Themes in To his Coy Mistress

The rush of time

The main theme of To his Coy Mistress is The Transience of Life, expressed through a sense of time pursuing us and propelling us into the grave before we have achieved fulfilment. The tempo and language become more and more urgent as the poem proceeds. The poet is prepared to fight rather more vigorously than his Elizabethan predecessors, however. Something can be won back from time, but it has to be seized by sheer will power.

The constraints of reality

At times, the theme of love's Destructiveness is hinted at. The Petrarchan ideal of idealising the mistress is not only mocked, but seen as destructive, in that it achieves nothing, given the constraints of reality. A timeless courtship ultimately becomes a deadly one.

Borrowed time

Donne's favourite theme of the completeness of the lovers' world is here modified. The lovers cannot make a world of time and space for themselves in the traditional sense of lovemaking. Only in the intensity of their passion can they force time (and space) to obey them, and then for how long?

Investigating To his Coy Mistress
  • Pick out words and phrases in To his Coy Mistress that suggest the poet's passion, and struggle against time
  • Do people today still have a sense of transience and the shortness of life?
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.