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Historical Context in To His Coy Mistress

Political Context: Marvell lived through a turbulent political period in England during which the monarchy was briefly overthrown after a series of bloody civil wars between 1642 and 1651. He was a proponent of the short-lived Commonwealth of England, which was established by the victorious Parliamentarians after the wars, and became increasingly bitter after the monarchy was reinstated in 1660. Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” was published posthumously but it is speculated that it was written sometime near the end of the civil wars or during the early days of the Commonwealth. The carpe-diem theme present in “To His Coy Mistress” may have been influenced by the unstable political climate of Marvell’s adult years.

Historical Context Examples in To His Coy Mistress:

Text of the Poem

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"Now therefore..."   (Text of the Poem)

Carpe-diem poems and writings have existed since at least 23 BCE, with the phrase typically credited to the Roman poet Horace. They represent an enduring tradition which urges people, often young women, to “seize life.” The persuasive tactics occupy a broad range but most share the common element of time being cast as the main villain, a trend which Marvell continues.

"Thy beauty shall no more be found..."   (Text of the Poem)

It’s likely Marvell wrote “To His Coy Mistress” in the 1650s, a period where Puritanism was popular in England. Puritanism, a belief system that emphasized rejecting the pursuit of personal pleasures, clashes with the appeal that the speaker makes to his lady in the poem. It also clashes heavily with the speaker’s rejection of the notion of an afterlife. The speaker in the poem goes against the dominant religious culture of the day and makes the claim that purity in life is pointless because death is the end of all pleasures.

"empires..."   (Text of the Poem)

Marvell lived through the English Civil Wars, which took place from 1642 to 1651 between the Royalists, who supported the monarchy, and the Parliamentarians, who desired a parliamentary system. Marvell was a committed Parliamentarian. Most scholars agree that “To His Coy Mistress,” published posthumously in 1681, was written either towards the end of the wars or during the early days of the Commonwealth, both of which were periods wrought with turmoil. With its theme of seizing the day before time catches up, it could potentially be read as a reaction to the bloody violence of the civil war and the uncertainty of England’s future.

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