Jack’s Naughty Bits: Andrew Marvell, To His Coy Mistress

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Jack's Naughty Bits

who has read seventeenth century verse knows Andrew Marvell’s poem
“To His Coy Mistress”; anyone who has lived in this ragtag world of
sexual longing knows its sentiment: C’mon, baby, let’s get it on. Now no
disrespect to Marvin Gaye (or to
Lisa Carver),
but never has the
case been better petitioned than by Marvell in this masterpiece. While
most men just whine to their lovers about their robin’s-egg tinted balls,
Marvell, he argues. From the oft-quoted opening lines to the
final image of the unstoppable sun, Marvell denies love any eternity or
stasis. And since it is true that even the hottest flame must burn in
sequential time, any second unseized is lost. This is the conceit of
Marvell’s exquisite bauble, presented in its entirety below. I encourage
you to memorize some of its lines; we know all too well how often they’ll
come in handy.

* * *

“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.