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Madison Lewandowski

Mr. Koroshec

English 111, Period 3

21 April 2017

A Persuasive Lustful Desire

Have you ever seen a flea buzzing around and smashed it with your fingers? Or have you

ever watched a ticking clock as minutes passed? If you have, and thought nothing of it, youre

like most people in this world. Yet, after analyzing two poems, I noticed that both a dead flea

and passing time can portray a similar message, regarding the subject of lustful desire. Both John

Donne in The Flea and Andrew Marvell in To His Coy Mistress articulate a similar speaker

and method to persuade a beautiful lady of their lustful desire for lust through the use of a

conceited argument structure, symbolism, and irony that relies on conceit.

The first argumentative method John Donnes speaker of the poem uses, is describing

the flea as a metaphor to convince a beautiful woman of his lustful desire to overtake her

heart. He does this by creatively implying that since the flea has already bitten both him and

her, their blood is mixed inside the fea, which according to the speaker, constitutes a marriage by

Gods definition. Therefore, since their blood is already together as one, there should be nothing

stopping his lover from allowing the speaker to fulfill his lustful desire. In the second stanza,

Donne states, O stay, three lives in one flea spare, suggesting that the flea represents the lives

of him, her, and their marriage of mixed blood inside the flea (ln 10). The flea is clearly the most

important symbol, an extended metaphor that relies on conceit and complex logic, to the speaker

because he is convinced it is responsible for these three lives, including his love for the lady. In
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another attempt to convince his lover not to kill the flea, the speaker says, Let not to that

self-murder added be, And sacrilege, three sins in killing three (ln 17). Through the speakers

eyes, squashing the flea kills all three lives, which he argues are a murder, suicide, and death of a

symbolic marriage. By doing this immoral act, it causes three sins and could be avoided if the

flea is left alone to live, avoiding three lives of three others. Yet, even when she goes against his

advice and squashes the flea with her thumb, the speaker does not give up on his desire for her.

He then furthers his argument by saying, that since she metaphorically has no morals in killing

this flea, there is no reason she should hesitate to give the speaker what he wants. Since she has

already sinned once, why not sin again?

In a remotely similar metaphor, Andrew Marvell in To His Coy Mistress uses the

aspect of time to attempt to win over his coy mistress. The speaker refers to the use of time

throughout the poem to argue that time seems to be running out before they both grow old. When

he states, Thy beauty shall no more be found, he is implying that she wont be beautiful

forever (ln 25). As time passes, she will grow old, less beautiful, wrinkly, and weak. Eventually

the speaker and his coy mistress will lose purpose in life and turn to dust, much like his love for

her. This implies that the desire and love the speaker has for her right now will not last forever

and will fade as time goes on. The last stanza makes clear of the speakers desires. He suggests

that both he and his coy mistress are now young, full of passion, and attractive. Therefore, they

should make love immediately in order to not waste any time. Using the symbol of time as

conceit, and his organized argument structure including worlds like if, but, and therefore,

he continues make a strong argument for his coy mistress. He wants to make the best use of his

time in order to make his life exciting.


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Another method Donne uses in The Flea to portray his message is through the use of

symbols. One example he briefly places ironically in his poem is the word cloisterd (ln 15).

He states, Though parents grudge, and you, were met/ And cloisterd in these living walls of

jet (lns 14-15). The definition that the speaker seems to be referring to is a religious enclosure,

such as of monks or nuns. Yet, the irony being touched on is that both nuns and monks save

themselves for life and pledge never to give into sexual desire, much unlike the speaker.

Although the word means exactly the opposite of that he wants, it is used in a way that gives the

reader a negative connotation, to imply his disagreement with it. Almost seemingly in a mocking

tone, the speaker clearly dissuades from being cloisterd and only uses the word to show the

negative appeal of holding back on desire in an ironic sense.

Similarly to Donne, Marvell uses a variety of metaphors to convince his Coy Mistress of

his point of view. One simple, yet effective phrase he uses is, Now let us sport us while we

may/ And now, like amorous birds of prey (lns 37-38). The first metaphor here is the use of the

word sport. He uses this word to make the sex appeal seem more playful, fun, and less

aggressive. Sports such as basketball, soccer, and football are generally looked at as games that

people play in their free time for fun. By phrasing the word sport in the way he does, the

speaker is implying that fulfilling the desire for lust is simply a game for fun, and should be

taken lightly to erase any doubts and/or hesitations his coy mistress has. Secondly, he uses the

phrase birds of prey, as a metaphor to emphasize the passion of the act of sex (ln 38). By

relating sex to birds, the speaker is able to detach his humanly desires from the blunt truth of

what he wants. By avoiding to state exactly what hes looking to get from his coy mistress, he

uses symbols and metaphors to paint a picture for her that he hopes will makes her feel more
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comfortable in agreeing to it. Another metaphor he uses later on in the poem is the iron gates of

life (ln 44). The significance of this metaphor is that the iron gates represent a locked door to

her innocence, in which he hopes to obtain the key to unlock her virginity. Again, the speaker is

stating what he wants without spelling it out for her in order to make his plea come across as less

aggressive. He uses this phrase and includes the word life to show how important he thinks

fulfilling lustful desires are in living life.

Overall, both John Donne in The Flea and Andrew Marvell in To His Coy Mistress

portray sexually driven speakers who attempted to convince their audience to make love through

the use of an argumentative structure, complex logic, symbolism, and conceit. Although it is

unknown whether the symbols of the flea and use of time have had the effect the speakers

wanted, they both had a similar method of convincing their desires upon their beautiful women

in hopes of the same outcome. These authors, unlike many men in the world today, simply

attempted a unique way to win over a lady they had interest in. Driven by the appeal of sex, they

are not alone in their efforts. Using these poems as examples, we should be cautious of others

intentions and take time to interpret the real meaning behind what theyre saying.
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Works Cited

Donne, John. The Flea. Seagull Reader: Poems, 3rd ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W.

Norton & Company, 2015. 88. Print.

Marvell, Andrew. To His Coy Mistress. Seagull Reader: Poems. 3rd ed. Ed. Joseph Kelly.

New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2015. 221-222. Print.