Today, from our Department of Unsung Treasures, a new discovery.
Just how tickled you’ll be to hear about it will depend on your familiarity with the English poet Andrew Marvell’s
“To His Coy Mistress,” which has been bringing saucy smiles to readers’ faces for the past, oh, 300 years. It’s the poem that begins:
“Had we but world
enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady,
were no crime . . . “
. . . followed by a young man’s attempt to persuade a young woman, by way of logic mainly, to seize the day. Since youth is fleeting, he argues, and since we’re all going to be dead someday, let’s you and I go to bed while we can. After all:
“The grave’s a fine and quiet place
But none, I think, do there embrace.”
Maybe you remember all his metaphysical palaver, the quicksilver couplets, deployed in service of what is, let’s face it, a pretty commonplace male objective. Here’s the full text, and here’s a set of 11 recordings. (My favorite is #7, by Kara Shallenberg.)
“To His Coy Mistress” is brilliant and as charming as all get-out, and by the time it’s over we’re thinking: maybe this guy’s got a shot. Some women go for smarts. But since we don’t get to hear the lady’s answer, we never find out.
So what’s today’s discovery? Just this: A poem exists in which she replies! It’s called “His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell,” by A. D. Hope, who assumes the lady’s point of view and, with wit to match Marvell’s, takes the would-be suitor down a peg. Listen to it here.
Is she impressed by his argument?
“Since you have world enough and time
Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
You think to have persuaded me?
Then let me say: you want the art
To woo, much less to win my heart.
The verse was splendid, all admit,
And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
All that indeed your poem lacked
Was logic, modesty, and tact,
Slight faults and ones to which I own,
Your sex is generally prone;
But though you lose your labour, I
Shall not refuse you a reply.”
I like A. D. Hope’s audacious idea for this poem and I like his wit, as well as the fact that he’s taken Marvell’s poem and created a story with two live characters, not just one. Yet I confess I’m a little disappointed that the young lady turns out to be rather prim:
“May I suggest, before we part,
The best way to a woman’s heart
Is to be modest, candid, true;
Tell her you love and show you do.”
Had Andrew Marvell been born a few centuries later, he might have roared up in front of her porch and sung:
” . . . I’m no hero, that’s understood -
All the redemption I can offer, girl, is beneath this
dirty hood -
With a chance to make it good somehow,
Hey, what else can we do now
Except roll down the window and let the wind blow
back your hair -
Well, the night’s bustin’ open, these two lanes will
take us anywhere.
We got one last chance to make it real,
To trade in these wings on some wheels -
Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the
track . . . “
But A.D. Hope gives us a lass who’s inclined not to fall for this seize the day stuff,
whether it’s Andrew Marvell or the Boss
who’s making the case. Can’t help it, but I kind of wish it had gone otherwise.
Alec Derwent Hope
(1907-2000) was a notable Australian poet and essayist who made a mark here in the States but today is all but forgotten. Just try fi
nding a copy of his A Book of Answers,
in which “His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell” first appeared. I found mine online at a book shop in Eaglemont, VIC, Australia, called–rather appropriately–the Grisly Wife.
The painting is the Comtesse d’Haussonville
, by Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, in the Frick collection. The portrait of Andrew Marvell is from the Granger Collection, New York. The shot of the Boss is uncredited.