Andrew Marvell was a “metaphysical” poet and satirist who wrote “To His Coy Mistress,” somewhere between 1650 and 1652. His housekeeper eventually saw the publication of this piece in 1681. Sometimes good writing just stays in the trunk, I guess.
What is a “Metaphysical Poet”?
As Britannica puts it, a “metaphysical poet” is a writer in 17th-century England whose work “… is a blend of emotion and intellectual ingenuity, characterized by conceit or ‘wit’—that is, by the sometimes violent yoking together of apparently unconnected ideas and things so that the reader is startled out of his complacency and forced to think through the argument of the poem.”
In other words, the poet is interested in “exploring the recesses of his consciousness” rather than using their feelings to create imagery. They pretty much have this grandiose, sarcastic interpretation of the world, and they paint this picture with satire and wit.
We can also see an infatuation with the idea of carpe diem, which helps inform some of the writers’ exploration as the “metaphysical poets” felt that life was best only if lived to the fullest. Moreover, and as pointed out previously, Marvell was a satirist, and with that being said, he poked fun at politics, society, and love. So, you don’t have to take him seriously in the forward statements that he makes in To His Coy Mistress.
Another notable name within the “metaphysical poets” is John Donne, but we will get to him in another post.
“Metaphysics” in action
So, in To His Coy Mistress Andrew Marvell is poking fun at the conventions of love and asserting a sort of carpe diem-attitude toward the subject of the poem—a virginal woman who is the focus of Marvell’s lust.
And, within the poem, Marvell is attempting to make a compelling argument for why this woman should give into her baser desires rather than holding off until they are both past ripening.
He spends time praising the subject’s body, including “Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze” and “each breast,” and at the same time warning her that time marches onward and her beauty will fade (“But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near), so she should relent before she loses her appeal.
Pretty much, Marvell wants to have sex with this girl before they both get any older, which is a sentiment that certainly pokes fun at courting lovers and how sex is often viewed in society (it’s actually still quite relevant).