The Uses of Rhetorical Devices by Speakers in John Donne’s Poems Death Be Not Proud and The Flea

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

John Donne’s poetry has been around since the 1590s. He has been known to use concise but connotative language to create his poems. This is appreciated well in The Flea and [Death, be not proud]. Both poems involve speakers that use complex language to convey their points, nonetheless, they discuss very different themes. The speakers of The Flea and [Death, be not proud] are both similar and different in their use of word choice and rhetorical strategies.

The speakers of The Flea and [Death, be not proud] share identical and differing traits in the usage of diction. Although both speakers use specific diction to add emphasis on their ideas, the methods in which they do this are not entirely the same. The speaker in [Death, be not proud] uses aggressive and demeaning diction when addressing Death. This can be seen throughout the poem. In the second line of the poem, the speaker states that death is falsely labeled as “Mighty and dreadful” (Donne 203-204). The speaker continues to belittle death as he speaks of “poison, war, and sickness” when he talks of death. This allows an automatic negative connotation to be made in the name of death.

Although he speaks of death as a fiend in this way, he also juxtaposes these words with more gentle ones. He compares death to “One short sleep”. This use of diction is what makes the poem as powerful as it is. The speaker uses the negative connotations we have with death against it and proceeds to devalue the power that strength holds. While the speaker of [Death, be not proud] uses a mixture of degrading and light diction to convey his ideas of death, the speaker ofThe Flea takes a different approach.

The man in this poem uses specific diction in his attempt to court the woman. In the third line of the poem, he explains to the woman that “Me it suck’d first, and now sucks thee” (Donne 25-26). However, towards the end of the same stanza, he declares that the action of the flea “is more than we would do”. This progression from the pronouns “me” and “thee” to “we” acted as unifying diction in the speaker’s argument. This style of diction continued into the second stanza, as seen by the use of phrases such as “three lives in one” and “you and I” (Donne 25-26). After the death of the flea, this style of diction changed to contrasting diction as the man attempts to work the death of the flea into his argument. This was communicated through contrasting words such as “innocence” and “guilty”. He uses this diction to confuse the female into making light of her own purities. The overall diction in this piece aids in creating the tone of this poem, which could be described as light, playful, and witty. This use of diction from each of the speakers is both similar and different in the type of diction used and effect of the diction.

The speakers in each poem are similar, yet different in their use of rhetorical devices. The speakers used similar rhetoric in their texts but did not implement these strategies in the same way. Both speakers made use of personification. In The Flea, the man refers to the insect as if had human characteristics. He does this when he states that the flea “enjoys before it woo” (Donne 25-26). This would be considered personification as a flea would be incapable of enjoying nor wooing. The speaker also personifies the flea as he states that it is “pamper’d. ” The man in this poem does this to make the idea of the flea relate more to the situation he is in with the woman he is attempting to court. He attempts to make the flea seem more human than it is to create a connection between the flea’s actions and their own. In the case of Donne’s[Death, be not proud], personification is used throughout the sonnet. In the poem, the speaker is referring to death as a human figure. The speaker talks directly to death, telling it that it should not be arrogant.

The entire sonnet includes this form of personification. The personification of Death allows the speaker to directly speak to death and argue against it. Each of the speakers also uses repetition in their texts. In The Flea, the speaker begins his speech by explaining “that Mark but this Flea, and mark, in this…/Me it suck’d first, and now sucks thee” (Donne 25-26). The speaker in this poem repeats the words “mark” and “suck” in order to present his argument. The speaker also seems to use repetition of the word “marriage” in the poem. The speaker in The Flea uses repetition as a method of persuasion. He wants to convince the female he speaks to by repeating his ideas until they seem correct. The speaker from [Death, be not proud] uses repetition as emphasis rather than persuasion. This can be seen as he argues to Death that “From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be/Much pleasure, then, from thee much more must flow” (Donne 203-204). The alliteration of the letter “m” is used as an emphasis. This emphasis is used by the speaker to create the forceful, aggressive, and demanding tone that is held by this poem. Although both speakers use similar rhetorical devices through personification and repetition, the purpose for their use is different.

To conclude, the speakers from The Flea and [Death, be not proud] can be compared in their habits of the English language. These specific traits include the use of diction and literary strategies. The traits that both speakers utilize aid in the creation of the tone in each piece.


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