheist was once a believer, but there were circumstances in their lives that they felt that no supreme being was there to help them when they were in dire need. Maybe Marvell experienced a rigorous event in his life that really led him to lose his Christian faith. Or Marvell may have been influenced by the philosophy of materialism which contradicted the biblical view. The speaker of the poem presents that he wanted to have an escape from time. This somehow presents the author’s stance towards the world. Marvell had existed during the time that there are lots of chaos because of the reign of the Stuart Kings. Maybe there was a point in his life that he just wanted to escape away from those disarrays. This is also true with us at times. When we experience complicated things that shake us emotionally, socially and physically, there are times that we just want to escape from those problems. Contradicting the first part of the poem, the use of sexual desires was employed by Marvell. We all know that sex before marriage and lust are not included in the doctrines of the Catholic Church. For me, the mistress in the poem is an epitome of a lady with Catholic upbringing. We can observe that from the beginning to the last part of the poem, the speaker tempts her by presenting his desire for her. The yearning would have not progressed if the lady had given in easily. Thus, there was a continuous presentation of longing in the poem, so it simply means that the mistress refused the temptations of the speaker. However, after reading the poem for a number of times, I have arrived into a thought that the poem could also be not of sexual descriptions. Yes, the speaker used vulgar terms to present his desire to the mistress, but for me, they could just be symbolisms. The poem is not of sexual imagery but of time. For me, the use of lust and strong sexual desires in the poem is the author’s way of telling the people that time is a very important concept. He wanted the readers to strongly realize this thought. I have validated my thought when I searched what metaphysical means. According to Pinto (2009), metaphysical writers viewed poetry as an intellectual exercise, an opportunity to develop logical reasoning and argumentative structure. This will tell us that Marvell, as a metaphysical poet, used his analytical skills to his poem to manifest a complicated work to let the readers employ thorough thinking in understanding the real meaning of the poem. To His Coy Mistress might have been a poem which is very hard to understand, but as this occasional paper progressed, I have come to realize that this poem had offered me a lot of insights about life.
This poem made my foundation in English literature strong, specifically, that of sixteenth and seventeenth century. It helped me validate the pieces of information that were discussed to us. It also helped me remember significant events that happened in that particular period. This poem also taught me different morals and philosophies. Although I am not very certain about my analysis, I am very happy that I have arrived at this level of examining a poem.


Garnida, S. C. (2000). Philosophical Mood in To His Coy Mistress. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from
Jokinen, A. (2012). The Life of Andrew Marvell. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from
Pinto, A. (2009). Historical and Biographical Approach. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from
Shmoop Editorial Team. (2008). To His Coy Mistress: Stanza I (lines 1-20) Summary. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from summary.html
Poetry Foundation (2015). Andrew Marvell. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from
Academy of American Poets. Retrieved July 24, 2015 from

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Canterbury the first person, describing each of the pilgrims as they appeared to him. Though narrated by different pilgrims, each of the tales is told from an omniscient third-person point of view, providing the reader with the thoughts as well as actions of the characters. TONE · The Canterbury Tales incorporates an impressive range of attitudes toward life and literature. The tales are by turns satirical, elevated, pious, earthy, bawdy, and comical. The reader should not accept the naïve narrator’s point of view as Chaucer’s. TENSE · Past SETTING (TIME) · The late fourteenth century, after 1381 SETTING (PLACE) · The Tabard Inn; the road to Canterbury PROTAGONISTS · Each individual tale has protagonists, but Chaucer’s plan is to make none of his storytellers superior to others; it is an equal company. In the Knight’s Tale, the protagonists are Palamon and Arcite; in the Miller’s Tale, Nicholas and Alisoun; in the Wife of Bath’s Tale, the errant knight and the loathsome hag; in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale, the rooster Chanticleer. MAJOR CONFLICT · The struggles between characters, manifested in the links between tales, mostly involve clashes between social classes, differing tastes, and competing professions....

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