Imagery and symbolism in The Definition of Love


In addition to the parallel lines conceit, we need to look at the conceits in stanzas five and six. They are both images of separation, picking up from stanza three's ‘But Fate does iron wedges drive ... '. Iron now becomes ‘Steel', both reminiscent of his ‘the Iron gates of Life' of To his Coy Mistress. The Astrolabe, photo by Pom, available through Creative Commonsmacrocosm/microcosm image is again employed: ‘Loves whole World on us doth wheel'. But this time it is geographical or cosmological: the separateness is necessary to maintain the dimensionality of love. Physical union would merely flatten it out, or at least ‘cramp' it ‘into a Planisphere', a term taken from an astronomical measuring instrument called an Astrolabe.

Fate is personified as female, using Greek mythology to do this, though in that, the Fates are plural, three blindfolded spinners and weavers. But for Marvell, fate is certainly not some impersonal force – she is very much alive and hostile, a jealous lover herself.

Investigating The Definition of Love
  • Explore the force of stanza six of The Definition of Love
    • Why do you think the image is so violent?
  • What other images in the poem stand out for you?
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