John Donne’s to His Coy Mistress and Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. Poem Comparison
Though “To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” by John Donne are metaphysical poems emphasizing love, the narrators use very different approaches and have opposing perspectives on what love truly is. In “To His Coy Mistress” the author is speaking of a mistress that he is trying to coax into sleeping with him. He urges her to abandon her false modesty and lay with him before they both die. He mocks her with a condescending tone when he says “then Worms shall try That long preserv’d Virginity: And your quaint Honour turn to dust:” (“To His Coy Mistress”) However, in other parts of the poem he has a very different approach. He says that ” HAD we but World enough, and Time,” he would shower her with the love and adoration she is deserving of before bedding her. However, because they can’t stop time, they need to seize the moment and enjoy life while they can.
This is very different from the lover in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” In this poem, the author is speaking to his wife, not a mistress. He is discouraging her from openly mourning an approaching time that they will be apart. (John Donne: Poems Summary and Analysis of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning) He will be traveling overseas, and he is trying to comfort her with the reassurance of his love in this poem. He tells his wife that earthquakes may bring harm and fear to some, but these fears should not affect his beloved because of the firm nature of their love. (John Donne: Poems Summary and Analysis of “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning) He goes on to say that their love is far more superior than most because it is so much more than physical. Their love transcends even their understanding. It is a spiritual love that cannot be reduced by something as simple as distance. This concept is opposite of the love described in “To His Coy Mistress.”
Like the other poems, “Death Be Not Proud” written by John Donne is also a metaphysical poem from the 1600’s. However, it has a far different theme. Instead of love, this poem is written directly to “Death,” as if death is a person he can speak to directly. John Donne was a very spiritual man, which is reflective of both “Death be Not Proud” and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” In “Death Be Not Proud,” he is mocking death and telling it that “though some have called thee Mighty and dreadful, thou art not so;” He goes on to say that death cannot kill him. He even alludes to the idea of it being a pleasurable experience, a temporary “rest for our bones” and “our soul’s delivery.” (Death Be Not Proud) He calls death a pitiful slave to “fate, chance, kings, and desperate men.” In other words, it doesn’t get to choose who it kills. (Understanding Donne’s Death Be Not Proud) After a short sleep, we will wake up to eternal life and death will ultimately be the one slain. This is very different from the conventional views on death. We usually associate death with sadness. However, Donne turns this notion on its head.
As with most authors, both John Donne and Andrew Marvell’s personal lives were reflective of their work. John Donne was a scholarly man who attended both Oxford and Cambridge but couldn’t graduate at the time because he was a Catholic and only Protestants were allowed diplomas. (Understanding Donne’s Death Be Not Proud) Unfortunately, he also suffered from sickness. He had tuberculosis or “consumption” as it was referred to in the 1600’s. This plagued him throughout his life and is probably one reason many of his poems deal with themes like death and transcending physical constraints. He seems to be looking toward higher ideals such the spiritual love he feels for his wife in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” and his disdain and ultimate defeat of death in “Death Be Not Proud.”
Andrew Marvell, on the other hand, was a seated politician in the House of Commons. He had strong political views which are reflective in much of his work. (“To His Coy Mistress” by Andrew Marvell Analysis) He was never married and seeing that he was a politician well before the era of video cameras and cell phones, this poem could have been written about one of his conquests. This is purely conjecture. However, based on what we know about our modern-day politicians, it is an easy assumption!
All three of these poems reflect the Early Modern idea of introspection but have different themes and ways of going about that meditation. In both “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” and “Death Be Not Proud,” John Donne is reflecting on his personal feelings toward love and death. However, in “To His Coy Mistress,” Andrew Marvell is reflecting on his primal feeling of lust which he tries to cloak in words of romantic love to his lady in waiting. He’s doing everything possible to get his “mistress” to come to bed with him. He’s also reflecting on time within the poem. He knows his time is fleeting and he wants to enjoy every minute he can.
In conclusion, these three poems differ in a multitude of ways but are all classic examples of the Early Modern period. They are written about the essential parts of human life both love and death and are reflective of how we grapple with these ideas. When I turned in my first discussion response, I said that I love to read and I still do. However, I am sincerely hoping for some Faulker, Fitzgerald, or Hemingway soon! My eyes are delirious with allegories and thou art these! I hope this made you smile. This class is no joke, but I’m hanging in there!
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