In my essay I will compare and contrast two poems ‘To His Coy Mistress’ by Andrew Marvell and ‘The Flea’ by John Donne. Both these poems are about seduction and each poet shows this in their own way.
The arguments by both poets are presented in three parts. Donne concentrates on one metaphor: The Flea. Whereas, in contrast, Marvell uses different ways to persuade ‘His Coy Mistress’ into consummating their relationship. He does this using first person and, towards the end ‘time’ and ‘death’ as ways of persuading his mistress into consummation. Throughout the poem, Donne shows fear by increasing the speed (with the use of commas). Both poems are about persuasion, consummation and their mistress’s honour.
In the beginning of ‘To His Coy Mistress’, Marvell describes the beauty of his mistress. Whilst complementing her, he argues his case like a lawyer ‘were no crime’. He proves he admires her by saying ‘I would love you ten years’. This shows that his love for her wouldn’t change, not even in ten years. Although he can love her for ten years, he is desperate to make love to his mistress before it’s too late. ‘The worms shall try that preserves virginity’. Here he is trying to say that if they don’t make love now, then she may die a virgin and will probably end up losing her virginity to a worm. In a way this shows that Marvell is scared of dying and fears of death could dominate the time of them making love.
Marvell feels strongly about his argument as he employs flattery ‘Two hundred to adore each breast’. This shows that he could send a very long time admiring her. ‘And the last age should you show year heat’. This shows that he not only wants to adore her, but he wants her to love him back just as much.
Marvell then moves on to speak about his second fear: ‘Death’. His aim is to make his mistress feel guilty. ‘This coyness, lady, were no crime’. This in effect makes his mistress stay with him longer. ‘To walk, and pass our long love’s day’. This shows that he wants them to spend more time together. Although he mentions ‘Times winged chariot hurrying near’. This implies that time is running out and they might not be able to make love.
Marvell uses a sense of sarcasm in that he indicates his ‘Coy Mistress’ is in charge and if they had eternity he’d worship her. When I first read the lines ‘My vegetable love should grow vaster than empires and move slow’. Although a modern reader might find this image disturbing i.e. describing his love for his mistress as a vegetable, it was a metaphor commonly employed to mean ‘spiritual growth’.
Marvell imagines what death could be like in my marble vault’. This shows that he feels that he is going to be trapped in a marble tomb. Towards the end he becomes more involved in his argument. ‘At every pore with instant fired?’ This then makes Marvell realise that his mistress could die before him and describes what things could be like if she (his mistress) died. ‘And your quaint honour turn to dust and into ashes all my lust’. This means that she could die without having lost her virginity.
Marvell concludes his persuasive poem on seduction using references to time. ‘Thus, though we cannot make our sun stand still, yet we will make him,’ the last two rhyming lines refers to time in which Marvell uses the sun (as it relates to time). This is to create an illusion that time will go into retreat.
Having analysed both poems, I felt that Donne uses light hearted, mocking arguments using the flea. I also feel that Marvell has an extraordinary imagination in how he describes love, death and time. Examples of this would be the marble vault, his mistress making love with worms in her grave. Despite there extraordinary factors, his argument was clearly understood. There is a difference in length between the poems as Marvell’s poem is longer than Donne’s. Both these poems are similar in that they share similar erotic sensations because the show the male bond with the mistress. To support his argument, Donne uses religious imagery. Also, both these poems are similar in that they both talk about ‘time’ and ‘death’. Although, the structures of both poems differ them.
‘The Flea’ by John Donne is also a poem about seduction. The poem is set into couplets. Examples of these are ‘in what could this flea guilty be, except in that drop which it sucked from thee?’ stanza one describes the event, ‘me it sucks first, and now it sucks thee’. The poet then tries persuasion, ‘This flea is you and I’. By this, the poet is trying to make it sound special, as if the couple have been linked in some romantic way. Stanza three has a sense of disappointment to it. ‘In what could… sucked from thee?’ This shows us that in his despair, he is trying to make his lover feel guilty. This is clever because he knows he is still trying to persuade her. The character are two lovers in which the man is trying to seduce the woman, could mean that they are perhaps in a forest, for example and are lost. ‘Cloistered in these living walls of jet.’ This suggests darkness, which could mean they are literally in darkness, or it could be a metaphor suggesting how the man is feeling.
The poet uses a flea to make his argument because when fleas suck various people’s blood, that blood is mixed together inside the flea. ‘Our two bloods mingled be.’ This tells us that the poet is saying they are joined together anyway, as a further argument as to why they should have sex. ‘Mark but this flea, and mark in this.’ This unpleasant comparison immediately tells the reader that this is not something the woman of the couple wants to do.
The woman in this poem is his lover. This is proven from the quotation, ‘we… nay more than married are.’ This is telling us that the couple could be married but that’s as far as it goes, ‘this flea is you and I, and this our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.’ This suggests to us that perhaps it is not in the religion of the woman to have sex, even if she is married. The fact that they could be husband and wife also shows why the man wants to seduce his mistress so much.
The poet uses religious imageries to support his argument, for example, ‘and sacrilege, three sins is killing three’, ‘confess is’, ‘a sin’. This gives us more evidence to say that religion is an extremely valid part of the mistress’s argument. However, the poet is using religious imageries in a clever plat to seduce her. The poem itself refers to religion because in some religions, sex is not allowed.
The poem ends with the fleas’ death, as is shown in the quotation, ‘as this flea’s death took life from thee’. The poet is trying to argue that the flea has taken a part of his wife with it when it died (by sucking her blood), which he is comparing to losing her virginity.
The references to purple in the poem bring to mind blood and bruises, ‘purpled thy nail’. These bruises are linked to the flea sucking their blood. Throughout the poem, the mistress wont give in, ‘yet thou triumpst and weater now’. This suggests that she is saying, just because they are joined inside a flea, it doesn’t mean they have to have sex.
In conclusion, I felt that both poems employ the art of seduction which is shown through different persuasive tones. The basis of marvels poem is ‘time’ and ‘death’ whereas Donne’s poem is based on mocking a flea.
Personally, I felt that ‘The Flea’ is more seductive then ‘To his Coy Mistress’ as I preferred his use of metaphors and language.