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

Chiedozie Ude
Department of English, UNILAG

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“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….

Mimetic Approach to Analysing “Love’s Deity” (A purely thematic approach)

UDE, Chiedozie Orji.

Department of English, University of Lagos.


The poem “Love’s Deity’ is, indeed, another work of literature which possesses a huge degree of mimeticism. This implies that this poem is one which projects several key issues that are peculiar to everyday life. These issues, no doubt, make the poem one that can be defined based on the extent to which it imitates life.
The poem captures the plight of the persona who finds himself in an uncomfortable situation of unrequited love — that is, he is in love with a girl who does not share his feelings and affections. Through this knowledge, it comes as no surprise that the persona either knowingly or unknowingly raises several issues which serve to explain not just his predicament, but also, the predicament of others who find themselves in love. Therefore, it can be said that the poem “Love’s Deity” captures themes which include: the theme of love; the theme of fate; the theme of defiance; the theme of callousness of the gods; and the theme of man’s belief in the supernatural amongst others.


The theme of love is obviously central to this poem. This is because it is the very reason for the persona’s struggle. He, the persona, just like many others, finds himself in a situation whereby his love is not being reciprocated by the object of his affection. The subject of love is a universal concept which has always complicated matters or made people happy. Hence, it can be said without any form of doubt that the theme of love, as projected by the persona, reflects the society.


Another theme which helps to project reality is the theme of fate. This theme is captured through the persona’s insistence that he has been given a part to follow by the childish god of love; hence, he has no choice but to follow this part — that is, the part of loving someone who will never love him. This theme, also, is in tandem with the classical notion of unavoidable destiny; little wonder the persona accepts his fate by constantly stating in the refrain that he loves a person who will never love him. This theme, definitely, projects realism through the insight provided on the persona’s condition and of course, through the similarities it shares with the classical notion of unchangeable destiny.


Closely related to the theme of fate is the theme of man’s belief in the supernatural. Man, as an individual, is one who believes in the existence of superior beings such as gods, demons and angels etc. It is, therefore, because of man’s belief in these elements and in the power they possess over man that makes man to always acknowledge them through praises when things are going well, and of course, blame them when things are not going well. This theme is well captured in the poem in that the persona believes that the god of love is the cause of his predicament, even without any clear evidence. The persona does not believe the fault may be from him, probably in terms of affluence or physical attractiveness; hence, he seems it worthy to blame not only the god of love but also, the gods who created the god of love. The presence of these supernatural beings is also exposed in the third stanza where the persona suggests that if the god of love is allowed to continue acting with impunity, other gods will likely follow suit, and by so doing, these gods will challenge Jove’s supremacy.


Of course, another theme which depicts realism is the theme of man’s defiance towards elements of the supernatural. The persona describes himself as a rebel and atheist. These words imply that he does not have much regard for religion and the gods, and he acts out these descriptions by insultingly calling the god of love a child. He continues to show his defiance towards authority by suggesting that the gods who created the god of love did not mean much. This suggestion implies that the gods are incapable and restricted when it comes to handling critical affairs. Finally, the persona brands the god of love as irresponsible. This, unequivocally, speaks of the persona’s blatant disregard for superior authority. Obviously, this theme is a universal concept because many a man, from time immemorial, has always been blasphemous towards the supernatural beings.


In conclusion, this essay has discussed the poem “Love’s Deity” based on the extent to which it imitates life. Several themes were raised and succinctly discussed with a view to proving that John Donne’s “Love’s Deity” is a poem that has a lot of verisimilitude with life.