What is carpe diem? Discuss with the reference of the poem “To His Coy Mistress”

6. What is carpe diem? Discuss with the reference of the poem “To His Coy Mistress”.

Or, What is Carpe Diem theory? How does Andrew Marvell use this theory in his poem To His Coy Mistress?

Or, How does the lover in To His Coy Mistress plead to his beloved with syllogistic arguments?


To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell (1621-1678) is one of the few poems of English literature based on Carpe-Diem theory that is coined out by the ancient Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC). This poem is a wonderful paradigm of syllogistic arguments which stand for verbal skills or prowess.

Carpe Diem

Carpe Diem is a Latin phrase that means ‘seize the day’ that expresses that ‘enjoy the present without caring much for the future’. The speaker in a carpe diem poem emphasizes that life is short, and time is fleeting to urge a reluctant virgin to change her condition so that the lovers could enjoy present pleasures through making love. In the poem “To His Coy Mistress”, Marvell has developed this theory in a very convincing and speculative way.

More Notes: To His Coy Mistress

Applying Petrarchan conventions

At the outset of the poem, the first-person speaker uses Petrarchan conventions in greatly exaggerated metaphors to woo his mistress. He starts his verbal prowess to convince his mistress to sleep with him by applying the conditional “If” which carries bombastic expressions of Petrarchan love tradition. He could love her in a very organized way unlimitedly if he could have started loving most probably 2500 years ago. Then there were no allegations from the lover even though he was repeatedly rejected.

“……………I would

Love you ten years before the flood,

And you should, if you please, refuse

Till the conversion of the Jews.

However, his slowly ever-growing pure love could grow vaster than empires. He would spend a hundred years to praise her eyes and to gaze at her tirelessly. He must spend two hundred years to adore her each breast and thirty thousand years to love the rest of the parts of her body. At least an age could be spent to love every part of his mistress’ body. And if she provided her consent for sensational love at the last age, there would have nothing wrong. Ostensibly, these bombastic expressions are Petrarchan, but they are nothing but agents of carpe diem theory since the poem develops to convert the coyness of his mistress.

Focusing on the reality of time, space, and mortality

In the middle of the poem, the poet brings time and space together as a terrible force. The speaker starts this section with the compound conjunction “But” that bears concerns as to the realities of human life. He declares that all human beings are being persuaded by time very hurriedly towards death. Life is too short. So, the lover speaker suggests his shy girlfriend be passionate to give their love completeness. Because death will destroy her long-preserved virginity. She cannot be even able to listen to his proposals after death and nobody can embrace them in the grave. 

The graves a fine and private place,

But none, I think, do there embrace.

Thus, Marvell focuses on the harsh reality of human life so that humans can focus on their present time. Every crisis is an opportunity in disguise and death is the biggest crisis of human life from a secular and pious point of view which makes us concern as to this alluring world.

Being a realist and an opportunist

The conjunctional links of the poem continue in the final section that is started by a linker “Now, therefore”. This section abounds in stronger verbal skills even than previous sections. The lover directly offers his mistress to be an opportunist and a realist about the reproductive organ that is called sexual intercourse. Since she is young and beautiful and her soul is really interested, they should enjoy the fantasy of love like the amorous prey birds being involved in intercourse avoiding all kinds of difficulties. Though the running nature of time cannot be prevented, the lovers can avail themselves of the advantages of time.

Thus, though we cannot make our sun

Stand still, yet we will make him run.


In termination, this is fundamental to be open-minded in respect of physical relationship because shyness destroys conjugal life, and an apathetic decision like divorce is taken forcefully due to lack of sexual power. By applying the “Carpe-Diem” theory and syllogistic arguments, Marvell attempts to scatter the message that passionate love with sexual intention is as inevitable as oxygen.

Rashedul Islam
Rashedul Islam

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

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