Coy Mistress, Annie Finch – an Analysis


Is this a response to Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress?

Gut Reaction
I’m not sure. Is this a lady being coy and saying hey, don’t rush me, we’ve time enough, I’ll not bow to your pressure?

What does it all mean?
Sir, I am not a bird of prey:
Okay, so you’re not an eagle, falcon or owl, that’s good to know…

a Lady does not seize the day.
Doesn’t she? Is she not impulsive and living for the moment? Can she be? Or is this just ‘back off. You’re rushing me.’

I trust that brief Time will unfold
our youth, before he makes us old.

We should enjoy our youth and not rush forward into adult things? Time will take youth from us anyway so why not enjoy the brevity of it? Also ‘we’ve got time, I’m not being pressured by you.’

How could we two write lines of rhyme
were we not fond of numbered Time
and grateful to the vast and sweet
trials his days will make us meet:

So. We cannot be poetic if we don’t appreciate time? I suppose that’s fair – it takes time to write poetry, and then you have to think about rhyme, rhythm and meter and so on. We wouldn’t have anything to write about if we didn’t have ‘trials’ in our lives’. Are we saying that waiting, abiding by Time (and personifying it) makes us better poets?
Are we saying that we couldn’t fully enjoy the things we experience in life if we just charged through life without living each moment?

The Grave’s not just the body’s curse;
no skeleton can pen a verse!

Well. That’s true. You don’t see a skeleton clutching a notebook and pen, do you? So. The living fear death because then we simply stop – but the dead have stopped already, so ending anything we did in life (obviously…) and therefore yes, death – the Grave – is a universal curse!

So while this numbered World we see,
let’s sweeten Time with poetry,

There’s a lot of personification in this poem! Our time in this world is limited, and whilst we’re living it (slowly perhaps?) we should write poetry to each other? Is that what the author is saying?

and Time, in turn, may sweeten Love
and give us time our love to prove.
Has this author not read Pride and Prejudice?! Does she not know that a single sonnet could kill a not-quite love?

“I (Elizabeth Bennet) wonder who first discovered the efficacy of poetry in driving away love!”

“I have been used to consider poetry as the food of love,” said Darcy.

“Of a fine, stout, healthy love it may. Everything nourishes what is strong already. But if it be only a slight, thin sort of inclination, I am convinced that one good sonnet will starve it entirely away.” Elizabeth Bennet.

You’ve praised my eyes, forehead, breast:
you’ve all our lives to praise the rest.

You’ve admired these parts of me; take your time to admire – and get to know – all the rest of me.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
One stanza. One long stanza!

It’s a little tongue-in-cheek coyness in one sitting!

Suggested rhyme scheme
The g in the brackets is for a visual rhyme.

Similes and metaphors
No similes, the metaphor of a lady not being a ‘bird of prey’ is quite nice, saying that she isn’t looking out for her next ‘meal’ constantly as though she has to seize whatever opportunity comes her way. She’s not ‘underfed’! So does this mean she can find plenty of other suitors? Also, if we’re thinking in terms of status, she is no stately, graceful woman, she’s just…her. And she will not be toyed with purely because of her lower status?
There’s a lot of personification in this poem – Lady? Perhaps only as a title rather than a personification; Time, Grave.
Grave I also consider a metaphor for death.
There’s also World. It’s interesting; yes, we all live in this world, but here does this also mean ‘society’? A society in which it is poorly viewed for people to rush into relationships? This poem isn’t probably old enough to be living up to the Victorian standards of women having to remain chaste up until marriage, but the title ‘Coy Mistress’ perhaps is a throw back to that sentiment?

Author’s relationship with their subject
It feels a little like the author is writing to a potential love, a man who is rushing their relationship when she wants to take things slowly. She’s reminding him that it is not her way to rush things and they have time to get to know each other and fall in love properly.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
Perhaps bird of prey is a metaphor for her lower ‘class’ status than his?
The poem is all about asking someone to have patience.
It definitely seems to be a response to the Andrew Marvell poem.

Signing off
It feels very much as if the writer is saying, don’t rush me. I am not here just for you to play with and discard, and I am not going to bow into your pressure to be or do something I don’t want to or am not ready for. If you want to romance me (bleugh at that word…) you’re going to have to do it my way. Which means slowly. And with patience.

It also feels as though this poem could be a response to the quoted lines above from Pride and Prejudice. Poetry is all well and good when it comes to love, but unless it is shown to an enduring love, it will probably kill it dead. Think of all that wistful poetry you wrote as a teenager (or now, it’s probably happening now too, isn’t it? 😉 ) and how quickly it would have put an end to any potential romance had you shown it to your intended?

This poem feels like the author is showing her worth by showing her self-worth. She is unwilling to compromise herself and is letting whoever she is writing to know. She intends to enjoy the life she as for she is aware of its briefness.

It also feels like she’s saying to this potential suitor, hey, don’t give up. I’m not going anywhere, I’m interested, but I’m not going to rush into this.

Good on her! We should all adopt that attitude, don’t you think? Doing things for our own pleasure can be something other than selfish; it can establish self-belief. And what’s that saying about not being able to expect anyone else to love you if you don’t love yourself first?


Poetry Foundation

Annie Finch: Poetry Witch

When I read this I think of the song… Originally the song that decided to bounce around my skull was You Can’t Hurry Love. And then, when I felt that the author was saying ‘I’m not saying no, I’m just saying not right now’, Try Again seemed appropriate.


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