To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
Stanza I (lines 1-20) Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
- The speaker starts off by telling the mistress that if there was enough time and enough space ("world enough, and time"), then her "coyness" (see "What’s up with the title" for some definitions) wouldn’t be a criminal act.
- This is a roundabout way of calling her a criminal, and makes us think of jails, courtrooms, and punishments.
- Hmmm. What exactly is her crime? What is she being "coy" about?
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
- In any case, he continues…. If they had all the time and space they wanted, they could Google everything, read guide books, and carefully consider where they might go next, while aimlessly strolling and resting whenever they pleased.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
- She could hang out on the bank of the "Indian Ganges" finding "rubies."
- The Ganges River is considered sacred and holy by many people all over the world. In Marvell’s time, the Ganges is pure and pristine. Now, many parts of it are incredibly polluted.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
- And, he would be across the world at the Humber tidal estuary, skipping in the froth from the waves and whining. (Actually, he says "complain," which also means "love song.")
- This would place them far away from each other, obviously.
- The speaker doesn’t sound thrilled at the idea of a long-distance relationship.
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.
- He would go back in time to Noah and the Flood, and forward in time to the "conversion of the Jews," all the while loving her.
- The speaker’s grand, Biblical language mocks poems which describe love in divine terms.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
- Then, we get one of the poem’s most famous lines. The speaker starts telling the mistress about his "vegetable love."
- Much debate occurs over the meaning of this term.
- The word "slow" in line 12 gives us a clue. We think "vegetable love" is "organic love" – love without the pressure of anything but nature, a natural process resulting in something nourishing – vegetables.
- But, be careful. Since it’s organic, vegetable love will cost a little more in the grocery store.
- We can’t neglect another connotation, either.
- A certain part of the male anatomy is shaped like certain members of the vegetable kingdom. Vegetable love also refers to that.
- Some literary critics think the "vegetable" in "vegetable love" refers to the female anatomy, as well.
- We’ll let you do the math on your own.
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,
- Anyhow, he says that, if he had time, he would give her compliments about each of her individual body parts, and he would spend a bazillion years doing it.
And the last age should show your heart.
- And then, finally, after all that complimenting, she would "show [her] heart," presumably by having sex with him.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
- You’re worth it, too, he says, and I wouldn’t give you anything less than that first-class love.
- The word "rate" cleverly links with the word "heart" of the previous line, making us think of "heart rate."