Theme of Love in Relation to Natural Sciences and Geometry in Metaphysical Poetry Term Paper

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Natural Sciences and Geometry in Metaphysical Poetry

Love in metaphysical poetry: Donne and Marvell

"Metaphysical texts, primarily characterized through the conflation of traditional form with seditious linguistic techniques such as satire, irony, wit, parody and rhetoric, generate a microcosmic emphasis in many of the texts" even while the authors ultimately address 'macro' concerns of religion and man's place in the universe (Uddin 45). In poems such as John Donne's "The Flea" and "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" and Andrew Marvell's "The Definition of Love," subjects such as the poet's adoration for his beloved take on a much higher significance than the personal sphere within the context of the poem. Metaphysical poetry embodies what is often considered a paradox: it is, on one hand, intensely emotional, but it is also, on the other hand, quite explicit in its suggestion of universality. "Introspection, being 'a careful examination of one's own thoughts, impressions and feelings' allowed the poet to create a certain atmosphere in a text that acknowledges the acceptance of orderly systems of thought and feeling, resulting in a direct and often austere manner of speech. A strong emphasis on the contemplation of death, and a considerable interest in the soul, both in a religious and philosophical domain, allowed the Metaphysical Poets the use of the individual voice" (Uddin 45). Metaphysical poetry like that of Donne and Marvell, even when dealing with the emotive subject of love, only uses the particular to understand the universal, and is not interested in self-examination in an individualistic modern sense.

For example, in John Donne's poem "The Flea," both the woman and the man's blood are intertwined in the single body of the flea that bites them in the marriage bed. This could be read as a humorous metaphor, but Donne views the unity within the physical body of the flea as symbolically significant of the unity of love of husband and wife and also their unity in the covenant of Christ. "This flea is you and I, and this / Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is." Also reflected in the poem, for all of its humor and passion, is a belief that reason is the best way to apprehend the natural world and understand the divine. Through syllogistic reasoning, Donne explains to his wife that she cannot kill the flea not only because the flea is one of God's creatures, but because literally all of God's creation is one united by blood -- in this case, their literal blood in the body of the insect is a natural analogy that verifies the importance of Christ's sacrifice. To 'purple' one's self with the flea's blood would be an act of self-murder. "Wherein could this flea guilty be, / Except in that drop which it sucked from thee?"

For a modern reader, "The Flea" is rather jarring to read because of its extended use of what is called a 'conceit' or extended metaphor, typical of the period. "The conceit, advocating an origin which is specifically intellectual rather than sensuous, juxtaposes a number of dissimilar images to establish a marked discord in mood, resulting in the device functioning as a vehicle to allow numerous interpretations or readings" (Uddin 46). For example, in Donne's poem "A Valediction Forbidding Morning," the apparently dead man speaks to his beloved, forbidding her to mourn. He views their current state more as a kind of geometric shift, in which his spirit is moving away, but which will end in the same place as her spirit (death) based upon the inevitable orbits of the human condition. "And though it in the centre sit, / Yet, when the other far doth roam, /…

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