Critically comment on Marvell’s treatment of love with reference his poems you have read


The Definition of Love” and “To His Coy Mistress” are two of the most celebrated poems of Andrew Marvell (1621- 1678) where he presents the idea of love in a most excellent manner and draws the two states of love which are spiritual and physical respectively. Marvell’s treatment of love in these two poems is given below:

Physical love: 

Marvell presents the physical love in “To His Coy Mistress” in which love has been sexualized. In the poem the lover convinces his beloved, who is reluctant to grant his sexual favour for her coyness. So the lover, who may be the poet himself, builds up a strong argument which no sensible man can reject. In the poem “To his coy mistress” the lover praises the beauty of his mistress eyes and limb’s in an extravagant way like a typical Petrarchan lover. The poet wishes to spend “An hundred years” to praise her “eyes” and “forehead”. Moreover, he wants to devote:

“Two hundred to adore each breast;

But thirty thousand to the rest.”

Carpe Diem theme:

The poem “To his coy mistress” has carpe diem theme. (Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase meaning: “seize the opportunity, enjoy the present day, trusting the least possible to the future” In the Puritan period, virginity, maidenhood was valued most and the coy that means the lady is not an easy catch. From the begining to the end of this poem the poet presents a picture of physical love. Here we see that the poet laments over the short span of life which is too short to make love. According to the poet, human life is very much transient and within the transient moment of life, pleasures of love should be enjoyed fully. So she should grand his sexual appeal without any hesitation as early as possible. 

Role of time in making love:

In the poem “To his coy mistress” the poet says that if they had enough time, her coyness would be no crime. Here the poet says,

“Had we but World enough Time, this coyness Lady were no crime. We would sit down, and think which way, to walk, and pass our long Loves Day”.

The poet also says that if they had enough time, he would have started loving her ten years before the great flood during Noah’s time. As in this poem, Marvell has presented physical love, we find a lot of imageries and conceits of physical nature. Such physical reference is present when the poet says that he is ready to spend hundred and thousand years to praise the physical body of his beloved.

Love is forever:

“To his coy mistress” The poet expresses his most sexual tendency by a shocking imagery to make his beloved convince that she should enjoy the present day before going to the grave and he also says that in grave there will be nobody to satisfy the desires of lust, although the grave is a private place.The poet concludes with saying that if the lovers cannot stop the passage of time, they can at least quicken its speed so as to enjoy as much of pleasures as possible, Saying, “Yet we will make him run”.

Spiritual love: 

On the other hand in the poem “The Definition of Love”, Marvell has spiritualized love. This poem describes the character of the poet’s love for him beloved. This love, says the poet is perfect and therefore unattainable. This love is divine, but for that very reason hopeless. Perfect love of this kind is most unwelcome to Fate who therefore never permits the union of perfect lovers. This kind of perfect love can mean only a spiritual union but never a physical one. 

Controller of love: 

The poet begins with the three-dimensional allegorical figures: Despair, Hope and Fate that control love of the whole world. The poem begins with the highly intellectual conceit. And at the beginning of this poem the poet says that the love of the poet has a rare parentage: and its aim is exceptionally strange and sublime. His love, the poet say, is the offspring of Despair and impossibility.

Role of Fate: 

In the poem “The Definition of Love” Fate has placed these two lovers as far apart from each other as the North Pole and the South Pole are from each other. The love of the poet and his beloved are however like parallel lines which can never meet. Finally, the poet describes the love between his and mistress as the conjunction of the mind and opposition of the stars:

“Is the conjunction of the mind And opposition of the stars”

Thus, the whole poem is a kind of logically developed argument. Fate also plays an important role in this poem. However, in this poem we find the touch of Platonic love where spirit, soul and mind dominate the theme.


From the above discussion, we can say that we find two kinds of attitudes of Marvell in these two poems. The mood is one of happiness in “To His Coy Mistress” in which the lover is overwhelmed with low for possessing his beloved. In “The Definition of Love”, the atmosphere is full of gloom and frustrations as the lover is painfully aware of the impossibility of his union with of the beloved.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

Hi, This is Rashedul. Researcher and lecturer of English literature and Linguistics.

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