“To His Coy Mistress”
Group Activity: Using Feminist Criticism
Questions Feminist Critics Ask
about Literary Text
1. What does the work reveal about the operations
(economically, politically, socially, or psychologically) of
patriarchy? How are women portrayed? How do these
portrayals relate to the gender issues of the period in which the
novel was written or is set? In other words, does the work
reinforce or undermine patriarchal ideology? (in the first case,
we might say that the text has a patriarchal agenda. In the
second case, we might say that the text has a feminist agenda.
Texts that seem to both reinforce and undermine patriarchal
ideology might be said to be ideologically conflicted.
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678
published a handful of poems in anthologies, a collection of Marvell's
work did not appear until 1681, three years after his death, when his
nephew compiled and found a publisher for Miscellaneous Poems. The
circumstances surrounding the publication of the volume aroused
some suspicion: a person named "Mary Marvell," who claimed to be
Marvell's wife, wrote the preface to the book. "Mary Marvell" was, in
fact, Mary Palmer—Marvell's housekeeper—who posed as Marvell's
wife, apparently, in order to keep Marvell's small estate from the
creditors of his business partners. Her ruse, of course, merely contributes
to the mystery that surrounds the life of this great poet.
See more at http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/304
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), now considered one of
the greatest poets of the seventeenth century,
published very little of his scathing political satire and
complex lyric verse in his lifetime. Although 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 wingèd 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 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 amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt 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.
In Groups Discuss “To His Coy
What is the poem about?
Use your close reading skills!
Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy
Mistress” and “‘To His Coy
Mistress’: A Feminist Reading”
Identify and discuss qualities
of Feminist Criticism as it is
applied in the essay about “To
His Coy Mistress.”
Next, find specific examples
from the essay, the poem, or
the definition/description of
Feminist Criticism that further
support a feminist reading of
QHQ “To His Coy Mistress”
1. Q: What elements of Andrew Marvell’s “To His
Coy Mistress,” suggest a hyperbolic nature of the
narrator’s affection and does this exaggeration
indicate an alternative impression of the speaker
and the object of his desire?
2. Q: What does the speaker think about the woman he
3. Q: How would the woman feel once she sees this poem?
4. What’s Marvell suggesting in his use of the image of “the iron
gates of life?”
1. Is the poet expressing admiration for the lady, or a thinly
veiled contempt for any individual or institution or even law
of nature that denies him what he desires?
1. Q: Why does the speaker have such an obsession with his
mistress, and why does it intensify as the poem goes on?
2. Q: Is there any possible way that one could speculate if
the intentions of the speaker to this woman are true or just
disguised as a potential lustful encounter to be with her
temporarily, at least until he finds another pure mistress?
3. Q: To what extent is Marvell’s poem an expression of love
than an ironic lament about the fragility and brevity of
4. Q: Was this poem written to appreciate the love he has
towards his mistress, or was it an attempt at fulfilling his
QHQ Essay on “To His Coy Mistress”
Q: How does this criticism of
“To His Coy Mistress”
demonstrate a feministic
Read: Definition of Psychoanalytic Criticism
Read: Lois Tyson “Psychoanalytic Criticism”
Post #12: What is the purpose of psychoanalytical
criticism? OR QHQ on the Tyson reading