"To his Coy Mistress"
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.
Having commented on Dreamer Idiot's Wordsworth post the other day that I find contemporary poetry easier to relate to ... here I am dipping back in time to the C17th! This is probably a poem you already know well, and much anthologised.
But this is my favourite of all favourites! I can't remember when I first encountered it, but I can remember suddenly needing to read it and driving all the way to Bangsar to rummage through the poetry books in Skoob to find it. I learned it off by heart, as I do with all the poetry I love.
I used it in the classroom too. I loved putting it in front of my Matriculation classes when I was in teacher-training. Quite naughtily, I wouldn't explain a thing about it, just tell the students to get into groups and work out for themselves what the poet is trying to say ... and I enjoyed the look on their faces when they got the message! (I loved teaching poetry as a subversive activity!)
I remember the whole class laughing one time when a student suddenly exclaimed "He's just trying to get into her pants!"
But that's more or less it, isn't it? A three hundred year old poem ... and we know exactly what's going on.
There was of course much debate in the classroom about how genuine the guy is. Does he really adore his girlfriend this much, or is he just using every trick in the book to get his leg over, so to speak? (I hate to tell you but , although I firmly believe the former, my Malaysian students were way more cynical than me and ... could justify their interpretation in the light of personal experience.)
The poem is a monologue of sorts, addressing a lady who is playing hard to get. I love the way the speaker builds his argument in the three stanzas (Marvell was a politician so one must assume used to penning persuasive speeches!) by following the proposition: If we had, but we don't, so then ...
Yes, yes, you deserve to be loved like this ...he says in the first, gently mocking his loved one even as he declares the extend of his love for her.
If we had enough time, he says, you could spend all day looking for rubies by the Ganges (which must have represented the height of exoticism at that time) while he would mooch around by the much duller Humber river (in the chilly North of England). Has his time scale for adoring her body parts. (Only 2,000 years for each breast in the face of eternity? I'd want them adoring for longer, I tell you!)
Then in the second stanza, he reminds her:
... but time's running out ...We are bound by our mortality. Our lives are but a tiny speck compared with "the deserts of vast eternity".
The speaker switches tactic:
... ... so what are you keeping your virginity for? the grave and the worms? ...My goodness, that image of the worms taking her virginity (especially after all the worshipping that's gone on before)! Clearly, he wants to shock his lady.
But, the argument is persuasive - common sense tells us that.
The pace of the poem quickens in the third stanza:
... okay then let's do it NOW! ...becomes as breathless as lovers in the heat of passion. Did ever a line of poetry describe lust better than "while thy willing soul transpires/At every pore with instant fires"? I love the image "tear our pleasures with rough strife/Thorough the iron gates of life".
The poem ends with the magnificent cry of triumph "though we cannot make our sun/ Stand still, yet we will make him run."
The poem is a pleasure to read aloud. I love the richness of the imagery. But I love it most because it strikes me as very very true - life is so brief and we must grasp whatever experiences we can.
But - let me be naughty here for a moment - just as I like to imagine Dorothy Wordsworth giving her brother a hard time, I imagine the lady receiving this letter, giving it a quick glance over and scrawling this reply to be delivered by next post:
Whether I submit or nay,
The worms will get me, anyway.