Study Guide

To His Coy Mistress Sex

By Andrew Marvell

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My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow (lines 11-12)

This is one of the poem’s most famous passages. It’s memorable because it’s surprising, fluid, and extremely sexually suggestive. The speaker mockingly combines love and sex in the poems "If" scenario – where, ideally, love would "ripen" into sexual desire.

[…] then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity (lines 27-28)

Here, the speaker, in characteristic hyperbole, seems to claim that, if the mistress doesn’t have sex with him, she will remain a virgin forever – an idea he clearly holds in contempt. Think back to his initial accusation that her "coyness" is a "crime." Here, he describes her punishment – worms! That’s not very nice – although, if you have a dark sense of humor, it can be funny, too. The lines also draw attention to themselves by rhyming "try" with "virginity," which causes us to think about what we are reading.

And into ashes all my lust (line 30)

This is interesting on several levels. It might suggest that the speaker is a virgin, too, and that he only wants to have sex with the mistress. He says that "all" his lust will turn to ashes when he dies, if she doesn’t have sex with him. If she dies a virgin, so will he. But, that’s only one possibility. The word "ashes" also suggests fire, playing on the idea of passion and lust as fire. Sounds painful.

Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball, (lines 41-42)

This is probably the one image of sex in the poem that isn’t loaded with irony and sarcasm, cruelty, or violence. It is genuinely playful, direct, and clear, with less room for ambiguity.

And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life (lines 42-43)

The speaker suggests that they can use the difficulty and frustration of life (that is, "strife") to enhance the sexual experience. This line would be easier if it said "and tear our rough strife with our pleasure." Then, we could say that he wants to use sex to help him cope with the pain and frustration of life. But, that would be too simple for our complicated speaker.

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