Books Poetry

Andrew Marvell and His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell
Andrew Marvell

Today is the birthday of Andrew Marvell (March 31,1621 – August 16,1678), the author of one of the most anthologized love poems, To His Coy Mistress. I love the poem. I saw it described somewhere as a lover asking a virgin to sleep with him. But that is overlooking its wit, its playfulness, its ardour. It’s importunate, urgent, passionate, the way you are when you fall in love, when you constantly think, want to be with and hold your lover and say how much you adore her.

Unabashed, uninhibited, the poem is an unrestrained call for lovemaking, frankly dwelling with feverish anticipation on the eyes and breasts, virginity and dewy skin of the beauty the lover wants to embrace in sheer ecstasy.

Sensual, hedonistic, carnal — the poem is all that, but driving this sexual longing is a sobering thought, mortality. Let’s make the most of the time we have before we die, the poet says, because
“The grave’s a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.”