Andrew Marvell, an English poet, politician, and satirist, probably wrote "To His Coy Mistress" between 1650 and 1652. It was first published in 1681 (by his housekeeper!) several years after his death. Since then, it has become one of the most famous poems of its kind.
Marvell belongs to a group commonly known as the "Metaphysical Poets." The group includes some other poets we love: George Herbert, John Donne, and Richard Crashaw – all from the 1500s and 1600s. Their poems are famous for the surprising (and, at times, shocking and daring) use of language to explore BIG questions about love, sex, the earth, the universe, and the divine. Time holds a huge fascination for poets in Marvell’s era, and the phrase carpe diem (seize the day) has a special significance. "Life is short, so live it to the fullest," is one way to describe the carpe diem mindset.
The Metaphysical Poets celebrated imagination and wit. Wit often involves a lot of wordplay. Like "To His Coy Mistress," their poems often take the form of an argument or a line of reasoning (similar to what a lawyer might use in court). Such arguments are often parodies of actual arguments. The Metaphysical Poets also would frequently use their work to critique aspects of society, politics, and art that they see as flawed – kind of like the Simpsons, South Park, and Family Guy. Satire. Parody. The Metaphysicals tend to poke fun at the super-serious way that other poets write about love and God, preferring a more light-hearted approach to weighty matters.
Have you ever felt like you were racing against the clock? Between school and work and blogging and video games and keeping up with the news and checking out all the latest movies and managing money, inboxes, and personal lives, we sometimes wish we could stop time. We want fix all our problems and then turn time back on, with a special remote control, like the one Adam Sandler has in Click, but without the side effects.
The speaker of the poem expresses a similar experience in this angst-y poem, which might just make you feel a little better about things. It’s also really funny, when you start to look at it closely. See, here are a few lines we love:
It's a good thing
that I have my library card.
Because I am totally checking you out!
Sorry. We couldn’t resist a little library card humor. But, the silly poem above shares something with "To His Coy Mistress." They are both pick-up lines. Marvell’s just happens to be a little longer. But, a word of caution: if you use Marvell’s lines you might expect that people will run away from you, not date you.
Audio recordings of the poem
In case you really want to hear it read aloud
Marvell doesn’t look too happy here.
Literature and Politics in Cromwellian England
If you are interested in the political side of Marvell, this is the book for you.
"Andrew Marvell: Man of Contradictions"
Why are we not surprised to hear that Marvell is full of contradictions?
"A Walk Through Time"
A lot of fun info about time.
Some Information on Colonialism and Imperialism
There’s a lot to learn about this topic, but here’s a start.