The Flea and Shall I Compare Thee… are very similar but very different poems. They are both about love and seduction but the approach to the common theme is different in both poems. Love and Seduction is the core theme in The Flea, the author Donne is trying to copulate with his mistress and is having his advances rejected, so he writes her a poem in order to better his chances. The poem is darkly seductive, it anthropomorphically compares the current and past relationship between Donne and his mistress to a flea; “In this Flea are two bloods mingled be.”
Donne attempts to seduce his mistress in a curious manner. He tells of her and him being linked in the blood of a flea, comparable and stronger than the tie of marriage, so sex is of little moral issue. To him they are linked forever, stronger than the vow of marriage in front of a man of God, without “loss of shame or manhood” is how Donne reviews the situation, as coupling before marriage 500 years ago was taboo, if a female was to maintain a proper reputation.
Love and Seduction in Shakespeare’s poem is of a different nature to the flea. Shakespeare reflects his passion in the poem, it is about what he feels not what he wants. Shakespeare personifies his relationship to an “eternal sommer”, he compares it to heaven, “but thy eternal sommer shall not fade” and by doing so he declares his eternal love. Furthermore Shakespeare inscribes how beauty declines and how he and his lover should love while there beauty is still in continuance. He says “every faire from faire sometimes declines”, in this respect both poems are both after the same overall objective, love from their mistress.
The language and style of The Flea and Shall I Compare Thee… are very different. The Flea uses dark imagery of “living walls of Jet” and “purpled thy nail” to create a visually dark poem. Donne also speaks of “marriage temple” and “cloistered in these living walls” to create a funeral theme to the poem, which in turn induces a dark, depressive atmosphere. I think the purpose of Donne’s imagery is to persuade his mistress that her life at that time was gloomy, and perhaps he could make it better for her, by inducing love into her life.
In comparison Shakespeare uses vivid, positive imagery, to induce a joyous atmosphere. He personifies there love to spring after winter, and speaks of their love as “a summer day”, he speaks of how no evil, no force of “Death brag thou wander’st in his shade”, and this creates uplifiting emotions in the reader. Shakespeare also uses words such as “tempearate,” “golden,” “hot,” and “shines” to link the readers imagination with the sun, and in doing so gives the poem a warm, positive ambience so different from the oppressive, shadowy feeling of The Flea.
The rhyming pattern in both poems is quite different. Shall I Compare Thee… has a distinctive rhyming pattern, as it is a sonnet. As a result it is gives the poem a traditional approach and adds familiarity the main theme of the poem as most sonnets are romance poems. It puts emphasison every second syllable, as in: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”, so warmth is added to the poem as Shakespeare deliberately exaggerates key words. The Flea however does not use a traditional structure like the Shakespearean sonnet. It has rhyming couplets followed by a rhyming triplet at the end of each verse. As a result, when the poem is read out comparisons can be made between it and a funeral hymn. This of course, to most of us likens the poem to distressing emotions and strengthens Donne’s visual imagery of a cold, dark church.
The Flea differs from the Shall I Compare Thee… in that there is interaction between author and mistress. In verse 3, Donne’s mistress rejects his advances, and Donne personifies this in “purpling thy nail in the blood of innocence”, as she has killed the flea. As a result the relationship we see between Donne and his mistress changes, along with Donne’s emotions, which go from lust to sorrow. In verse 3 he bemoans their relationship and reproaches her for the action which she had taken. “Just so much honor which thou yield’s to me, will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee”. So he regards her rejection as a greater loss for her than him, however, as he wrote the poem after their relationship had ended, for the amusement of his peers, I think he is merely trying to look nonchalant, even though her rejection hurt him deeply.
Love and seduction and their intermediate forms are both expressed in the two poems. Shakespeare’s is more accessible, and it is easier to understand, from afar and under analysis. It is beautifully written and conveys the emotions to the reader, of that Shakespeare had wanted his lover to understand. Donne’s poem however, is layered and deep. It conveys much information in a short space, show interaction within it, and time passing as the text continues. It requires more effort to understand but really opens up under examination.
Both Poems are powered by the human drive to find a partner and are expressive of the poet’s inner emotions around the mysterious forces of love and that of its subsidiary emotions. They are both at odds yet strangely similar, and that’s what makes them so good to compare; they are linked to a core theme but are coming to a conclusion from two different perspectives and that’s what makes them so useful when put together.