The most marvelous seduction poem in the English language combines the logical precision of the mathematician with the wit of a courtier and passion of a lusty lover. Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress" has wowed a regiment of English majors, generations of suitors and their valentines since it was written 3 1/2 centuries ago. T.S. Eliot liked it so much that he raided it twice, lifting an image for "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and lampooning a couplet in "The Waste Land."
Marvell (1621-1678), one of the great mystery men of English letters, lived a shadowy life on the continent that led to speculation that he was a spy or double agent. An avid fencer, he impressed his friend John Milton with his command of foreign languages. For 20 years he served as a member of Parliament. His poems operate on "metaphysical" conceits, metaphors exquisitely spun out. Some of the poems achieve a maximum of intellectual complexity and ambiguity.