Marvell’s Coy Mistress

To His Coy Mistress Imagery Analysis

Marvell’s usage of the remote image “Thou by the Indian Ganges’ side” expands the limits of casual romance, presenting a vastness which is equal to the love he feels for the ‘coy’ mistress. Contextually, the juxtaposition of an exotic, almost abstract, Asian river against the rather dull “Humber” creates an almost infinite scale engineered to incite pity from contrast/bathos. Moreover, the line is twinned in a rhyming couplet which inspires a sense of longing. The yearning assonance of “side” and “tide” almost sounding akin to that of distant, covetous, lovers. Thus, Marvell successfully emphasises the prevailing theme throughout the first stanza: what the couple would do had they “but world enough and time”. The mystery woman is infused with enchantment, braced for the disappointment of reality in the subsequent stanzas.

“Times winged Charriot hurrying near” embodies the integral conceit of the second stanza, mortality. This classical allusion induces a sense of pace; Time itself is personified as the god Helios*, chasing the lovers towards the end of their day (or in this case lives). No more is this evident than with the interplay of ‘Charriot’ and ‘hurrying’ forcing the rhythm to quicken, reflecting the speed of time itself.  Consequently, fantasies embraced in the first part of the poem are destroyed, and what was before ridiculous hyperbole shifts to form a more conclusive argument. Instead of wooing the lady into submission Marvell reminds her of the transience of life. Furthermore, this aids with the poet’s case, prompting the mistress to contemplate how insignificant her virtue is when she has such limited time.


Finally, the last stanza directly addresses the poet’s passion; he proposes that “now, like am’rous birds of prey” they should immediately succumb to their carnal desires. Not only is this motif erotic, but violent and animalistic. Suggesting they become alike to raptors, the antithesis of traditional birds of love, and not wait to consume their ‘prey’ (each other) or indeed be consumed by ‘slow-chapt’ Time. The power of the author’s wants is manifested in the plosive alliteration of “prey” and “pow’r”, as well as the repetition of the adverb “now” signifying his haste. Subsequently, Marvell is attempting to subscribe the woman to an Epicurean outlook, wanting her to ‘seize the day’ and consummate their love as soon as possible, as if it were indispensable nutrition. Therefore, the addition of this image combines Horace’s ‘carpe diem’ philosophy with a hedonistic approach to sex that can only be seen within the natural world.


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