Coy? Not this class

'Let's talk about sex' might not seem like a great way to start an English lesson, but think again, says Hannah Frankel

When teachers encourage pupils to "seize the day," they are rarely referring to sex. But that is exactly what Andrew Marvell's famous poem, To His Coy Mistress, appears to be encouraging, much to the disgust of pupils at Devonport High School for Girls in Plymouth.

The Year 10 group studied the 17th-century poem in which the speaker pleads with his mistress to make love with him before they both grow old and die.

"Had we but world enough, and time This coyness, lady, were no crime," he begins, before referring to his growing "vegetable love" and "time's winged chariot hurrying near".

The pupils' responses took just 20 minutes to compose, but clearly display their indignation.

One reads: "I'm not a bed hopper; I'm not a slag You cannot use me just for a quick... I'm a woman who deserves respect I'm worth a lot more than just casual sex". Another implies that the seduction has worked, before dashing the speaker's hopes with: "Is this exactly what you want to hear? Well to tell you the truth, you're not worth it, dear".

"It is the best chat up poem," says Clare Salkeld, the English teacher who held the lesson. "The replies restored my will to live - for this week at least."

Clare began the scheme of work by comparing various pre 20th-century poems, and the concepts of sincerity, beauty, love and lust. Few, however, can summarise all of the above quite like The King. Elvis Presley's It's Now or Never classic was played to the pupils, who passed a critical eye over his thinly veiled threat: "My love won't wait".

Then the girls created a collage of magazine images to illustrate their poems, which are on display at the school. "Seizing the day Would be the right thing to do," reads one, "But do I really want to give My cherry to you?"

"We have health education days here that explore peer pressure and sexual health, so this fitted quite neatly into those themes," says Clare.

However, that did not fully explain the high quality work she received from this mixed ability class. "I was surprised that the replies were so uniformly good."


Response by Alice Holloway-Neville, Lauren Carey, Stephanie Mitchell and Emily Readman, pupils at Devonport High School for Girls

Had you but world enough and time, You'd think before writing this rhyme, We have no love to revel in, Therefore I won't commit the sin, Of submitting to your request, I think you'll find my way is best, It would be preferable to me, That worms try my virginity!

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