Synopsis of The Definition of Love

The metaphysics of love

Marvell's The Definition of Love is an excellent example of what constitutes a metaphysical love poem. It is literally ‘metaphysical' in the sense of being philosophical. Like science and mathematics, philosophy often tries to define what a concept is and is not. ‘What is the being of my love?' the poet asks. The study of being in metaphysics is called ‘ontology'. To define something is to find its limits, where it stops being that particular thing, and becomes another. Then to move to its centre: what is its central identity, without which it would not be that thing? This is exactly what Marvell does here.

In metaphysical style

The Definition of Love is also in the poetic style of the Metaphysicals. Like Donne, Marvell is not in the least romantically concerned with his beloved, what she looks like or feels or what she says. It is the love relationship and the state of being in love which matter. And like Donne, Marvell conducts his argument through images, and images so far removed from the conventional imagery associated with the topic that they can be called conceits. Marvell uses the language of mathematics and cosmology here, just as Donne uses that of geography, theology and science.

Investigating The Definition of Love
  • What do you understand by the term metaphysical wit?
    • How is it illustrated by The Definition of Love?
  • What do you understand about some of the mathematical ideas that Marvell uses, such as parallelism?
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