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Metaphor in "To His Coy Mistress"

There is more than one metaphor in “To His Coy Mistress,” but the poem is built around a central metaphor, “Time’s wingèd chariot,” which is both central to the speaker’s argument and near the physical center of the poem. The encroachment of time is vastly important to his argument, and its nuances can only be expressed through a metaphor.

- line 11 - "My vegetable love"
The speaker compares his love to vegetative growth, which is slow and unconscious. Of course, this metaphor is ironic because it is in the conditional tense; the speaker knows that he does not have world enough or time, and his impassioned love grows quickly and consciously.

- line 22 - "Time's wingèd chariot"
A winged chariot is unreal—chariots are ground transportation—and it is also a link to Roman mythology: Apollo’s flying chariot drove the sun. The winged chariot is a metaphor for the power of time, for the speed of time (a winged chariot could presumably move quickly), and for the inevitability of time (the sun rises and sets regularly every day). The metaphor expands and enhances the cliché “time flies” and sets the darker tone of the second section of the speaker’s argument.

- lines 35-36 - "soul transpires / At every pore with instant fires"
The lover’s soul breathes through her body with “instant fires,” obviously not intended as literal flames on her skin, but rather to demonstrate how the feeling of ardent desire is like heat. The fact that there are many fires instead of just one, and that they are “instant” rather than constant, underscores the transience of the moment, which is the subject of the poem.

Questions for response

1). How does this examination of metaphor change your understanding of how the poem works as a whole?

2). Find other metaphors in the poem. What do they contribute to the work?

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