Text of the Poem

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 wingèd 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 preserved 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 amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt 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.

Footnotes

  1. In the final stanza, the pronouns shift from primarily first-person singular to first-person plural. This symbolizes the metaphorical as well as the longed-for, literal union of the speaker and his lady: they become an “us” rather than two distinct individuals. The speaker shifts his tone away from the gloominess of the second stanza to focus on empowering himself and his lady to live their lives to the fullest as partners in the battle against time.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  2. The third stanza focuses on taking action, and this simile, which compares the lovers to birds of prey, creates a more violent feeling in the poem, turning love into a battle against time. The speaker urges his lady to join him in “devouring” time through shared pleasure, shifting the tone away from the gloominess of the second stanza and instead becoming more determined as the couple prepares to do battle.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  3. The “but” at the beginning of the second stanza implies that the romantic suggestions put forward in the first stanza are unrealistic. The second stanza moves into an argument for why drawn-out courtships are not practical because time is catching up to the speaker and his mistress with every passing moment. This captures the thematic concept of time as an enemy seeking to steal away their ability to court slowly. The transition away from the grand romantic posturing of the first stanza also shifts the tone, with the speaker becoming less adoring and more urgent in his arguments.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  4. The speaker alludes to both the biblical flood, which represents the “rebirth” of the world, and the “conversion of the Jews,” a figure of speech in Marvell’s time referring to the end of the world. The two events represent a large span of time: the courtship began in the past and the mistress can refuse the speaker’s advances until the end of the world, in the far future. The biblical allusions add a sense of grandeur to the speaker’s declarations, giving their love some sense of the divine.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  5. The poem closes on a call to action to the mistress to help win a victory of sorts against the passing of time by indulging in pleasure with the speaker. Though they cannot “make the sun stand still,” the lovers can use what time they have left to its fullest. In doing so, they can become masters of their incorporeal pursuer.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  6. The biological definition of the verb “transpire” means to give off water vapour through a pore or stoma. This usage of the word indicates that the mistress’s “willing soul” is seeping through “every pore,” giving her a flushed appearance as her skin is lit with the “instant fires” of her passion. The speaker seems to be saying that while she is still young and in possession of a willing and passionate soul, they should consummate their love.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  7. 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.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  8. The speaker employs dark humor to lighten the mood set out by the previous lines’ death imagery. His goal is to convince his lady to consummate their love, but the previous lines contain gloomy images that do little to inspire romance. This couplet shifts the tone away from the dreariness of death, employing some gallows humor to refocus his argument in favor of consummating their love while they are still alive.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  9. The first stanza details the adoration the speaker has for his lady and the time he would devote to courting her properly if it were available to him. He makes his love clear through the ways he would dote upon her if given the time. However, the urgency of the speaker’s desires offers a different reading. It raises the question of whether his affections are genuine or false. Since time is a limited resource, perhaps he is making promises he knows he will not have to keep.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  10. The poem shifts away from leisurely, romantic visual imagery, like rubies and rivers, and begins to reference death and the process of bodily decay. The concept of the union of lovers is contrasted with the stark imagery of the union of worm and corpse, indicating that since death is inevitable, the postponement of earthly pleasures is a waste, not a virtue.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  11. 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.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  12. Rather than thinking about an afterlife or framing eternity as something sweet or romantic, the speaker instead conceptualizes it as a desert. He implies that the future does not hold joy or an often imagined blissful paradise; rather, it is instead barren and dry. There is nothing there for his lady and him, so they should instead make the most of their love while they are youthful.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  13. The personification of time as a pursuer adds a sense of urgency to the speaker’s arguments. Since time is cast as the villain within the poem, equipping it with a “winged chariot” contributes to the idea that the passing of time is not only inevitable, but also sinister.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  14. This line is an appeal to the ego of the lady. The speaker suggests that she deserves to be courted with the greatest possible grandeur. It also functions as a lamentation by the speaker that he cannot make good on his proposed plans because time moves so quickly.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  15. 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.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  16. Vegetables grow slowly and take time to develop, much like the how speaker’s love for his lady would if only there were more time available to them. As it is, they do not have the time. So, despite the speaker’s desire to dote upon his mistress for thousands of years, he instead urges haste so that villainous time cannot steal away the love they have in the present.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  17. The poem is made up of rhyming couplets. The opening four lines are made up of two “closed” couplets, or couplets that each represent full sentences. This beginning adds a sense of measured urgency to the poem as the statements are succinct rather than extended or open.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  18. The speaker frames his lady’s “coyness” as a crime, presumably one against their emotions and mutual desire. The implication that it would be fine to be coy if they had more time makes the speaker seem like less of an impatient lover and more of a man concerned with mortality.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  19. The noun “coyness” refers to the quality of acting shy or modest in an attempt to appear alluring. The speaker’s word choice suggests that he believes the lady is only hiding her interest behind modesty, perhaps to avoid accusations of impropriety, and actually wants to pursue a sexual relationship as much as he does.

    — Owl Eyes Reader
  20. The speaker frames time as a limited resource, introducing the theme of carpe diem. Poems with this theme embrace living in the present moment and often feature lovers asking their paramours to seek pleasure with them. In Marvell’s poem, the speaker wishes to “seize the day” by consummating his love for his lady in the moment.

    — Owl Eyes Reader