Marvell and his Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvell, born on 31 March 1621, was an English metaphysical poet, satirist and politician. He was a member of the Puritan Parliament and became Milton’s assistant in his job as Latin Secretary.
He wrote satires, political poems and love songs, among which To his Coy Mistress is particularly famous and considered the best recognised carpe diem poem in English
T. S. Eliot said that his verse is “the product of European, that is to say Latin, culture.

The theme expressed in “To his Coy Mistress” in not usually associated with the supposedly sober puritan mind but is very ancient. Its source may be found in a Greek epigrammatist and lyric poet, Asclepiades of Samos, who lived in the 3rd century B.C.
He wrote:
“You spare your virginity and to what profit?
For when you come to Hades you will not find a lover, girl.
The pleasure of love lies among the living; down in Acheron,
Young girl, we’ll lie as bones and dust.”

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 winged 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 preserv’d 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 am’rous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour,
Than languish in his slow-chapp’d 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.


Alla sua amante ritrosa

Avessimo abbastanza Mondo e Tempo,
non sarebbe un delitto, mia Signora, questa ritrosia.
Staremmo seduti a ragionare sulla direzione
della nostra passeggiata e su come trascorrere il nostro lungo giorno d’Amore.
Sulla riva del Gange indiano Voi
trovereste rubini: io all’estuario
del fiume Humber mi lamenterei. Vi amerei
per dieci anni prima del diluvio,
e Voi potreste, se Vi piacesse, respingermi
fino alla conversione degli Ebrei.
Il mio amore rigoglioso potrebbe crescere
più grande di tutti gli imperi e anche più lentamente.
Cent’anni se ne andrebbero a lodare
i Vostri occhi e a fissare la Vostra fronte.
Duecento per adorare ognuno dei seni
e trentamila per tutto il resto.
Un Evo almeno per ciascuna parte, e l’ultimo
mostrerebbe il Vostro cuore.
Perché, Signora, meritate questo cerimoniale
né io Vi amerei a un prezzo inferiore.

Ma alle mie spalle odo d’ora in ora
appressarsi l’alato carro del tempo:
e laggiù, davanti a noi, si stendono
deserti d’immensa eternità.
La Vostra bellezza non si ritroverà più;
e nella cripta marmorea non risuonerà
l’eco del mio canto: allora i vermi tenteranno
quella verginità a lungo preservata,
e il Vostro capriccioso onore si trasformerà in cenere,
e in polvere tutta la mia lussuria.
Certo la tomba è un luogo intimo e bello
ma nessuno, credo, vi fa all’amore.

Ora, dunque, mentre il colore della giovinezza
si posa sulla Vostra pelle come rugiada del mattino,
e mentre l’anima disponibile traspira
ad ogni poro con fiamme istantanee,
ora divertiamoci finché è possibile,
ora come uccelli da preda amorosi
divoriamo subito il nostro tempo, piuttosto
che languire in potere delle sue fauci lente.
Raccogliamo tutta la nostra energia, tutta
la nostra dolcezza in un’unica palla:
strappiamo i nostri piaceri con rude violenza
attraverso i cancelli di ferro della vita.
Perciò, anche se non potremo fermare il nostro sole,
potremo tuttavia farlo girare.
(L.Z.)

Image: Wikimedia Commons: Gustave Courbet-Amants – Lyon -1844

30 thoughts on “Marvell and his Coy Mistress

    1. “Rolled up” recalls a line in the poem about creating the ‘ball’ that, like a cannonball, can be used to bombard and destroy the ‘iron gates of life’and finally enjoy life.
      😉😘
      Your comment created a synapse in my brain a rare event at my age, and made me happy😊🙏😘

      Like

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