First Love (1793 – 1864)
The impact of John Clare’s ‘First Love’ is both physical & dramatic. He uses several words and phrases in verse 1 to convey the virtual state of shock that he is in. Some of these are: ‘I ne’er was struck… with love so sudden’. This quote directly relates to the title of the poem. It denotes that he had never been in love before and was caught off-guard. Another is, ‘Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower’. Clare mentions flowers in the first and third verse. His use of flowers is a simile perhaps for the blossoming of his love and also for the beauty of the woman that he loves. My final quote for this verse is ‘My life and all seemed to turn to clay’. This is a very important sentence to the poem as it portrays Clare’s view of love as life, mind & soul altering.
In verse 2, Clare’s emotions are in turmoil. He tries to describe this by using words & phrases such as, ‘Blood rushed to my face and took my sight’, ‘I could not see a single thing’, ‘Words from my heart… spoke as chords do from the string’ and ‘Blood burnt around my heart’. Clare mentions the loss of sight several times in this verse. In my opinion, Clare is using this as a metaphor to describe how his perception of everything has been altered.
Clare ends the poem with the simple image of snow in winter. Seasons are commonly used in poems as metaphors for the cycle of all things. In this poem winter is used to symbolise the coming of an end and to show that things can never be the same.
The Flea (1572 – 1631)
In John Donne’s ‘The Flea’, the poet attempts to seduce his mistress by overcoming her coyness through argument. Together his intelligence & natural wit are employed in persuading the lady to succumb to his passion. This poem has a very different portrayal of love in comparison to John Clare’s ‘The Flea’.
Personally, I would say a flea is an unsuitable participant in a love poem because fleas are associated with dirt and infestation, quite the opposite of romantic.
In the first stanza of this poem Donne uses the flea as a metaphor for he & his mistress making love and being as one, ‘Our two bloods mingled be’. He speaks of how their blood is now one and the same in the flea.
In the second stanza, the woman, hearing that Donne is comparing their love to but a flea, attempts to leave but is persuaded to stay by the plea of the poet ‘oh stay’. ‘This flea is you and I’, the flea is a metaphor for the poets love for his mistress and for the fact that they are two halves of a whole.
In a rage the woman squashes the flea at the beginning of the third stanza. ‘Cruel and sudden, hast thou since purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?’ the whole atmosphere of the poem changes at this point. It is no longer a playful argument. Donne seems to be shocked and appalled by the actions of his mistress. ‘Wherein could this flea guilty be, except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?’ Donne looked at the flea as if it were he and his mistress. When she squashes the flea, Donne translates this as her squashing their love.