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Had We but World Enough and Time

19 June 2019

To His Coy Mistress

Andrew Marvel, 1621–1678

.
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-chapped power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

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14 Comments to “Had We but World Enough and Time”

  1. What brought this on PG?

    It’s a much more elegant and courteous approach to seduction than any modern pick up line but will it pass HR’s sexual harassment rules?

    Also, I think “Time’s wingèd chariot” has changed are approach to “vegetable love” so that it is a bit hard to read it as Marvel no doubt intended; a pity as the next line is rather good.

    • Mrs. PG needed an original poem in an ancient style for a book she’s working on, so I was reading a bit to get warmed up.

  2. What’s this about PG?

    It’s certainly a much more civilized and courteous approach to seduction than a modern pick up line but will it pass muster when HR apply their sexual harassment rules?

    I’ve always felt that “Time’s wingèd chariot” has left us with a different attitude to “vegetable love” than that intended by Marvel; a pity as the next line is rather good.

    • Sorry about the duplicate comments, I pressed “submit” on the first version and it just vanished into the ether with no offer to edit. I should have waited to see if it appeared but didn’t realise it was by anon and hence subject to delay.

      It does prove that my memory is not good enough to reproduce what I wrote only 15 minutes earlier and also that rewriting – even from memory – does not improve the text (the reverse in fact in my opinion, though auto-correct has done it’s thing and given “are” for “our” on the unedited version).

    • See my response to the first comment, Mike.

  3. Fantastic Poem. Some immortal lines.

  4. Don’t forget Sir Walter Raleigh’s riposte:

    The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd

    If all the world and love were young,
    And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue,
    These pretty pleasures might me move,
    To live with thee, and be thy love.

    Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
    When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
    And Philomel becometh dumb,
    The rest complains of cares to come.

    The flowers do fade, and wanton fields,
    To wayward winter reckoning yields,
    A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
    Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.

    Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
    Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
    Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
    In folly ripe, in reason rotten.

    Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
    The Coral clasps and amber studs,
    All these in me no means can move
    To come to thee and be thy love.

    But could youth last, and love still breed,
    Had joys no date, nor age no need,
    Then these delights my mind might move
    To live with thee, and be thy love.

    • I have to confess that I had forgotten this. What I’m unsure of is whether you are putting this forward as a reply to Marvel’s poem (which I believe is not the case: the target is Marlowe’s poem that starts “Come live with me and be by love …”, another attempt at seduction.)

  5. Always like this one, PG. Thank you.

    Read it again with pleasure, but right away, as I don’t know when I’ll come on it again.

    I had the advantage of several fat anthologies of English and American literature – and of not having them assigned for school, but just around as reading material.

    • Alicia, I also had that advantage – still do in fact – and I have discovered that poetry anthologies work much better for me as paper rather than e-books (and I’m an e-book lover).

      PG’s posting has inspired me to pull The Penguin Book of Love Poetry off the shelf and to wander through it’s pages. It steals time just like surfing the web, but more pleasurably.

      • The point is to read ‘the good stuff’ (classics) for pleasure – or school is something you will put behind you as quickly as possible.

        Many, if not most, don’t come back to the omnivorous stage and read as we did once they’re adults.

        And it’s just not as good for those who won’t be analyzing literature as PhDs to have to attempt it as students.

        Reading – lots – everything – seems to be a good start.

        And if they don’t have the good stuff, then they should be given lots of reading they like – whatever it is – because reading is like learning a foreign language: it is much easier when the brain is malleable and young.

        I did do that with the kids – we homeschooled – but I don’t ask them how much of it stuck. They had gobs to read. And had some of the good stuff read to them – for time with mom. They claim they liked it.

  6. I’ve never understood poems, they are occult texts that deliberately hide the meaning. They always have to be decoded, interpreted, to understand.

    – To me, it’s like if you have to explain a joke, then the joke has failed, so if you have to explain the poem, the poem has failed. HA!

    I saw a great short film on PBS years ago, explaining Robert Frost’s, Mending Wall, but I can’t find it on YouTube.

    Essentially, Frost was why the wall needed to be repaired, both the “frost” heaving the ground, and “Robert Frost” knocking the wall down so that he could walk wherever he wanted.

    When the farmer says that “good fences make good neighbors” he is calmly saying that he’d rather Robert Frost not wander onto his land.

    • Desmond X. Torres

      I’m sort of on your side on this- more often than not poetry confuses me. Don’t get me started on Shakespeare; I’ve finally accepted the fact that my brain’s just not wired for it.

      Having said that; the poem PG posted was delightful, and the Raleigh poem quoted here was a splendid experience for me. I gave the original posted one two attempts before it made sense to me, and what made the penny drop was when I read it aloud.

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