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Comparing Metaphysical Poems: Donne and Marvell

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Name: Laura Caldwell Teacher: S.T St. Julie's Catholic High School Centre #: 34358 Date: Jul '10 Pre-1914 Poetry Essay Question: Compare and contrast 'To His Coy Mistress' by Andrew Marvell with 'The Flea' by John Donne in relation to the following question: 'From your reading of the two poems, to what extent do you feel that they are truly Metaphysical?' Both of these poems are Metaphysical in many ways. The term 'Metaphysical' refers to matters that are literally 'beyond the physical' - this is things such as God, heaven and hell, the soul and the meaning of life. They looked past visible life to discover the concealed beauty beneath. Much of their work contained an underlying Neoplatonist philosophy; they took the view that everything was an imperfect copy of something perfect, so in a way they shared that perfection and became beautiful. The Metaphysical poets were a group of British poets around the 1600s, who shared a similar way of investigating metaphysical concerns. These poets, however, did not label themselves as Metaphysical - most of them didn't even know each other. The writer Samuel Johnson gave them this title a lot later on, in his book 'Life of Cowley', where he recognised their style through subtle and sophisticated arguments, strange similes and metaphors, and their use of wit. Two notable poets from this group are Andrew Marvell and John Donne. Andrew Marvell was the son of a Church of England clergyman, and John Donne was a preacher from a Roman Catholic family. ...read more.


He says that 'yonder all before us lie/ deserts of vast eternity', so he is trying to tell her that God will not reward if she keeps her virginity as he is not real. This is not metaphysical; he is simply trying to scare her into sleeping with him. It is a lot more effective than Donne's argument, however, as his attempt of persuasion is nothing but sophistry. An example of this is where he says 'mark but this flea', emphasising how small and insignificant the flea is. He then goes on to say 'mark in this how little that which thou deniest me is'. This quote is referring to her virginity, which she will not allow him to take, so he is basically saying that her virginity is only as significant as a tiny flea. This is obvious nonsense, as virginity is clearly a big thing, and it mattered even more around the time these poems were written than nowadays. Also, the two objects are completely unrelated, as there is really no link between loss of virginity and a flea. This shows how nonsensical Donne's argument really is. This is not Metaphysical is there is no reference, or hidden reference, to anything non-physical. Out of the two poems, To His Coy Mistress is seemingly much more non-specific. In The Flea, Donne keeps the same theme all the way throughout the poem, making constant reference to the metaphorical flea, right from the first line 'Mark but this flea' all the way through to the last line 'as this flea's death took life from thee. ...read more.


These major and minor premises are effective because they give a good argument, and they make an argument much more persuasive by making a point and then justifying it. In The Flea, we notice that the woman in the poem is a lot more argumentative against Donne's argument than the subject of To His Coy Mistress is towards Marvell. This may be because Donne insults the woman throughout the poem, calling her 'cruel and sodaine'. At first it seems as if she is genuinely annoyed, however if looked at in more detail, we can see that maybe he is just criticising her in a playful flirty way, and her response may be a playful way of replying. Marvell, however, uses flattery to persuade his lady, by referring to her as 'lady' and states that he would spend thousands of years admiring each part of her if he could, which is obviously very flattering towards the subject. This seems more effective than Donne's argument, but in fact The Flea is probably more persuasive in this sense as there is a kind of teasing and joking essence about the poem. Overall, I do not think that the poems are really metaphysical at all. There are metaphysical aspects on the surface, but these seem to only be there to cover up the fact that the two men want the women to sleep with them, and they think that using metaphysical imagery is the best way to persuade them because they are both seemingly religious women. ...read more.

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