The poems “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell and “The Flea” by John Donne are both written with the same idea in mind, for the authors to get their ‘women’ or mistresses to be less shy with them. This was a common idea of which poems were based in Marvell’s and Donne’s time due to when a pretty woman was to find herself interacting with a man, it was conventional for her to be shy or unwilling, or at least for a small time at first.
With this in mind it is easy to see that both poems include the idea of “carpe diem”, this means “seize the day”, in other words make use of the time we have and do not let it go to waste. This was common in the poems written by the metaphysical poets, which both Donne and Marvell were included in. The most obvious comparison of arguments is what the persona is trying to get from his mistress, it is clear that all that the persona has on his mind in “The Flea” is sexual intercourse, yet in “To His Coy Mistress” the persona is more interested in love in general not just sex.
These arguments set an almost funny theme of the personas persuading their mistress’s. There is also a sense of desperation in “The Flea” because the persona knows that if the flea is squashed that his chances of having sex with his mistress are also squashed. As well as the sense of desperation in “The Flea”, it is also very humorous. It satirises how the persona cannot get his mistress to have sex with her but she is willing to give up her virginity to something as insignificant as a flea.
The poet’s argument in “The Flea” is that the flea, an insignificant object, bit his mistress after biting him, therefore mixing their two bloods together, this is Donne’s time was considered as forming a bond, the mixing of their bloods bonded the couple together almost like marriage : It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee, And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be; This frustrates the persona because the flea has done what his mistress has resisted against performing with him; this shyness is also what Marvell’s argument is based on.
The persona in “To His Coy Mistress” shows a sense of irritation that his mistress is so coy. The main idea of the poem is that if the persona and his mistress had time then her coyness would be acceptable but they don’t have all the time in the world, so must therefore make use of what time they have, the phrase “carpe diem” is used to describe this. Marvell wrote “To His Coy Mistress” in three stages.
The first stanza talks about if they had all the time in the world, “An hundred years should go to praise” is an example of the persona stating what they could do if they had an eternity, then his mistress’s coyness wouldn’t be a problem, the second stanza then brings them back into reality and brings the idea that they don’t have all the time in the world into the readers mind: But at my back I always hear Time’s winged chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie This is describing how time, in other words ultimately Death, is racing towards them and that they don’t have long until they will be dead, lying on the ground.
It’s an interesting use of personification, giving the chariot wings, this creates an image of a chariot of time flying towards them, coming down to get them, in other words take their lives. The final stanza suggests what they should or could be doing now to rectify the problem of coyness: Now let us sport while we may, And now, like amorous birds of prey, Rather at once our time devour The “sport” which the persona suggests is suggesting let us love each other while we can before our time is devoured.
The “amorous birds of prey” is a good image. It creates an image of them being passionate about their love like a bird of prey would be towards its food. It also creates a sense of urgency because birds who are hunting their prey are viscous and attack very quickly, so it could be interpreted that the persona is using the image to suggest how they need to get over his mistress’s coyness urgently. Ultimately “To His Coy Mistress” was written to get the authors mistress to love him while they still have the time.
Similarly “The Flea” is also written trying to get the author’s mistress to do something, perhaps marriage, unlike “To His Coy Mistress” the persona isn’t really bothered about love just sex. The poets argument is that if the flea, and insignificant object can ‘mingle’ their bloods then why can’t they do it, “Find’st not thyself, nor me the weaker now”, this is the persona stating that after the flea had bitten both of them neither of them feel weaker so why should she feel different about losing her virginity to him.
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be”, Donne uses the word mingled to represent the union of blood between the persona and his love. This reflects the 17th century view that man and woman became one blood in sexual union, the word mingled being indicative of the completeness of their mixing together. The mistress in “The Flea” however tries to counter his argument by killing the flea. One of the main differences between the two poems is how the mistress is conveyed to the reader. In “To His Coy Mistress” the mistress isn’t given a voice you aren’t told anything about her or her actions.
However you can guess that because the persona describes her as coy, she is perhaps stubborn and plays hard to get, apart from that you don’t find anything else out about her and because she isn’t given a voice in the poem you never find out her views only his. However in “The Flea” the mistress’s actions are described, she still isn’t given a voice so you will never find out exactly what she thinks but you can tell by her actions what she thinks of the persona’s argument. In the 17th century the idea of mingled blood means marriage, such as Donne said:
Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare, Where we almost, yea are more married are. Although the mistress is passive you can tell she obviously doesn’t like this thought, so when she kills the flea it isn’t just against religion but it shows that the thought of being married to the persona is a preposterous idea. This is fascinating because the persona accuses his mistress of committing suicide by killing the flea: Though use make you apt to kill me, Let not to that, self murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
The thought behind this idea is that the flea contains a part of three people, the persona, his mistress and the flea itself. So killing it would be killing a part of all three of them and probably in the persona’s eyes it is killing his chance of ever having a sexual union with his mistress. Donne used a flea to describe this because fleas were very common in the 17th century. The flea is small insignificant and very unromantic, so using a flea to suggest that the persona and his mistress are “married” because their bloods are united inside the flea, this is an example of a metaphysical conceit.
Both poems are filled with metaphysical conceits, this is when something spiritual, such as love, is turned into a physical image or a surprisingly verbal picture, an example of this is “My vegetable love should grow”, this is a good example of metaphysical conceit because Marvell describes love, which is definitely not physical, as a physical picture. This is also an example of personification because love can’t “grow”. Another example of a conceit in “Time’s winged chariot hurrying near”, this is a conceit of death. Death isn’t physical but using it with chariots makes it into a physical image.
Conceits can also be described as using something common, such as a flea, to describe something such as a powerful feeling such as love or something absurd. The flea is also a conceit because it is used describe love when it is very common. Another example of Metaphysical Conceit: Let us roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball, This conceit is describing how the persona and his mistress should collect their strength and their sweetness into a ball; this is one of the many examples of flattery in both of the poems.
The first stanza of “To His Coy Mistress” is filled with examples of flattery: But thirty thousand to the rest. An age at least to every part, And the last age should show your heart. This is a powerful quotation because the persona is suggesting he could spend over thirty thousand years admiring her, only however if they had eternity, thirty thousand years is a very long time so the persona must truly love his mistress to suggest this, however they don’t an eternity, so therefore Marvell wrote this poem to try and get his mistress to get her to enjoy what time they have.
All the flattery in the first stanza sets the theme and mood of the poems. I think the mood in “The Flea” at the start of poem is quite depressing; the persona seems to feel rejected that the flea “mingled their bloods” before he did and that even now his mistress won’t have sex with him. There is a sense of ‘not tongue-in-cheek’, that the poem isn’t very serious, the argument of a flea mingling their bloods before they did it themselves is a humorous idea.
In the second stanza the mood of the poem changes because the persona becomes desperate for his mistress not to squash the flea, the persona’s attitude and approach to his argument chances as well. As his argument develops the pace of the poem also increases. Donne uses religious images and ideas in the hope that they will lull the lady into a submission which she will be comfortable with. Though use make you apt to kill me, Let not to that, self murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
Committing suicide is completely against religion so Donne uses it as a “last ditch” effort to persuade his mistress. “The Flea” reaches its climax at the end of the second stanza when the flea is squashed. In the third and final stanza the poem’s pace slows down creating an anti-climax. The persona’s attitude is almost of disbelief that his mistress was cruel enough to kill the flea which contained part of her and him in it. The mood in “To His Coy Mistress”, I think, is quite different to that of “The Flea”. I think the mood is calmer and therefore the personas attitude is more reasonable.
The persona’s argument is split into three parts, the first stanza describes what they could do if they had all eternity, the second stanza brings the poem back into reality and explains how they don’t have the all eternity. The third at final stanza suggests what they should do now, again on the theme of “carpe diem”. However the mood is similar to “The Flea” because the first stanza is slow paced and calm with the second stanza increasing in pace with an anti-climax in the third stanza when the poem is brought into reality.
The persona, although is desperate to get his mistress to love him, I don’t think is very forceful, he is relaxed and calm. I think he is like this because he is trying to be understanding with his mistress and try to win her heart that way rather than forcing her into something which she doesn’t want to do. For the persona to achieve this in “To His Coy Mistress” without sounding too forceful, he compliments his mistress a lot and uses a lot of flattery: 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;
The persona is suggesting that if they had all eternity he could spend over thirty thousand years showing affection towards her. This is a very powerful thing to say and shows a huge amount of affection for his mistress. It is ironic that after the first stanza being so flattering that the second stanza is filled with the idea of death. “Deserts of vast eternity” is a powerful images which combines space and time which suggests that there is nothing once they have died, a large open “nothingness”. The next two lines, “Thy beauty shall no more be found, / Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound”, is an interesting choice of words.
Again, it is a use of flattery calling the mistress beauty but it suggests that her beauty will go to waste in her tomb. The persona continues then to go on and that worms will try her “long preserved virginity”. This is very similar to the flea, they are both very unromantic beings, which is likely to be the main part behind the poets’ arguments. The worm is also a metaphysical conceit because the it isn’t romantic yet it is suggested to do something which is considered to be the climax of romance. “To His Coy Mistress” follows some biblical references. The flood” is an important time in religion because it supposedly rid the world of sin, however the persona is suggesting that he could physically love his mistress from ten years before that. Another religious phrase is “conversion of the Jews”, this would require a substantiated second coming for the son of God, or in other words, it will never happen. This suggests that the persona and his mistress have all of time to love each other, so her coyness wouldn’t be a problem but they don’t have much time, so her coyness is a big issue.
There are some religious ideas in “The Flea”. The first obviously religious idea in the poem is the reference to its intention, persuading his mistress that giving up her virginity would not be “sin, nor shame”, Donne suggests this religion order to argue that it doesn’t apply in this case. Another religious strain follows the logic “This flea is you and I”, this suggests that there are three souls in one body, this is meant to echo The Trinity of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit all being together.
The final religious idea is one back to the idea of killing the flea, not only would it be committing suicide which is against the Christian Religion but the way in which it is described, the nail which the persona’s mistress killed the flea with is “purpled” with “blood of innocence”, this is how Christ is described, killed for no reason and completely innocent. “The Flea” and “To His Coy Mistress” have similar rhyme schemes, both in iambic tetrameter, however “The Flea” alternates metrically between lines in iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter, a 4-5 pattern with two pentameter lines at the end of each stanza.
The Flea” has a regular rhyme scheme, in couplets, with the final line rhyming with the previous couplet: AABBCCDDD. “To His Coy Mistress” also rhymes in couplets. Having a regular rhyming pattern makes the poem more enjoyable to read and it drives the development of the argument, which might be another idea of the poets because it makes their arguments more easily read. Although “The Flea” and “To His Coy Mistress” don’t have exactly the same meaning; one to get love, the other to have sex; they are similar poems. Both poems are filled with metaphysical conceits and ideas about religion.
The language used is similar in both with it being persuasive. I think that “To His Coy Mistress” is the stronger poem of the two because it is a lot more reasonable and it goes at love in the more conventional, traditional way, complementing the person you love rather than being forceful like in “The Flea”. I think that the poets both have different views on love, I think that Donne considers women to be objects, purely for enjoyment, whether it is sexual or not. However Marvell wants marriage and a long term relationship.