"World enough, and time"—Andrew Marvell's Coy Mistress

"Had we but world enough, and time"—with these words, Andrew Marvell begins his impassioned proposal to his "Coy Mistress" to "sport us while we may." In his seductive verse, Marvell draws on a theme made popular by the Roman poet Horace, carpe diem, or "seize the day," a phrase students may remember from the popular film Dead Poets Society. Using the language of courtly love, the poem's speaker warns his lady of time's fleeting nature and the imminence of death, urging her to make the most of their time on earth by consummating their relationship. In this lesson, students will focus on how Marvell's use of tone and imagery serves to promote his theme of fleeting time.

Guiding Questions

How does Marvell use tone and imagery both to woo and warn his lady?

How do tone and imagery work to emphasize Marvell's concern with time and death?

Learning Objectives

In the process of studying this poem, the student will be able to recognize the poem's examination of the conflict between youth and age, instant gratification and delay, life and death, mortal time and eternity

Understand Marvell's use of tone and imagery

Name and describe the form of Marvell's poem

Gain a broad understanding of Marvell's place in the literary canon