Metaphysical poets, selected poems Contents
- Donne, John
- John Donne's early life
- John Donne - from Catholic to Protestant
- John Donne's marriage and its aftermath
- John Donne - The Reverend Dean
- Herbert, George
- Crashaw, Richard
- Vaughan, Henry
- Marvell, Andrew
- King, Henry
- Lovelace, Richard
- Cowley, Abraham
- Philips, Katherine
- Cleveland, John
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context: ideas and innovations
- Aire and Angels
- A Hymn to God the Father
- A Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse
- A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day
- At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Synopsis of Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Commentary on Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Structure and versification in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Imagery and symbolism in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Themes in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- A Valediction: of Weeping
- Batter my heart
- Death be not Proud
- Elegie XIX: Going to Bed
- Elegie XVI: On his Mistris
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
- Lovers' Infiniteness
- Oh my blacke Soule!
- Satyre III: 'On Religion'
- Show me Deare Christ
- Since She Whom I Lov'd
- Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre
- The Anniversarie
- The Dreame
- The Extasie
- The Flea
- The Good-morrow
- The Sunne Rising
- This is my playes last scene
- Twicknam Garden
- What if this present
- Affliction I
- Easter Wings
- Jordan I
- Jordan II
- Love II
- Prayer I
- The Church-floore
- The Collar
- Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Hymn to St Teresa
- St Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper
- To the Countesse of Denbigh
- Ascension - Hymn
- The Night
- The Retreate
- The Water-fall
- A Dialogue between Soul and Body
- On a Drop of Dew
- The Coronet
- The Definition of Love
- The Garden
- The Mower Against Gardens
- The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- The Mower's Song
- The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
- The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
- To his Coy Mistress
- Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
Themes in The Definition of Love
In real life
As we consider themes in Marvell's The Definition of Love, Donne's theme of The agony and ecstasy of love may come to mind but perhaps there is not quite enough felt experience to take that very far. It is more The completeness of the lovers' world that is being explored. Marvell is clearly a lot more pessimistic about this: it might be theoretically possible, but actually, in real life (‘Fate') it proves impossible. Marvell leaves what makes it impossible purposely vague, but suggests in other poems that we live in a fallen world. Fate thus becomes God's punishment, the refusal to allow the perfection of Eden for the lovers, and the fact that nature is now structured for imperfection.
This is born out by the pun in the title. ‘Definition' means what we understand by it, the placing of exact meaning on something. But the Latin word, which Marvell would have been totally aware of, also means ‘limitation'. The Latin word ‘definio' means ‘I limit'. So the poem is really about the limits of love, not its extraordinary possibilities, as it is with Donne.
This is the force of the conceits. Perfect parallels, by their very nature, cannot join. It is not some arbitrary force, like some jealous parent or accident of birth. That is why we don't have to imagine a specific scenario, or, if we do, it merely illustrates a basic law of the universe, as basic as the laws of mathematics.
We could actually take this a little further, if we take on board Marvell's Platonism, seen in other poems. In Platonism, body and soul are very separate entities, almost enemies of one another. So a perfect love, Platonically, would be that of the minds – which is where the poem finishes. But that would necessarily mean that sexual passion, even sexual contact would work against such union of the souls. So here again, the parallel lines can never touch physically so that the love remains perfect. This is again ‘Fate', but Platonic, rather than Christian. Critics have argued which Marvell means, so feel free to join the argument!
More on Platonism: see The Garden, also by Marvell
- Look again at the themes of The Definition of Love
- Why do you think Love cannot manage to get both lines to touch?
- In terms of communicating the actual experience of being in love, how much does Marvell achieve?
- Compare this poem to Donne's The Extasie.
- What seems to you to be the major differences in what the poets are saying?
- What are the big differences in what they experience?
- Can you see any other important themes?
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