Friday, March 26, 2021

Metaphysical analysis nocturnal poets

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Metaphysical poetry is a writing form concerned with things beyond the physical world. Poems of this variety are deep meditations on subjects such as love, spirituality, human experience and emotion. Two metaphysical poems I am comparing and contrasting are John Donne's 'A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day' and Andrew Marvell's 'To his Coy Mistress'. Very typically of this genre both poems are about love although in its different forms. Through analysis of these works in my opinion, 'A nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day' is the better poem. Although initially I found it much more challenging to interpret and understand than the other, its complexity and tragedy made it more appealing and intriguing to me.

The two writers of these poems existed in a similar period of writing. Donne was a successful priest and wrote about spirituality as well as human love. 'A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day' was not in line with the tones and themes of many of his other poems but rather was one of the few of his known works to cover the topic of grieving for a lover and the tragedy of how he finds himself, in sadness yet at a joyous festival, which ironically is celebrating darkness, "…the yeares midnight…" Marvell on the other hand was highly educated but had less of a religious influence in his life than other metaphysical poets and certainly Donne, which shows in his writing. This may be a reason he writes mainly about human love and in this poem about the freedom and love that should be experienced in youth. More religiously orientated poets may be less inclined to do this, especially to encourage the joy of passion.

The structure of Marvell's work is reasonably simply. The rhyming pattern is in couplets and is kept consistent for the length of the poem. There are four obvious feet per line and it also stays very constant in rhythm making it easier to read. There are three unseparated stanzas with a different number of lines in each. Each stanza has a certain tone and theme in what is essentially an argument in the form of poetry. In the first the man states, using lush and impressive language, the grandeur of the potential love he could have with his mistress and how his feelings for her will simply grow if he is rejected. The second expresses how they cannot experience this when they are old or dead and it talks much of mortality while the third rolls up the spirit of the entire poem which is 'Carpe Diem', seize the day. It uses many phrases beginning with 'Let us…", as the man is especially trying to encourage the woman to engage in sex with him as well as passion and love saying

"Let us roll in all our strength, and all

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Our sweetness, up into one Ball"

In contrast to this, Donne's poem has a more complex structure with five stanzas. There are nine lines in each, the first, second and final four being iambic pentameters while the third and fourth have four feet and the fifth has only three. The rhyming pattern is in couplets with the exception of the fifth line which rhymes with the sixth and seventh. Again each stanza is generally focussed on something a little different but importantly the first and last images are similar, talking of the festival, the happiness of others who can enjoy their love and his misery.

One of the many clever conceits in Marvell's 'To his Coy Mistress' is a flattering compliment comparing the mistress to himself, the narrative voice. He says of her

"Thou by the Indian Ganges side

Should'st Rubies find…"

using the reference to an exotic river and rich jewels. While he comments that

"…I by the Tide

Of Humber would complain…" ,

the Humber being a commercial waterway on the east coast of Britain which is farmore dull and ordinary than the Ganges. Many other amusing conceits follow including the man's feelings described as his "…vegetable Love…" relating to its growth and him remarking that

"The Grave's a fine and private place,

But none I think do there embrace."

Along with many other serious images 'A nocturnall…' presents it repeated mentions of the dead lover being a sun, and one that is greater than the one we know. The man speaks of his sun

"…nor will my Sunne renew.

You lovers, for whose sake, the lesser Sunne…"

The tone of Donne's poem is sombre and tragic from the beginning. Although he begins commenting on the St Lucy's festival of light, it is also the longest period of darkness of the year, "Tis the yeares midnight…" In the opening stanza he describes the crowd at the festival

"…yet all these seem to laugh,

Compar'd with me, who am their Epitaph."

This reference to a message on a tombstone is unquestionably differing to the mood of Marvell's work which has references to lush, exotic and refined things of the world. Throughout the entire poem we hear of the unresolvable despair and grief that the man is experiencing. 'To his Coy Mistress' is simply an argument both serious and light. The way the writer is talking to his mistress is encouraging passion from her, her coyness and perhaps even frigidity is certainly apparent. The tone changes throughout but overall it is encouraging and persuasive.

Through analysing the two poems which had many contrasts despite being on the same very general subject of love I decided that I preferred 'A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day' by John Donne for varied reasons. It was less 'obvious' to me than the other as a reader and that made it more intriguing. It was interesting and more difficult to interpret and to find meaning in as well as including a more complex structure. The short and witty conceits in 'To his Coy Mistress' and charming attitude of the narrative voice gave it appeal as well as its lightness compared to the other but I found a liking in the more serious, complex poem of the two.

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