The Carpe Diem poem whose seeds were sown by Horace, Catullus and Lucretius deliver the message of ‘seize the day’ which urges the readers to make the most of time while it lasts. “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell is centered around this carpe diem theme as it deals with the conflict of beauty and sensual desire on one hand and the destructive force of time on the other.
“To His Coy Mistress” is a young lover’s persuasive appeal to his beloved to indulge in the harmless folly of sensual enjoyment. When the mistress does not give in to the lover’s advances owing to her esteemed concepts of feminine modesty, the impatient lover brings the running sands of time to his aid to manipulate the hesitant mistress into the act of love by putting in her the scare of the brevity of life through sound arguments that are erected on the grounds of the carpe diem theme.
The male speaker begins his address by deliberately exoticizing the rituals of courtship sanctified by Petrarch which are based on a plane of sentimental and spiritual love in order to show its inappropriateness in a world where time and space are determinate. He ironically creates imaginary infinite distance between himself and the beloved, dedicates the history of time to the loving integrity of his platonic love and attaches a comical time calendar to the traditional catalog of praise – “an age at least to every part” to shed light upon the absurdity of the beloved’s request for the observation of the time-consuming elaborations of courtship as she is unaware of the dangers of delay. He says that he would have willingly courted her in the most gracious way but cannot do so as time is a luxury they do not have.
The lover then yanks his beloved from the fancies of ever-lasting love and strands her in the “deserts of vast eternity” where no climatic productivity can be expected and the material beauty of the mistress loses all its allure. He shocks her into the morbid reality by giving her a panoptical view of the shortness of life – “But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”. This grimness is further heightened with frightening images of grave and worms trying the dead mistress’s “long preserved virginity”. The male speaker justifies his carpe diem argument by qualifying it with the Anacreontic theme associated with death being around the corner.
In the end the lover provides a plausible remedy against Time’s victimization by establishing that the only way to overcome the ravages of devouring time is by shunning Puritanical abstinence and living life to the fullest while youthful vigor had not abandoned the lovers. In a metaphysical conceit he proposes his beloved to roll all their youth, beauty and strength into a “cannon ball” which is strong enough to break through the “iron gates of life”. The lover convinces his beloved that this sensual participation in an amorous act of love making will translate their carnality into a victory over Time because its fierce intensity will put Time to shame and will help them squeeze most productivity out of it.
Thus we see that “To His Coy Mistress” is a startling piece of carpe diem poetry which deals with the issue of speeding, ravaging Time. The poet has used the scare of Time – the devourer as a weapon here to intensify the pleasures of mortal life. Marvell proves that humans can deal with the corroding influence of time on human life by an expanse of the intensity of their act of love which is also the act of life.