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Donne and Marvell are very different poets.

Donne and Marvell are very different poets.

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Published by: cheriejaimie on May 03, 2010
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08/03/2013

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It is unsurprising that the poetry of John Donne and Andrew Marvell is oftencompared. It is not simply their classification as ‘metaphysical’ poets, butsimilar interests, intent, structures, and techniques which unite their respectiveworksHow far do you agree?There are unavoidable cultural tendencies to attempt to categorise works of art,to apply labels, genres and sub-genres and to invest these groups and genreswith rules and definitions. Thus, contemporary readers of poetry find thatindividual poems are often not simply appraised on individual terms, ascomplete and singularly whole pieces of work, or that the works of a particular poet are not only evaluated within the context of their producer’sartistic catalogue, but that either individual poems, or the combined works of a particular poet, are also appraised and criticised as ‘examples’ of their imposedgenre, within the confines and the context of this supposed classification.Hence, particular poets’ works are judged in terms of the ‘contribution’ thework makes to, as an example, ‘Modernism’ or that a particular poet’s work iscompared and contrasted with, and judged against, those of their contemporaries on the grounds that their respective creators are, for example,‘Romantics’ or ‘Modernists’.As ‘Metaphysical’ poets, then, it is not surprising that Donne and Marvellare, critically speaking, often compared, contrasted and thought of together. T.SEliot, whose advocacy of Donne’s work was largely responsible for aresurgence in interest, defines metaphysical poetry
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as work which seeks toelaborate simile to the farthest possible extent, demonstrates rapid associationof thought, contains sudden contrasts of images and by the ‘unification of sensibility’, that is, the ability to think 
and 
feel and the ability to relate andrecreate that which is only ordinarily felt in accessible language. If thesefactors are sought, they are undeniably to be found in the work of both poets.Both Donne and Marvell were members of the clergy and devoted many linesto both religious and divine poetic meditations and to prose sermons, they bothwrote extensively not only of lovers, but of experiences with lovers whichrecreate sense and sensuality, and physical contact, to breathlessly exhilaratingeffect and they both write of death to remarkable effect.That the poetry of these men contains parallels is irrefutable, that they share poetic aims and intentions and thematic concerns is undeniable, yet, closereading and detailed analysis betrays that their techniques are very differentand poems which appear to share similarities prove under examination to bedissimilar indeed, as close reading of Donne’s
 A Valediction: forbidding mourning 
and Marvell’s
 Definition of Love
demonstrates. Both worksdemonstrate similarities, they are of a similar length, Donne’s being ninestanzas in length, Marvell’s eight. Each stanza is octosyllabic, four lines longand written in an alternate line end rhyme pattern. Both poems speak of alover with whom the narrator is prevented in some manner from becomingwholly ‘joined’ with and the way in which each of these poems intellectualisesfeeling and sensation and transforms them into conceptions, into abstract ideas,whilst still investing them with the vividness and personal experience of 
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The Metaphysical Poets
, TLS, (1921)
 
 perception marks them as remarkably similar, as reading the first three stanzasof both poems in parallel shows:As virtuous men pass mildly away,And whisper to their souls to go,Whilst some of their sad friends do say,The breath goes now, and some say, no:So let us melt, and make no noise,No tear- floods, nor sigh tempests move,‘Twere profanation of our joysTo tell the laity our love.Moving of th’earth brings harms and fears,Men reckon what it did and meant,But trepidation of the spheres,Though greater Far, is innocent. ( Donne)And:My love is of a birth as rareAs ‘tis for object strange and high:It was begotten by despair Upon ImpossibilityMagnanimous Despair aloneCould show me so divine a thing,Where feeble Hope could ne’r have flownBut vainly flapt its Tinsel Wing.And yet I quickly might arriveWhere my extended Soul is fixt,But Fate does Iron wedges drive,And always crouds it self betwixt. (Marvell)These stanzas make use of similar imagery. The souls which ‘go’ of Donne’sopening stanza echo Marvell’s ‘fixt’ soul of his third, as does a pervadingsense of resignation to fate. Donne’s imploration to ‘melt’ with his lover intotheir shared fate with no resistance, no railing, has similar connotations toMarvell’s ‘magnanimous Despair’; the reader is aware that these aredesperately sad characters, yet there is no conflict, the surrender is absolute.The emotions are painful, yet there is nobility and even reward and generosityin them, thus demonstrating the intellectualisation of emotion into that which is perceivable, knowable and even manageable. Both poets here also refer to theimpossible. Donne’s ‘tear floods’, ‘sigh tempests’ along with Marvell’s ‘Ironwedges’ of fate and ‘feeble Hope’ flapping its ‘tinsel wing’ are all impossiblemetaphors, and all attempting, in Eliot’s words, the ‘unification of sensibility’that is, to convey that which can only ever be felt by using images andwords. The third stanza of each of these poems ends on an almost identical
 
note; In Donne’s, the images of ‘moving’ ‘earth’ and in Marvell’s the ‘Ironwedges’ introduce resolute physical obstructions. So we see, both men write of a love. There is impossibility, futility and resignation at work in each.‘Tempests’ of tears and ‘magnanimous’ despair emphasise the emotion and portray them as respectively massive and the introductory stanzas concludewith a sense of enormous obstruction. However, as the poems progress, we seethat there are fundamentally different things happening in eachDull sublunary lovers’ love(Whose soul is sense) cannot admitAbsence, because it doth removeThose things which elemented it.But we by a love, so much refined,That ourselves know not what it is,Inter- assured of the mind,Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.Our two souls therefore, which are one,Though I must go, endure not yetA breach, but an expansion,Like gold to airy thinness beat. (Donne)And:For fate with jealous Eye does seeTwo perfect Loves; nor lets them close:Their union would her ruine be,And her Tyrrannick pow’r depose.And therefore her decrees of steelUs as the distant poles have plac’d(Though Loves whole World on us doth wheel)Not by themselves to be embrac’dUnless the giddy Heaven fall,And Earth some new convulsion tear;And, us to joyn, the World should allBe cramp’d into a planisphere. (Marvell)I these stanzas, Donne, as he does in the first excerpt with his imploration ‘letus melt/ and make no noise’ and ‘the breath goes now’, and as he does inmany of the
Songs and Sonnets
analyses the immediate experience of thenarrator’s situation, he does not relate the relationship between the charactersas wholly defined by a particular aspect of their situation, that they areimpeded in their union, but explores this relationship in terms which are muchmore subjective to the particular characters in the situation. With Donne, weare permitted to identify the ‘how’s and the ‘why’s. Not only do we know thatthese lovers cannot be together, but that they cannot accept it because toaccept separation is to deny the circumstances and occurrences which nurtured

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