Metaphysical Poetry on Love

Metaphysical Poetry on
Love –and Death
John Donne and Andrew
An Example first: “Valediction:
Forbidding Mourning”
Platonic Love
“The Flea”
“To His Coy Mistress”
“Death Be Not Proud”
Metaphysical Poetry
Metaphysical Poetry
in Context
Still Life with Books and Manuscripts and a
Skull, Edward Collier, 1663
extended metaphor with a complex
Logic: Watch out for logical transition
(as…so, therefore),
original figurative language and striking
Helen Gardner: "a conceit is a comparison whose
ingenuity is more striking than its justness" and that "a
comparison becomes a conceit when we are made to
concede likeness while being strongly conscious of
AS virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
"Now his breath goes," and some say,
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move ;
'Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Melt: disappear as if by dissolving
= conceit
Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears ;
Men reckon what it did, and meant ;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers' love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, 'cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two ;
Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th' other do.
And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th' other foot, obliquely run ;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
Elaboration and
not straight,
"A Valediction: Forbidding
Mourning" : Platonic Love
Form: nine four-line tetrameter stanzas, rhyming
abab, cdcd, and so on.
Q: How does the speaker compare the love of him
and his lover with that of "laity" (l. 8) or "dull
sublunary lovers" (13)?
A. 1. the difference of their parting movements like
those of earthquake and the movement of
heavenly spheres (stanza 3);
2. the difference of their attitudes toward parting
(stanzas 4 and 5).
Out of sight, out of mind; physical contact as the
essential part of their connection
Departure as expansion, love made truer through trials.
"Valediction“ (告別辭) = farewell
3. Parting compared to –
death of virtuous men,
movement of heavenly spheres,
the beating of gold foil
The two feet of a compass Q: What do
you think about the idea of having one
foot fixed in the center, while the other
making a circle around?
Donne’s Neo-Platonic Love
Review: Romeo & Juliet -- The use of religious
metaphors, their tryst at night, and forbidden love - the tradition of religious and courtly love
(Singer 221).
Neo-Platonic Love: the preeminence of soul over
body, the distinction between love and lust, and
the goodness of striving for perfection through
devotion to a woman's beauty.  ambiguity
Source (1) Plato–
beauty proceeds in a series of steps
from the love of one beautiful body
to that of two,
to the love of physical beauty in general, and
ultimately to beauty absolute “the source and
cause of all that perishing beauty of all other
Donne’s Neo-Platonic Love
Source (2) the Renaissance Platonic
Christianized by equating this ultimate
beauty with the Divine Beauty of God,
move in stages through the desire for
his mistress, whose beauty he
recognizes as an emanation of God's,
to the worship of the Divine itself.
embraces sexuality (the mystical
union of souls) which is directed to an
ideal end.
John Donne (1572-1631):
Jack Donne and Dr. Donne
Having inherited a
considerable fortune,
young "Jack Donne"
spent his money on
womanizing, on books,
at the theatre, and on
Secret marriage in
1601, which got him
Donne had refused to
take Anglican orders
in 1607, but King
James persisted, so
finally Donne gave in.
Started to write holy
sonnets after the
death of his wife in
1617. With 12 kids
The Flea: Starting Questions
How is the flea used in the speaker’s
persuasion of his lady to go to bed?
Describe the speaker's tone.
Why does the speaker say that to kill the
flea would be "three sins in killing three"?
In the third stanza, the woman has killed
the flea. What is the speaker's response
to that? Does he change his position?
How would you argue against the
speaker if you were the lady?
The Flea
Rep: Imperative -mark, this
MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck'd me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know'st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper'd swells with one blood made
of two;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.
1. The flea –where two bloods mingle before wooing;
pregnancy before marriage
The Flea (2)
Rep: Imperative -stay, this three
O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,
And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.
(use = habit)
2. The flea –three lives; marriage bed and temple
killing the flea = refusing sex = self-murder, killing me
and sacrilege = and 3 sins
The Flea
Rep: exclamation +
Q – death = taking
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck'd from thee?
Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou
Find'st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
'Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from
The Flea -- Notes:
the 17-century idea was of sex as a "mingling of
the blood“: It was believed that women became
pregnant when the blood of the man (present in
his semen) mixed with her blood during sexual
The Flea -- "Fleas were a popular subject for
jocose [humorous] and amatory [love] poetry in all
countries at the Renaissance". Their popularity
stems from an event that happened in a literary
salon (a place where poets and others came to
recite poetry and converse). The salon was run by
two ladies, and on an occasion a flea happened to
land upon one lady's breast. The poets were
amazed at the creature's audacity, and were
inspired to write poetry about the beast. (source)
The Flea -- as a Metaphysical
The Flea: a. flea= sex as no loss >
b. flea = meaningful union (Church, etc.) >
c. death of flea = no loss
a. Sex as a loss of a drop of blood
b. Sex as this mingling of blood, causing a
“swell”  3 lives
more than married  the flea as their temple and
bed; we “cloister'd in these living walls of jet”
c. Twist of logic: Killing the flea: 1) kill three lives,
a "sacrilege" ; 2) kill/lose nothing, just as your
losing your virginity
The Flea -- the other poetic device
Iambic, three nine-line stanzas, identical in form. .
(The first six lines alternate, triameter, then
tetrameter, rhyming aabbcc. The seventh line is
trimeter, the eighth and ninth, tetrameter. ddd).
Direct address and Casual tone: Mark but this
Repetition: And mark in this
Imagery: religious (church, cloysterd, sacrilege,
three sins in killing three - more holy trinity
imagery; blood of innocence ) and sexual (mingle)
Argument: sophistry-- Circular argument. The flea
starts and ends as nothing.
How is this poem different from
“The Courting Sonnet” in R&J?
The Courting Sonnet
• Religious imagery
(pilgrim, shrine=hand)
• Kiss – 1). smooth the
rough touch, 2) palm
to palm, 3) purge and
takes the sin.
• The lady – rebukes
the argument and then
complies with it.
“The Flea”
• Religious imagery
(three in one, cloister
• Flea = sacred union &
marriage and birth
• The lady – kills the
flea, which is used by
the speaker to change
and win the argument.
Andrew Marvell (1621-1678)
Marvell was engaged in political activities,
taking part in embassies to Holland and
Russia and writing political pamphlets
and satires.
A controversial person (one with a
sense of balance and fairness; a
bad-tempered, hard-drinking
lifelong bachelor) and an
unclassifiable poet
“To his Coy Mistress”
HAD we but world enough, and
This coyness, Lady, were no
We would sit down and think
which way
To walk and pass our long love's
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I
Love you ten years before the
And you should, if you please,
Premise 1: time and
space enough
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more
An hundred years should go to
Thine eyes and on thy forehead
Two hundred to adore each
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show
your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
“To his Coy Mistress”
But at my back I always hear
Time's wingèd chariot hurrying
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall
My echoing song: then worms
shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave 's a fine and private
But none, I think, do there
Transition: no time
 proposition “let
Now therefore, while the youthful
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough
Thorough the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
What is the main argument and how
is it developed?
What conceits and other poetic
devices are used?
Why is the title “To his Coy Mistress”
but not “my”? (Ref. "To His Mistress, Going to
Bed“ by John Donne)
Argument: carpe diem
or "seize the day" -a very common literary motif in poetry.
emphasizes that life is short and time is
fleeting as the speaker attempts to
entice his listener, a young lady usually
described as shy (coy) or a virgin.
frequently use the rose as a symbol of
transient physical beauty and the finality
of death.
e.g. “Gather ye rosebud while ye may.”
Argument: carpe diem
To Virgins, To Make Much Of Time
Robert Herrick
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles
To-morrow will be dying.
[. . .]
Argument and Imagery
Argument -- If we lived forever there would
be no need to hurry. However, we do not live
forever. Therefore we must seize the day.
Hyperbole: praising the lady “forever,” slowly and
across vast spaces –images of space and time
alternate with each other.
“mortality” –marble vault; images of sterility,
rotting corpses, tombs, and a shocking denial of
the procreative activity of sex.
Seize the day– images of transience and
aggressive and daring action (next slide)
Imagery of aggressive (sexual)
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Thorough the iron gates of life
Devour –eat up time quickly and at a large amount each
Like birds of prey (hawks) eat up their prey (rabbits)
unthinkingly and instinctively
Rolled into one Ball –sexual act
Tear our pleasure …gates of life – embrace the inevitable
aging process and difficulties which lead us to death.
Passion Balanced with Wit:
Metaphors and Conceits
vegetable love –slow
and quiet.
Note: vegetable-- the
lowest level of the
Renaissance doctrine
of the three souls
(vegetative, sensitive,
Time’s wing’d chariot
Iron Gates of life
Paradox -- tearing
"pleasures“ with
Conceit & Hyperbole –
the use of large space
and time to woo slowly.
Marble vault as both
the grave and the
sexual organ.
Pun—sun/son; run (go
faster, run away)
Passion Balanced with Wit:
“His” Mistress.
e.g. Donne’s – 1) ELEGY XVII.
“HERE take my picture ;
though I bid farewell, ...”
e.g. Marvell –
1) To his Noble Friend, Mr.
Richard Lovelace, upon his
2) 2) To his worthy Friend
Doctor Witty upon his
Translation of the Popular
Rhetoric Implication
The Lady – coy in
appearance, but
calculative as the
“His” -- Exhibited and
desired by whom?
Praised – bodily parts
to be conquered as if
the New World to be
Death and Life; Wit & Human
Holy Sonnet X & Wit
Death be not proud, though
some have called thee
1 overthrow: kill
2. thy pictures be:
DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
rest and sleep mimic
Mighty and dreadful, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow,1
3. soonest: willingly;
as soon as
Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
4. why swell'st thou:
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
why do you swell with
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest 3 our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul’s delivery.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy, or charms can make us sleep as well,
And better then thy stroke; why swell'st thou then; 4
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
How is the argument developed?
Can you refute it? Is Death really as
comfortable as sleep and rest?
“And death shall be no more; death,
thou shalt die.” How is this line
different from the end of “Because I
could not stop for Death”? Compare
the two poems as a whole, too.
1. Death is not really capable of killing
2. If this is so, and if we know that sleep and
rest are experiences that are pleasurable
to us, then death cannot be as awful as it
3. Death is not as powerful as it seems
because fate, chance, and worldly power
can use and abuse it.
4. Soul lives on; only death dies.
Poetic Form
Petrarchan sonnet in rhyme (abba,
abba, cddc, ae), Shakespearean
sonnet in form (4 quatrain and one
No rhyme at the end:
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more: Death, thou
shalt die.”
Metaphysical Poetry Defined
Spirit + Matter
The exaltation of wit, which in the 17th century
meant a nimbleness of thought; a sense of fancy
(imagination of a fantastic or whimsical nature);
and originality in figures of speech
Often poems are presented in the form of an
In love poetry, the metaphysical poets often
draw on ideas from Renaissance Neo-Platonism
to show the relationship between the soul and
body and the union of lovers' souls
They also try to show a psychological realism
when describing the tensions of love.
Metaphysical Poetry Defined
5. Use of ordinary speech mixed with puns,
paradoxes and conceits
Metaphysical Conceit: a paradoxical and
extended metaphor
causing a shock to the reader by the
strangeness of the objects compared; e.g:
departure and death, beating of gold foil,
lovers and a compass)
Abstruse terminology often drawn from
science or law
Metaphysical Poetry in Context
The European baroque period (1580 to
approximately 1680): extravagance,
psychological tension, theatricality, eccentricity,
and originality of its creations (in all artistic
media), as well as for the quirkiness and
intricacy of its thought
the seventeenth century in England, a time of
radical changes in politics (e.g. Puritan
revolution, Civil war, execution of Charles I 
Restoration ) and modes of literary expression.
For a while during the Commonwealth Period
(1649-1660), drama disappeared, public
theaters closed because of fears of immoral
influences, and incendiary (煽動者 ) political
pamphlets circulated.
Literary Baroque
Late-sixteenth- and early-seventeenth-century
drama and poetry, as well as some fiction, in all
European languages show some characteristics
similar to those we have seen in the visual arts:
conflict, paradox and contrast, metaphyiscal
concern, and a hightened spirituality,
combined with a lively sensuality and
ultrarealism. e.g. German Lutheran hymns,
Spanish Catholic devotional poetry, Italitan erotic
verse, and English "metaphysical poetry." (The
Humanities 4th ed. 132; 142-43).
Metaphysical Poetry in Context
Peter Paul Rubens Garden of Love c. 1638 Museo del Prado,
-- The colors are soft and
warm, light, gay, ripe, and
-- The figures melt into each
other in a soft, flowing
rhythm. ...
-- The courtly man in the
broad-brimmed hat
Metaphysical Poetry in Today’s
Professor Bearing’s love of wit and recognition of
human connections
1 00:05:50 I have stage four metastatic (轉移性)
ovarian cancer.
2. 00:20:03 I've got to go get Susie
3. 00:42:12 Prof. Bearing, how are you feeling
4. 00:55:17 Do you ever miss people?
5. 01:17:33 Yeah, she was a great scholar.
6. 01:32:11 The patient is no code.
YouTube Selections:
1. Six Centuries of Verse: Metaphysical &
Devotional Poets (YouTube; 5:09 Holy Sonnets
2. The Flea -- reading (by Richard Burton),
performed, animation, another animation,
3. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning reading (by
Richard Burton), a short lecture
4. 'Death Be Not Proud' by John Donne.
Performed by Julian Glover, another
reading, annotation and analysis
5. “To His Coy Mistress” reading, performed,
commentary (YouTube)