In 50 Literature Ideas You Really Need to Know (2010), John Sutherland uses Andrew Marvell’s poem “To his Coy Mistress” to illustrate the idea of ‘double bind’ (pp. 132-135).
Had we but world enough time
this coyness, lady, were no crime.
But at my back I always hear
Time’s winged chariot hurrying near
The ‘bind’ in the poem is that ‘If you [the ‘coy’ mistress] don’t submit, you’ll die withered up and unfulfilled’. But this ‘bind’, Sutherland thinks, is ‘disingenuous’. The ‘Mistress’ in the title, meaning both ‘adored virtuous one’ and ‘illicit bed partner’, already ‘gives the game away’. Sutherland suggests that if the poem were titled “To the Virtuous Woman I Desperately Want to Screw but Don’t Want to Marry”, the persona’s motivation would be more clearly expressed, although admittedly more vulgar. In a double bind situation, inequality exists between someone/something with power who binds and someone/something who has no power and is bound. In “To his Coy Mistress”, the male suitor is the empowered one, as ‘She cannot answer him with another of the most brilliant poems in the English language. Or, apparently, with the riposte: ‘Marry me, then, if you want it that badly’ (p. 133). Of course, the world has changed now.