Tag Archives: criticism

Considering “The Flea” and “To his Coy Mistress” as Metaphysical Poems

Chiedozie Ude
Department of English, UNILAG

😈

“The Flea” and “To his Coy Mistress” are two very similar poems. This similarity is exposed by the fact that they are, by form and content, metaphysical poems. The metaphysical tradition is one which discusses issues on religion or love in a philosophical way, usually through the use of specific poetic devices like conceits and hyperboles. It is based on the witty and philosophical manner in which Donne and Marvell treat their subjects that will constitute the focus of this analysis.

John Donne’s “The Flea” can be regarded as a typical metaphysical poem. This is brought to the fore through a lot of factors. One of such factors is Donne’s use of a passionate persona who does all in his power to woo his mistress into having sexual relations with him. The persona makes use of witty arguments in order to convince his lady to cave in to his demands. To buttress his point, the persona makes a very unlikely comparison, using an insect — a flea. He compares the act of blood-sucking done by the flea to the consummation of a union through sexual intercourse— “And in this flea, our two blood mingled be”. This unlikely comparison is a device known as conceit. Also, it is expected of the lady to rebuff the persona’s act of seduction.

Likewise in Marvell’s “To his Coy Mistress”, the employment of a passionate lover as the poet persona also stands out. Marvell’s persona also employs wit in his bid to seduce his lady. He presents an imaginary situation whereby time is not a factor. The persona uses a series of hyperboles to educate the lady on the extent he can go to show his love for her if only time was nonexistent:

“An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.”

He informs his lady that he can afford to be patient if he had enough time, but because this is unlikely, he impatiently tries to convince the lady to use the opportunity presented by youth to have sex with him. Undoubtedly, the passionate stance of Marvell’s persona towards is lover reinforces the metaphysical origin of this poem.

Another thing that is noteworthy in these poems is the recurring motif of courtly love. Courtly love is one which requires a man to attempt wooing a lady. It is because of this convention of courtly love that we are presented with a passionate persona who does his best possible in order to convince a lady of his love for her. Thus, it comes as no surprise that both personae in the poems are presented as desperate men who use various tricks to aid the seduction of their mistresses. Both personae are philosophical in their approach. While Donne makes use of conceit, Marvell uses the shortness of time to strengthen his argument for the consummation of their union. On the other hand, the lady, the object of the persona’s affection, is expected to be unreceptive towards his advances.

Furthermore, metaphysical poetry is also marked through the argumentative style. Some times, this argument is in the form of a dialogue between a man and his mistress; but other times, it is in the form of a monologue. Marvell’s and Donne’s poems fall into the later category. Both poets craftily deploy their wits by citing various reasons why their ladies should submit to their demands. Donne presents his argument by using a flea who sucks blood from his mistress without having to go through the stress of winning her affection. To Donne, this act done by the flea is as inconsequential as the act of losing one’s virginity as a lady. So, Donne argues that the lady should be more accepting to his amorous desires. Similarly, Marvell presents his argument adroit fashion. He informs the lady of how time is an enemy of youth and beauty. He follows a pattern by first establishing what could be achieved if time was on their side. He then moves on by declaring that time cannot be defeated; thus, proving to his mistress thst the only logical thing to do is to seize the day — Carpe Diem.

To be continued….

KELANI, Mercy Timilehin: Mimetic Analysis of “Akintunde, Come Home”

Department of English, UNILAG.

100 Level



“Akintunde, Come Home” is a free verse poem based on its form. The poem is a reflection of the Nigerian society, just as literature mirrors and reflects the society. “Akintunde, Come Home” exposes political ills prevalent in Nigeria; it reflects the malevolence and corrupt practises of African political leaders exhibited in their act of governing. The poet who seems to be more experienced, elderly and politically vigilant than the addressee exposes dubious acts of African leaders. The poem could be said to be a piece of advice or admonishment to young minds who find themselves in this political realm of corruption. The tone of the poet is rather persuasive as he calls political minds back to order. Apparently, its truthfulness to life is portrayed by the themes that can be derived from the poem. Some of these themes are: oppression; corruption; selfish ambitions; repercussion etc. Also, this poem, as an African poem, portrays core African values as seen in the way the persona employs adages to make his point clearer.

The poem opens with a rhetorical question of an African adage; “if a man’s mouth is small must he borrow a bigger one to talk to his child?” This adage brings us to a typical African society where proverbs are used to convey messages of inspiration, consolation, advice and many more, but precisely, the African adage used at the opening of this poem could be said to convey a message of advice and admonishment. The use of this adage portrays the poet as a typical African who is concerned on voicing his intent to his addressee on a pressing issue. Adages are common in African societies as it opens ground for dialogues; great writers like “Chinua Achebe” make use of adages in their works; novels, essays, poems etc. to make it full of wisdom. Africans believe in the truthfulness and effectiveness of adages on dialogues, even “Chinua Achebe” once wrote; “proverbs are the palm oil with which words are eaten”. Evidently, the adage used at the beginning of the poem shows its truthfulness to life as it shows us a picture of the African society.

In addition, the African society is governed by cold-blooded leaders with selfish ambitions. The poet in a serious manner, exposes the corrupt practises and malevolence of political leaders in the African society. Some of these callous acts by the ruling elites include: unfulfilled campaign promises; disregard for the poor; overpowering the weak, among other things as displayed and carefully highlighted in the poem.

Furthermore, the poem’s truthfulness to life is clearly seen in themes of oppression, corruption, selfish ambitions and repercussion, these themes aptly describe the nature of African politics. Oppression and corruption complements African politics as shown in the poem: “…where life is a race in which the strong trample the weak, dashing for the flattering fragments of stolen trophies”. Corruption takes most part of African politics as African leaders engage in looting of public funds, embezzlement of public funds and the likes. Oppression also is not left out as striving citizens are impoverished through deprivation of some rights. Rich politicians in the society look down on the poor with contempt. All these themes, undoubtedly, are aids that strengthen the fact that Niyi Osundare’s poem, “Akintunde, Come Home”, is one which accurately describes issues that are plaguing the African society.

Niyi Osundare also subscribes to the classical, or rather human law of retributive justice. This belief can be placed under the theme of repercussion. Repercussion, as employed in this poem, denotes that there are always consequences for every human action, be it good or bad. This can be seen in the poem as the speaker admonishes his addressee to quickly return to his roots before he would become a victim of the cases aforementioned. The persona vividly portrays his belief in repercussions in this line: “Come home before the sword you wield turns round to claim your neck.”

In conclusion, the who’ve explanations clearly show the relationship between the poem and realism: its truthfulness to life. The use of an African adage at the opening of the poem and themes that relates to present happenings in the African society evidently depicts the truthfulness of the poem to life. Also, from a mimetic point of view the poem could be said have being written in an attempt to curb political ills.