John Donne

John Donne, a metaphysical poet, wrote about his perception on love in quite a few of his poems. Within these poems, he adopted a range of attitudes toward love: negative, positive or as if someone in love, and a more playful perception of it. Throughout a few of his poems, he used conceits–an extended metaphor between two unusual or unlike things–to portray these thoughts. His use of conceits helped illustrate his attitude toward love in a more elaborate way, rather than a straight forward assertion. The use of conceits allows for the reader to discuss deeper meaning which in turn helps them understand metaphysical poetry.

In both The Bait, The Flea, and a Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, Donne uses conceits to establish his tone and illustrate his differentiating views on love. The Bait, one of Donne’s metaphysical works, illustrates love by comparing it to fish and the process by which they are caught. This elaborate metaphor is an example of a conceit, as it is portrayed throughout the entirety of the poem and helps establish his attitude and theme. By comparing women to bait, Donne illustrates a cynical tone throughout the poem, allowing us to understand his negative assertion towards love. This metaphor of women to bait helps develop his theme that women deceive and catch men, while portraying men as vulnerable little creatures.

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The conceit as well helps establish his idea that he wishes to get free for the one fish that does not need any elaborate traps for the men. By using a conceit, Donne’s message comes to life. As readers, we can visualize poor fish getting caught, developing sympathy for them. In doing this, Donne has us feel what he says the men feel so we can understand regardless of our gender. In addition, by using a conceit the poem keeps the reader entertained by making a subject matter that remains hard to visualize become more entertaining and vivid.

Similarly in The Flea, Donne uses another metaphysical conceit to establish his view on love. Donne compares love to a flea in this poem, in attempts to get a woman to sleep with him. By comparing their love to a flea, Donne adds a witty tone to the poem. This allows us to see another side of his works, one that expresses a more playful and joking tone towards the idea of love.

When comparing two things that one would not normally think of as similar–marriage and a flea–Donne gives his poem both simple and complex meaning. We see his playful side while questioning the severity of love, as the speaker tries to persuade the woman that sex is not as sacred as people make it out to appear, and that they don’t need to obtain marriage to participate. The use of the conceit allows us to see a differentiating view than from Donne’s other poems, giving us a better understanding of the many views and assertions different people may have about love. In Donne’s A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Donne uses a conceit to compare him and his lover’s connection to points on a compass. This conceit helps us visualize how they’re always connected and will end up back together eventually.

By using this conceit, Donne’s interpretation of his love comes to life. Comparing it to a physical object helps us understand the deeper meaning of how strong the connection of love is by imagining it ourselves. It helps develop his theme that real love cannot break. This conceit as well shows another contrasting view on love than his other poems do, again helping us understand the contrasting views people may partake on love.

Without the use of this conceit, it becomes hard to understand how strong his feelings are for his lover–and thus the message becomes less perceived. John Donne uses metaphysical conceits in multiple of his poems in order to establish various views on love, portraying different attitudes and themes. The use of his conceits allows the reader to visualize his message, understanding the depth of his poetry. In addition, the use of conceits gives his poems both complex and simple meaning, allowing the reader to ponder the contradictory feelings displayed and derive their own feelings toward love from his messages. In The Flea, The Bait, and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning Donne uses conceits in order to portray his various thoughts on love, allowing the reader to establish their own beliefs on it.


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