Comparison of ‘The Flea’ by John Donne and ‘The Altar’ by George Herbert

Compare and contrast theThe Fleaby John Donne andThe Altarby George Herbert.

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The Fleaby John Donne, published in 1633, is an titillating metaphysical verse form in which the construct of a flea serves as an drawn-out metaphor for the relationship between the talker and his beloved. In comparing George Herbert’sThe Altar,besides published in 1633, demonstrates through the amour propre of an communion table how one should offer himself as a forfeit to the Lord. This essay will compare and contrast ; the poetic techniques, the form of the verse forms and the usage of metre. This essay will besides foreground how these characteristics link in with the chief subjects of sexual desires, faith and repeat to arouse the significance of each verse form.

Both poets present the talker otherwise through the usage of poetic devices. For illustration, the metaphysical amour propre inThe FleaBegins when the talker provinces ‘And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be’ . ( 4 ) This metaphor suggests that the talker believes the commixture of two bloods is similar to the consecration of matrimony and this is the statement the talker sets up to court his lover. The talker uses direct reference when he says ‘how small that which thou deniest me’ . ( 2 ) By utilizing the clincher ‘little’ it shows how he is seeking to convert his lover of the humbleness of sexual intercourse. In add-on, the genitive pronoun ‘me’ suggests he is seeking to asseverate his authorization, therefore foregrounding his sexual desire even more.

In complete contrast, the talker inThe Altaris equivocal as Herbert refers to a ‘servant’ , ( 1 ) which implies anybody could be talking it ; whether it is the poet, the reader or even a priest, as it seems to be in the signifier of a supplication. Furthermore, the talker illuminates they are turn toing person of higher importance as he refers to the ‘Lord’ ( 1 ) . In add-on, the adjectival ‘broken’ ( 1 ) is an look of a dear sense of insufficiency and so this farther gaining controls Herbert’s significance to specify man’s topographic point before God. It is of import to take in to account how Donne and Herbert have a distinguishable contrast in how they use faith as a subject to arouse the significance of their verse forms.

Following on from this, Donne uses the general insignificance of a flea to be the primary image of the verse form therefore uncovering his humourous and witty tone ; as it contrasts with the act of intercourse, which is of monumental importance to many spiritual people back in the 17th century. Unlike Donne, Herbert uses the amour propre of an communion table to demo how one should offer himself to God. Through his amour propre, Herbert highlights the importance of giving oneself to God, whereas Donne merely uses spiritual imagination in order to win over his lover. InThe Flea, the metaphor ‘three lives in one flea spare’ ( 10 ) contradicts what the talker believes to be of humbleness. The talker tries to pull strings his lover by proposing she is traveling against the holiness of matrimony if she kills the flea. The image of ‘three lives’ equates to the three individuals of the Holy Trinity ; the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By integrating this imagination, Donne efficaciously uses Biblical mentions to determine his statement and attempts to score his lover in a cunning mode.

However inThe Altar,the metaphor ‘A HEART entirely / Is such a stone’ ( 5/6 ) demonstrates how devout the talker believes he is without offering himself to the full to God. The noun ‘HEART’ is in bold and is placed near the Centre of the verse form, which illuminates that the bosom should be cardinal to what is being done. In add-on, this suggests if the bosom was to be taken out, the communion table would lose its significance. This metaphor besides symbolises the autumn of Adam in the Garden of Eden ; the wickedness that he committed represents the bosom that has died. This once more links in with the thought that one should offer himself as a forfeit to God.

Both Donne and Herbert’s poems create an effectual ocular image with the intent of associating back to the significance. The repeat of the form inThe Fleaand the indenture of the last three lines of each stanza refer back to this three in one imagination. This repeat suggests a accustomed modus operandi that the talker is a merchandise of as he is determined to carry his lover to hold in sexual intercourse. Furthermore, the talker says ‘three lives’ ( 10 ) and ‘three wickednesss in killing three’ ( 18 ) which are of high importance. This repeat of the three in one imagination suggests each stanza mirrors the construct of the flea, the lover and the talker or even more significantly the Holy Trinity.

In the same manner the subject of repeat and faith has come across inThe Flea,The Altarbesides creates a ocular impact. Like Donne’s repeat of the form of the stanzas, Hebert’s verse form besides repeats the form of the first four lines with the last four lines. This creates a sense of how the religious universe will ever overturn the material universe. The talker inThe Fleagives mention to material things such as sexual intercourse in order to win over his lover. However in the first four lines ofThe Altar, the talker gives mention ‘workmans tools’ ( 4 ) to propose that material goods will ne’er be on same degree as the religious universe.

Micah Krabill states Herbert has ‘made an external communion table for the reader ; by nearing the verse form, the reader approaches the altar.’ ( Krabill, 1998 ) Following on from this, Herbert purposefully sets the form of this verse form like an communion table so that the reader places themselves before God, which links back to Krabill’s statement of how the reader approaches the communion table. Herbert gives mention to a ‘broken ALTAR’ ( 1 ) which is cagey as the verse form is in the form of a broken communion table. This evokes the significance of how the tract to God is non ever easy. Herbert farther emphasises the significance of faith when the form moulds to the Centre at ‘A HEART alone’ ( 5 ) , therefore foregrounding how the bosom is at the Centre of the forfeit given to God. The repeat of the form of the last four lines links in with the ocular form inThe Fleaas it suggests the talker is prepared to offer himself to the full at the terminal of the verse form.

The metre of each verse form are similar in that they fall in to the iambic beat, nevertheless they create different impacts.The Fleasurrogates between iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter for illustration ‘Thoughusagedoyouapttoputting to deathme,/ Letnontothat,self-murderadderectile dysfunctionbe’ . ( 16/17 ) However the last three lines in each stanza surrogate between tetrameter for line seven and so pentameter for lines eight and nine. The surrogate metre and holding three pairs and one three in each nine line stanza links back to the thought of the speaker’s manipulative motivation and intriguing behavior in order to prosecute in sexual desires throughout the verse form. In comparing with the complexness of his statement, the rhyme strategy follows anaabbccdddform in which every last word of each line, with the exclusion of ‘maidenhead’ ( 6 ) and ‘innocence’ ( 20 ) , all has one syllable. For illustration, ‘me’ , ‘thee’ and ‘three’ all address the talker, his lover and mention back to the three in one imagination. By holding one syllable for every word, it links back to the simpleness of what the talker wants.

Like Donne’s verse form,The Altarengages in an surrogate iambic pentameter and iambic tetrameter for the first two pairs. The verse form so changes to iambic dimeter for four pairs and so the last two pairs mirror the surrogate metres in the first two pairs. Similarly toThe Flea,the surrogate meter’s highlight the speaker’s character. The immediate switch from iambic tetrameter to iambic dimeter speeds the gait of the verse form up ; the in-between subdivision illuminates the speaker’s message in how he believes one should offer himself to God. The last twosome of iambic dimeter is, ‘Meets in this frame / To praise thy name’ ( 11/12 ) which is of high significance. Herbert cleverly uses a punning mention to the ‘frame’ of the verse form and besides a person’s province of head. Following on from this, the surrogate meter’s besides fit in with the ocular form of the verse form which is effectual as it links in with the metaphysical amour propre of an communion table that Herbert uses throughout. Both poets use assorted meter’s to show either the ambidextrous motivation of the talker inThe Fleaor to beef up importance of the message inThe Altar.

Both Donne and Herbert construction their verse forms efficaciously utilizing the metaphysical amour propres of a flea and an communion table to foreground the message that is intended. Without fail, both poets are able to utilize the form of their verse forms and besides assorted meters’ in order to make different impacts upon the reader.The FleaandThe Altarare seen as wholly different verse forms due to the titillating and seductive behavior of the talker in the first verse form, yet the latter is in complete contrast as the talker addresses God in a respectful and duteous mode. Nevertheless, both Donne and Herbert highlight similar subjects such as sexual desires, faith and repeat in order to convey to illume the significance of both verse forms efficaciously.


Krabill, M. ( 1998 ) . Ocular Metaphor.Interpreting English Literature: Milton, Herbert & A ; Donne.Retrieved from hypertext transfer protocol: // ( Accessed 10ThursdayMarch, 2014 )


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