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Examine the ways in which the poets in “The Flea” and “To His Coy Mistress” try to persuade their mistresses.

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Judith Johnson Examine the ways in which the poets in "The Flea" and "To His Coy Mistress" try to persuade their mistresses. Both "The Flea" by John Donne and "To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell are seduction poems, written by the poets to seduce their mistresses. Both have three stanzas and a basic couplet rhyming structure. Donne and Marvell are metaphysical poets from the 17th century. They have taken simple ideas and stretched them far - for example, using a flea as a symbol of union. They have made philosophical poems about simple facts of life - for example, the fear of death seen in "To His Coy Mistress". The similarity seen between these poems is quite surprising - the use of imagery, enjambement and variation in rhythm and rhyme to relate their ideas, and the way they put forward their arguments to seduce their mistresses. In "The Flea", the flea is used as a symbol of their love, or his love for her. The word 'flea' has many connotations and denotations, but interestingly, when spoken sounds the same as the verb, to 'flee'. In addition to perhaps suggesting the fleeting nature of love, the word also connotes danger: "to run away as from danger; to take flight; to try to escape", is the Oxford English Dictionaries definition. It can also connote an abrupt ending "to run away from, hasten away from; to quite abruptly, forsake (a person or a place, etc.)". This insight would give an added dimension to Donne's use of a flea in his poem. The OED also provides us with the definition "a small wingless insect well known for its biting propensities and its agility leaping." The finding that fleas do not have wings could be quite significant, because in "The Flea" the flea plays the role of Cupid. Using the imagery of a flea crushes any expectations of high, pompous language and describes love in basic, common terms. ...read more.


He tells her that when she is dead in her "marble vault", he will no longer be there, speaking to her. He describes his words as an "echoing song", which conjures up images of a creepy, repetitive, faint tune. He is trying to make what he says appear as though it were a thought going round in his mistress's head, a memory of what could have been. Marvell chooses here to place one of the most effective - if revolting - uses of imagery in the poem, "worms shall try That long preserved virginity". He is saying that if she doesn't let a man take her virginity in life, then the worms will take it in when she is dead, as her body rots in the earth. This is a very frightening prospect, and shows how far the poet is willing to push, to work his persuasive argument. In the next line, he calls her "honour", "quaint." The Oxford English Dictionary definition of the word "quaint" is: "old fashioned, daintily odd". This is not really something that most people would to be described as; it is not a pleasant way to describe a person. When Marvell writes "And into ashes all my lust", he is almost laying the responsibility of his lust on her, adding this pressure to his persuasive argument. The second stanza is ended with sarcasm and irony, "The grave's a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace." Marvell is saying that there is no physicality after death. He is saying this so sarcastically that its unpleasant; it is patronising and you can see the way he really feels about his mistress - that she is being stupid to deny him her virginity. This stanza has taken a real turn compared to the first, and here, instead of using his love for her as reasoning for her to sleep with him, he uses time's passing, and threats. ...read more.


In "The Flea", the enjambment is sometimes used to tell us of the poet's emotion - this enforces Donne's seduction argument by making it seem like he really means what he is saying. It also places the emphasis where he wants it - this is true for "To His Coy Mistress", too. These two poems are written by men trying to woo their women. We do not get the impression that these men are in love, but more that they are trying to pretend they are so that they can persuade their mistresses to have sex with them. There are four different arguments presented by Donne in "The Flea" to persuade his mistress to have sex with him, whilst Marvell presents three. Donne starts with complaining that the flea has done more than they have together, sexually, moves on to the idea that the flea has already brought them together, so sex is naturally the next step, and the last stanza sees as he starts by claiming that sex is innocent and natural, and ends with the argument that the flea has already taken her blood, and that sex with him will take no more from than the flea did. Marvell's first persuasion tactic is a romantic one - that he loves her so much she should have sex with him, the second persuasive argument is that if she doesn't have sex with him, time will pass and she will die a virgin. His last is again one of time - that they should take hold of time how they can, and make "him [Marvell personifies time in his poem] run". The imagery in "To His Coy Mistress" is very effective, and the use of a flea as a symbol in a love poem holds together quite well, even if it is a rather surprising choice. The enjambment in both poems really gives the poems meaning, creating a tone in each of them, and whether the mistresses they were trying to persuade were every actually persuaded or not, it is clear that the poets went to great lengths in their attempts. 1 ...read more.

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