Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is in my opinion an excellent poem about a subject matter we can all understand and most of us can relate to: a love just beyond reach. This is the primary reason I believe it is most suited to be in a college textbook. One of the hardest things to accomplish in a poem written for uninterested college students is making it understandable and enjoyable by the audience, but this poem does it very well. In doing so, however, it also includes several important elements of poetic language that will educate the reader while at the same time keeping him or her interested.
The initial paragraph lures the reader into believing that this is a happy lover’s poem written to woo a woman with whom he is in love. The steady string of compliments mesh together very well and leave a warm and happy image of the pair’s relationship. The imagery is wonderful as well, as in this example: “My vegetable love should grow / Vaster than empires, and more slow” (Marvell 11-2). This sentence inspires a mental picture of a sweeping kingdom and all the vastness that such an empire must occupy. He also writes this paradox in closing the paragraph: “But thirty thousand to adore the rest. / An age to every part” (Marvell 16-7). He is referring to how many years he will worship and adore his would-be lover. Clearly, one cannot live to such an age.
The next paragraph grabs the attention of the reader with a firm dose of darkness. The summary of its meaning is of course that there are not enough years to wait for his lover to come around. “And yonder all before us lie / Deserts of vast eternity” (Marvell 23-4) is a great line depicting the inevitable deaths that await each and every man and woman. The metaphor of deserts and the use of the word eternity help to convey a sense of hopelessness. The change in mood from the first to the second paragraph is startling and vivid. Images of two lovers change to images of death, crows, and crypts. The reader cannot help but feel the difference as he or she reads it.
Another mood shift occurs as the poem shifts away from the gloom of death and into talk of the sun and more pleasant things. The closing paragraph again returns to the present and begins presenting the possibilities of a happy life together rather than one spent alone waiting. More imagery is used in the closing line – “Thus, though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run” (Marvell 45-6). This is a reference to the shortness of life and how the speaker wants to spend his short time on Earth in happiness with his lover. The phrase “time flies when you’re having fun” is an easy way to translate this line as the sun races across the sky. The reader is left with hope for the author that perhaps his lover will read and understand his wishes, and that she will share them.
The rhythm and rhyme of the poem also maintain throughout the reading without much confusion. This helps to simplify the reading for an audience such as a college student. The mood swings from happy to sad and back to happy again demonstrate the power of the pen in admirable fashion. Most importantly, this poem makes the reader grasp one of the most significant parts of poetry: that one short page can communicate vast emotions and information to the reader. It is for these reasons that this is poem would be a fine addition to any introductory English college textbook.
Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress”. Literature and the Writing Process. Ed. Elizabeth McMahan et al. 6th edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2002. 461-462