Written by John Donne in the sixteen hundreds, ‘The Flea’ is a poem in which Donne uses a flea as an extended metaphor to try to persuade a woman to sleep with him. In comparison to this, ‘Valentine’, by Carol Ann Duffy, was written in the late twentieth century. In this, Duffy uses am onion as an extended metaphor as a comparison to relationships and how she feels towards the aspects of love. These poems, though about love, have very different attitudes to both love and their partners.
Already by studying the central purpose and idea of both poems, a clear difference is arising between the two; whereas Carol Ann Duffy is honest about her thoughts and feelings, John Donne manipulates the truth. For examples, Duffy states she is, ‘just trying to be truthful. ‘ However, Donne says to his partner although they are not married, but may as well be, ‘where we almost, yea, are,’ – essentially, this is not true. Another difference between the poems is the mood and tone of each poem. Donne’s mood and tone is very persuasive.
He is very blatant in what he wants, this is shown by him being sordid – he doesn’t directly explain his purpose for the poem nor his desired intentions. In addition, the fact he uses a flea suggests he may not consider this issue a relatively important one. For instance, a flea or the image of it is not considered particularly grave or serious, but rather humorous and small. In addition, he is even playful at the end of his poem: ‘Just so much honour, when thou yeld’st to me, Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee. ‘ This quote is an example of Donne being playful at the end of his poem.
Donne admits that killing the flea has made no difference to her life, but at the same time, sleeping with him will make no difference to her honour. However, his language and style of writing does suggest he has taken a lot of time to write the poem. For instance, he uses rhyme, as we see in his first stanza: ‘this’/’is’, ‘thee’/’be’, ‘said’/’maidenhead’, ‘woo’/’two’. He includes many rhyming couplets. Also, his sentences are carefully put together for repetition, such as ‘mark this flea, and mark in this’. Duffy’s mood and tone of ‘Valentine’, however, is very much more realistic and more matter of fact.
She has no hidden agenda and appears to be speaking very honestly. She says, ‘I am trying to be truthful. ‘ ‘Valentine’ has very different sentences to ‘The Flea’. For example, Duffy writes, ‘I give you an onion,’ and her sentence structure is very simple and has no pattern. Furthermore, in not one of her stanzas is there rhyme. As a reader, I feel this makes the poem more serious and powerful, and gives the impression she is almost directly talking to the person she has written the poem for, as the structure flows more freely. Her direct speech such as, ‘Here.
It will blind you with tears like a lover,’ in effect, makes the reader feel she is talking with complete honesty. In addition, her use of blunt, direct language is effective. Her use of full stops at brief, abrupt lines, for example, ‘here. ‘ causes more bluntness that in turn also set the honest tone. The effect of this is it appears as if she is talking very realistically and straight forwardly. This is simple but powerful language and throughout the poem, Duffy uses progressively more powerful words linked to the feelings of love. This suggests that this is what she feels the various aspects and stages of love are.
In the first stanza, she describes an onion similar to the ‘careful undressing of love’. This makes love appear very vulnerable but also sensual. This has three meaning – the literal sense of an actual onion, a physical undressing of clothes leading to intimacy, and she could mean the undressing as in getting to know each other. In her next stanza, she then relates the onion to blinding someone with tears, ‘like a lover. ‘ Perhaps this is from personal experience. We see she has used, ‘fierce’ to describe another emotion later on in the poem. This is an even stronger word than examples before.
Ultimately, she then describes love as, ‘lethal. ‘ This implies that love is not only as powerful as she has mentioned before, but actually could cause someone harm. Yet again, this could be from personal experience. To back this up, there is then mention of a ‘knife,’ which is an effective ending to show that this relationship could really do her harm. The use of poetic and linguistic devices is also an obvious difference between the two poems. Donne uses many poetic and linguistic devices. The repetition of words such as, ‘blood’ and, ‘marriage’ are clear throughout all stanzas.
Donne uses this device as a persuasive technique, as he is suggesting that because their blood is already in the flea, they’re practically already married, in hope of overcoming the fact that she won’t sleep with him unless they are married. Also, as mentioned before, Donne continually uses a fixed rhyme pattern through his stanzas. He has a very fixed structure in that the poem fits together smoothly, with its rhyme in that the poem fits together smoothly, with its rhyme and flow of words. In each stanza, he uses couplets until the final three lines, which is a triplet (a group of three is an effective rhetorical technique).
In each couplet, Donne uses eight beats then ten beats, and in his triplets he uses two eight beats and then a ten beat. These devices bring together an argument effectively. In Donne’s day, this was how poems needed to be – poetry needed to have regular form and patterns, otherwise it would not have been seen as an artistic achievement. Duffy, however, has less poetic devices. This reflects the time that the poem was written. Poems today often have a much more flexible structure and more casual laid back style of writing. This may reflect Duffy’s casual views on relationships and so may be connected to this.
Also, poetic and linguistic devices are a persuasive technique – and Duffy is not trying to persuade anyone, rather tell it as she feels. She sometimes uses just one or very few words per line. Examples of this are, ‘lethal,’ and, ‘take it. ‘ Often these words are used to effectively make the thought linger in the reader’s mind. The main fact that these two poems have in common is that they both use metaphors and similes to show their attitudes to relationships and love. Obviously, Duffy uses an onion in comparison to love and Donne uses a flea in persuasion to try to get a woman to sleep with him.
There are also many other examples of this. For example, Duffy describes the onion as a ‘moon wrapped in brown paper’ and relates this to ‘the careful undressing of love,’ and she says that with both love and an onion, ‘its fierce kiss will stay on your lips. ‘ Donne also does this – for example, ‘this flea is you and I’. He means this by the flea is the two of them as it has their blood in it. The flea also represents their relationship. Also, both poems are also very obviously connected to the time and culture that they were written.
The Flea’, is an example of very traditional poetry in that with its poetic and linguistic devices, and has a very fixed structure, as explained before. In comparison, ‘Valentine’ illustrates an example of poetry today – with a much more casual structure and impression that the words have flowed. ‘The Flea’, however, uses an untraditional subject matter – as in the time this period was written, it was not very likely for sex before marriage to be written about like this. So, in this way, Donne had quite a modern poem that fits with today’s view on sex before marriage.