A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Friday, 13 June 2014

To His Coy Mistress (13)

If a more charming and irresistible pitch for sex has ever been crafted, then I've yet to read it. This poem is as fresh today as it must have sounded when first written — in the mid-seventeenth century. Its poetic themes are ageless: the urgency of desire, the joys of love and the fugitive nature of time. It took the art of chatting up and smooth talking to new heights, which I doubt have been surpassed. Carpe diem!

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day;
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide
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.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow.
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,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

        But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song; then worms shall try
That long preserv'd virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust.
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none I think do there embrace.

        Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may;
And now, like am'rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp'd power.
Let us roll all our strength, and all
Our sweetness, up into one ball;
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life.
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


Marvell was also the author of another favourite poem of mine, The Garden.


Laura said...

During my second year of college I took a course in Seventeenth Century British Literature (I enjoyed it so much that I kept the text book all these years) - I clearly remember studying this poem. Loved it then, as now.

Bonnie said...

Many moons ago ... as I dilly-dallied and wasted time, a special someone spoke the first four lines of Marvell's poem to me. They still send shivers up my spine.

Thank you for this sweet reminder, Robert.

Loren said...

Yep, that's one of the great ones that I most remember from college. Made me buy several books on Metaphysical Poetry.

am said...

I hear "To His Coy Mistress" in Bob Dylan's voice:



The Solitary Walker said...

Ah yes, Laura — Donne, Herbert, Marvell... the Metaphysicals. A high point in English poetry — such wit, style and subtle, complex argument. And a certain amount of showing off too! Great you loved that course.

Bonnie, shivers are going down my spine too!

It's fun, isn't it, Loren?

Am :)

Nick said...

This been for me, ever since I first found it in my teenage years, the ultimate love poem. And still I see no reason to change my mind about that. Sensual. Subtle. Magnificent.