Sunday Poetry – Andrew Marvell

I don’t have any excuse for featuring Andrew Marvell’s poetry again. This is one of my favourite poems & I’ve been dipping into Marvell since reading Linda Gillard’s The Glass Guardian a couple of weeks ago. To His Coy Mistress is in a tradition of poetry that tries to persuade young women to go to bed with their suitors. It’s witty & amusing & I know most of it by heart. I wonder if it was based on a real situation and, if so, was the lady persuaded? Alex recommended a biography of Marvell by Nigel Smith when he commented on my last Marvell poetry post. I need to read it even more urgently now!

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 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 preserv’d 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 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 am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d 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.

4 thoughts on “Sunday Poetry – Andrew Marvell

  1. Another one of my absolute favourites: I think I should take that (slightly chilling bit) about 'But at my back I always hear /
    Time's winged chariot hurrying near;' as my motto. Lovely. And “vegetable love”. Wonderful image!


  2. I love the metaphysical poets' way with an image. Donne's compass is another one of my favourites. Mixing the practical & prosaic with the romantic but always with that realisation of Death coming up behind you.


  3. One of my favourite poems. I remember we were being taught English lit by nuns at school and she got quite flustered trying to explain to a class of 14 year olds what it was all about!

    We knew, of course………..


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