To His Coy Mistress
by Andrew Marvell
To His Coy Mistress Summary
"To His Coy Mistress" is divided into three stanzas or poetic paragraphs. It’s spoken by a nameless man, who doesn’t reveal any physical or biographical details about himself, to a nameless woman, who is also biography-less.
During the first stanza, the speaker tells the mistress that if they had more time and space, her "coyness" (see our discussion on the word "coy" in "What’s Up With the Title?") wouldn’t be a "crime." He extends this discussion by describing how much he would compliment her and admire her, if only there was time. He would focus on "each part" of her body until he got to the heart (and "heart," here, is both a metaphor for sex, and a metaphor for love).
In the second stanza he says, "BUT," we don’t have the time, we are about to die! He tells her that life is short, but death is forever. In a shocking moment, he warns her that, when she’s in the coffin, worms will try to take her "virginity" if she doesn’t have sex with him before they die. If she refuses to have sex with him, there will be repercussions for him, too. All his sexual desire will burn up, "ashes" for all time.
In the third stanza he says, "NOW," I’ve told you what will happen when you die, so let’s have sex while we’re still young. Hey, look at those "birds of prey" mating. That’s how we should do it – but, before that, let’s have us a little wine and time (cheese is for sissies). Then, he wants to play a game – the turn ourselves into a "ball" game. (Hmmm.) He suggests, furthermore, that they release all their pent up frustrations into the sex act, and, in this way, be free.
In the final couplet, he calms down a little. He says that having sex can’t make the "sun" stop moving. In Marvell’s time, the movement of the sun around the earth (we now believe the earth rotates around the sun) is thought to create time. Anyway, he says, we can’t make time stop, but we can change places with it. Whenever we have sex, we pursue time, instead of time pursuing us. This fellow has some confusing ideas about sex and time. Come to think of it, we probably do, too. "To His Coy Mistress" offers us a chance to explore some of those confusing thoughts.