Andrew Marvell: Had we but world enough and time

May 14, 2019 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: books, writers, writing.


Andrew Marvell (1621-1678), in this his most famous poem, To His Coy Mistress, speaks with the passion of a lusty young man who tires of being put off by the woman he is wooing.

The lines of the poem range from high-flown descriptions of his desire to mundane concepts and comparisons — all in typical metaphysical fashion.

In the video I completed this week, the recitation of the poem is accompanied by a line and wash caricature of Marvell, whose true purposes are revealed by his facial expression.

Marvell, in the words of the biography on the Poetry Foundation website, “is surely the single most compelling embodiment of the change that came over English society and letters in the course of the 17th century. In an era that makes a better claim than most upon the familiar term transitional, Marvell wrote a varied array of exquisite lyrics that blend Cavalier grace with Metaphysical wit and complexity.”

The most famous part of the poem is its first line: “Had we but world enough and time.”

Marvell was a famous poet and wit of his day, a defender of political and religious liberty, and a member of Parliament, whose rights he advocated. His satires anticipated the work of Jonathan Swift, but his work was largely forgotten until 1921. In that year, T.S. Eliot wrote a famous essay on his poetry, which revived interest in his work and life. That interest continues today.

Marvell’s poem “To His Coy Mistress” is the latest in my series of videos (as yet unnamed) of poems with paintings. You can find that one here:


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