For many modern men, the act of wooing a woman is as elusive as holding a wisp of incense in the palm of one’s hand. They struggle through awkward chat up lines, their advances usually met with either hilarity or repulsion.
I wish to direct the attention of said modern men to the effort of metaphysical poet Andrew Marvell (1621 – 1678). To His Coy Mistress remains one of the most sensuous poems ever penned with the pure motive of bedding the object of the poet’s desire.
In the first stanza, Marvell fills his mistress’ head with lavish and exotic imagery (such as plucking rubies from the river Ganges) and presses the magnitude of his love (telling her that he would need “an age at least” to worship every part of her body, then finally, when their sexual fervour fades, his love will focus on her heart – on her beauty beneath the physical).
The second stanza takes a darker and more ominous tone. The poet warns his love with a horrifying portrait of her future, should she continue to refuse him, lying in a grave with her “long preserv’d virginity” being taken at last by the worms feeding on her corpse.
In the third and final stanza, Marvell fans the fire of his passion. He speaks of the urgent need to devour time and pleasure “like am’rous birds of prey”, to not waste another minute as slaves to time, but to give time itself a run for its money.
I hope you enjoy the marvel that is Marvell…
To His Coy Mistress (by Andrew Marvell)
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 winged 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 preserv’d 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 am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d 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.