Authors
Geoff Boucher
Deakin University
Abstract
Andrew Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is one of the best known and most commented on poems in the English language. According to the critical consensus, the poem is a seduction gambit in the “Carpe Diem” tradition. Interpretive debate therefore revolves around the significance of the allusions and imagery of the poem, rather than its central meaning. Moving against the current, this article challenges the critical consensus that Marvell’s “To His Coy Mistress” is a poem that has seduction as its main significance or implied intention. Reading the poem with attention to its ironic moments and theological references reveals that its allusions and imagery are systematically ambivalent. In the context of Marvell’s other poetry, especially “Dialogue of the Soul and the Body,” it becomes possible to show that “Coy Mistress” shares many features with these metaphysical meditations on mortality and spirituality. By making reference to psychoanalytic theory, the article then demonstrates the plausibility of a reading in which the poem aims to avoid, rather than engorge, sexual desire. The poem is a monument to repression, and a reminder of mortality, not a love lyric.
Keywords Andrew Marvell  Psychoanalysis  Zizek  love poetry
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