Argumentative Analysis of “To His Coy Mistress”

Argumentative Analysis of “To His Coy Mistress”

The speaker in the poem is presumed to be a male lover while the character in reference is assumed to be a female lover. The assumption is made since Marvell fails to include any background information of the characters in the poem. The conversation by the speaker is an endeavor to persuade her to become intimate with him. The speaker makes it clear that the shyness and hesitance of the lover would only be tolerable if only the two had sufficient time. However, since they are only finite beings, they ought to take advantage of their sensual embodiment while it is possible. The poem assumes the form of a dramatic monologue since the speaker does all the talking to his lover, who is actually a fictional character. Although the reader can identify the speaker in this dramatic monologue, it is highly regarded that the reader eavesdrops on a personal conversation. This sense is heightened further as the author fails to offer any personal information of the character s.

Though the speaker is anonymous, he speaks beautifully and rhythmically in a manner that makes it straightforward for the reader to listen (Marvell, 2016). His lust for life is charming through his way with words, as is evident in line three. The beauty in this speech lies however, in irony and sarcasm, which it makes it challenging to depict the meaning of the mentioned words. He funnily mentions aspects of time, afterlife, and the need to consummate their love while it is still day (lines 35). Even though it is devastating to know the speaker, the language he uses never gets archaic no matter the number of times the poem is read out. Thus, the speaker offers some fresh insight in his unique manner of talking.

Marvell does not leave the setting of the play to the imagination of the reader; instead, he goes on to mention different surroundings and circumstances. The setting majorly moves the play from confinement to freedom and freedom to confinement. In lines 2, the speaker mentions ‘crime’ then traverses to ‘Ganges River in India’ before moving to ‘Humber Estuary’ in England. He moves to major parts of the body of the mistress before moving to her heart (Marvell line 18). The speaker introduces the reader to the creepy world by mentioning ‘Deserts of vast eternity’ in line 24. From the setting of a grave in stanza two, the speaker drifts to morning dew in stanza three, thus depicting the setting of resurrection. From the body of the mistress, the lover proceed to her inner being, her heart, envisions their union, before eventually drifting to the sky. These movements thus offer representations of freedom and bondage the speaker might be in because of his disgruntled emotions.

Marvell narrates the poem in a classical traditional Latin love elegy, where he praises his lover using time. This is apparent in line 13 “A hundred years should go to praise…” The poem, therefore, is a reflection of the conventional erotic blazon, where Marvell develops intricate images of the beauty of the lover by defining her body into portions. He commences by constructing detailed and expatiate conceit of diverse things he was to accomplish for his lover. Marvell speculates impracticable stretches of time, which the lovers might court. He uses the biblical flood according to the Book of Genesis and the conversion of Jews, which refers to the period of the Christian judgment as prophesied in the book of Revelation in the Bible. He claims that he would adore his lover from ten years before the floods while the lover would go on to ignore his advances up to the period of the conversion of the Jews (Marvell, 2016).

Metaphor has been applied severally in the play. Marvell defines their love as ‘vegetable love’ to suggest the slow and steady growth of their love, which would catapult in vast proportions. The application of metaphor is useful in the poem because it allows the speaker to praise the traits of the lover. He metaphorically defines the eyes, forehead, breasts, and heart as superior in nature. He goes on to give surety to the lover that he would never devalue her as she deserves the best treatment. These commitments are superficial since they can only be practical in an ideal world with infinite time.

Marvel employs a device termed as erotic blazon to commend the beauty of the lover by mentioning her personal features. This device was an influential technique in the 15th to 16th Centuries in the Petrarchan love poetry. This form of poetry was based on ratifying and distinguishing a female lover by making her an inaccessible object. Erotic blazon has been useful in the poem to recommend the effect of distancing the speaker from the lover as mindless. This is because the speaker fails to acquire sufficient time to praise the woman comprehensively. Therefore, the device is developed to assert its ineffectiveness.

In line 21, there is a shift of mood in the poem. This is depicted when the speaker affirms that the “Time’s winged chariot” is always close by. Rhetoric variation is portrayed from the appreciation of the limitless virtues of the lover to the deep-seated limitations of time, which is clearly magnified in the phrase that once the lover is dead, the virtues and beauty will lie in the grave as her body decomposes to grime. In turn, the speaker’s desire is obliterated during the events of disintegration. During this time of loss, the opportunity for the lovers to be illicitly together will be lost forever.

There is a shift in the third and final component of the poem. Poetic prowess is displayed vividly in a heartfelt plea where the speaker tries to persuade the lover. He symbolically relates the skin of the lover to the morning dew, which is invigorated by the fires within her soul. This comparison further encourages the woman to become intimate with him while they still have the opportunity. This is because, according to the speaker, time devours everything under the face of the sun. From his viewpoint, their love can make the impractical possible. For instance, the speaker mentions that as ‘amorous birds of prey’ they can consume time during their lovemaking (Marvell, 2016, line 28).

Marvell wrote the poem in a highly simplified manner; an approach that allows the reader to employ imagination. This is evident from the title ‘coy mistress’. The term coy literally implies the state of pretending to be shy, reserved, or quiet. During Marvell’s period, the term was mainly used to refer to stroke. The term mistress roughly meant a girlfriend or woman lover. This title can conclusively refer to a complicated relationship between the speaker and his mistress


Marvell, A. (2016). To His Coy Mistress. Poetry Foundation. Web. 11th Jan 2017. Retrieved from