A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Poem of the Day: Andrew Marvell

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 wingéd 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-preserved virginity, 
And your quaint honor 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 glow, 
And while thy willing soul transpires 
At every pore with instant fires, 
Now let us sport us while we may, 
And now, like amorous birds of prey, 
Rather at once our time devour 
Than languish in his slow-chapped 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. 
--Andrew Marvell

Once, when I was wasting time trying to be a professor of English, I took a poll of my colleagues asking them to name the five greatest poems under 100 lines in English. Yes, it was a silly thing to do, and yes, by demonstrating my fundamentally unserious approach to literature it probably contributed to my not becoming an English professor, but anyway... This poem by Marvell easily made the top five. I think it is probably the wittiest poem in English, with its absolute mastery of voice, of imagery, and of versification. It may also be one of the sexiest.