To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell

Is it read-worth? Yes, because it is a short read and it’s sexist attitudes are worth discussing. No because the mentality behind this poem has no place in today’s society.

Analysis of the poem

Lauded as a beautiful love poem from days gone by, To His Coy Mistress by Andrew Marvell has no place in modern romance. The poem, written with the intent of seducing a young virgin, is simply outdated. Beyond that, in many ways it is offensive. Marvell does not love this woman, he lusts for her. The way he addresses her, the arguments he uses, and the ideas behind the words he speaks are offensive to modern women. While it may once have been considered a wonderful love story, it now comes across as creepy, sexist, and quite a bit ridiculous. 

Why? Because, simply put, his love poem is not a love poem. He insults her, reduces her to her body, and uses scare tactics to try to seduce her. In fact, even the first two lines are insulting: “Had we but world enough and time, / This coyness, lady, were no crime” (Marvell lines 1-2). Essentially, what Marvell is saying is that her modesty is holding them back. While he may appreciate her beauty, he does not like the one personality trait of her’s that he manages to mention throughout this poem: her modesty. While many women in this day and age are not modest in the same ways as historical women are, it is the only character trait of his “love” that he mentions the entire poem and, instead of mentioning it with adoration, he dissuades it with scorn. Her modesty bothers him because it prevents him from having sex with her and is, therefore, a flaw.

That sentiment would have been understandable, and somewhat acceptable, if it had been the only insult throughout the poem. However, the manner in which Marvell “seduces” the young lady should never be considered seduction. The first stanza in itself is not the largest problem; he spends it insulting her modesty and telling her that he’ll still love her forever. If he had left it at that, the poem probably wouldn’t be quite as offensive. Yet, he didn’t end the poem at the close of the first stanza.

Instead, he decided to use scare tactics to get her to sleep with him. He tells her, “Thy beauty shall no more be found; / Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound” (Marvell lines 25-26). Analyzed deeper, these words are a not-so-subtle reminder that beauty fades. She is beautiful so he wants to deflower her. If he deflowers her, he must love her. If she wants him to love her, she must remember that time moves quickly, her beauty will fade, and one day she will die. Basically, he means to tell her that if she dies without having sex with him, she’s going to lose her looks, no one will love her, and she’ll die alone. If that is his best argument for her falling into his bed, the entire poem needs to be rethought. 

And, at that, they need to be rethought by society as well. Similar behavior on behalf of both men and women in relationships have been exhibited. Using threats, insults, and other types of emotional manipulation to get someone to want to have sex is unhealthy behavior from a personal standpoint and a societal standpoint. Rape culture within the United States (and other nations) exists because poems like this give sexism and sexualization of other people cultural ground (“Rape Culture”). It tells people that this type of behavior is romantic when it is absolutely unacceptable and is, in actuality, degrading.

To be perfectly plain, To His Coy Mistress represents a lot that is wrong with people’s perception of romantic relationships. No one should ever use scare tactics to frighten someone into having sex. Furthermore, the idea that a woman is only worth something if she is still young and beautiful is insane. The way Marvell speaks to his potential lover is inappropriate, cruel, reinforces rape culture, and has no place as an emblem of love and romance. To His Coy Mistress is not a love poem – it’s a problem. 

Works Cited

Marshall University Women’s Center. “Rape Culture.” Womens Center. www.marshall.edu/wcenter/sexual-assault/rape-culture/.

Marvell, Andrew. “To His Coy Mistress.” Poetry: An Introduction, 7th edition. Ed. Michael Meyer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2013. 79. Print