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To His Coy Mistress

To His Coy Mistress

by Andrew Marvell

Motion and Stillness

Symbol Analysis

"To His Coy Mistress" is very concerned with the full range of motion, including stillness. The motion helps the poem pick up speed, and the stillness lets us catch our breath and reflect for moments before we rush on. This back and forth also helps the speaker make his point. His portrayal of stillness isn’t very positive, while his moments of action are full of excitement and challenge, suggesting that our speaker is all about action.

  • Lines 3-4: The speaker is big on hyperbole, and he uses it to suggest various speeds of motion and even stillness. "Picking rubies" implies a somewhat leisurely action (although actual ruby-picking is not leisurely at all).
  • Lines 8-10: The speaker’s declaration that (if he had time) he would love her "ten years before the flood" and "till the conversion of the Jews" combines hyperbole and allusion to create motion, in this case a sense of rapid movement through time. He also uses the grand, Biblical language ironically to poke fun at the mistress, whom he accuses of wanting something timeless (like eternal love), while saying in the same breath that he would give this to her, too, if he has time. This might create the motion of the mistress running away from the speaker.
  • Lines 18-19: The speaker uses "show your heart" as a metaphor for the mistress’s imagined agreement to finally have sex with him, implying faster action, and possibly a faster heartbeat. But, to emphasize the theme of mock leisure in this stanza, he slows things down by using the word "show," which rhymes with the "slow" of a previous line.
  • Line 20: He then extends the "heart" metaphor in line 20 by introducing the word rate – as in heart rate, another kind of motion. We can’t neglect the sense of "rate" which means "price" or "cost." With this pun, he slyly accuses her of wanting to sell her love for compliments – which brings us back to the running away thing.
  • Lines 45-46: The final lines of the poem employ a variety of fun techniques. The simple imagery of the word "sun," which makes us see yellow or orange or red as we read, combines with personification to deepen the image. We see a red-orange blur, wearing fiery running shoes. As you might suspect, Marvell’s ending flourish is even more sophisticated. The sun is also a metaphor for time. Time is an abstract concept (while the sun is an object we can see). By giving an abstract concept (time) human characteristics (running), the speaker personifies an abstraction, and we are left with an image of a bizarre red-orange clock wearing tennis shoes, trying to stay as far away from the speaker as possible.

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