17th Century Seduction Poems
During the 17th century, certain poets wrote poems with the specific purpose of persuading a woman to have sexual intercourse with them. Three of these seduction poems utilize several strategies to do this: Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress," and Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning" and "The Flea." Some of the reasoning used by both poets is similar to the reasoning used today by men to convince women to have sexual intercourse with them. These gimmicks vary from poem to poem but coincide with modern day rationalization. The tactics used in 17th century seduction poems are relevant and similar to the seduction tactics used in the 21st century.
Through his writing, Andrew Marvell uses several strategies to get a woman to sleep with him. In his seduction poem, "To His Coy Mistress," Marvell first presents a problem and then offers his solution to the problem. Marvell sets up a situation in which he and his lover are on opposite sides of the world: "Thou by the Indian Ganges' side/ Shouldst rubies find; I by the tide/ Of Humber would complain…." (5-7). He has set up a circumstance in which his lover is in India and he is in England; however, this situation can be interpreted as a metaphor for sexual distance. Marvell then goes on to profess his love for this woman, telling her that he will always love her, saying "...I would/ Love you ten years before the flood" (7-8) and saying that his "vegetable love should grow/ Vaster than empires and more slow" (11). This suggests that he is promising permanence in their relationship. In doing so, Marvell is also trying to pacify his lady's fears of sexual relations. He wants his lover to feel secure and confident about having intercourse with him.
In the second stanza, Marvell turns his attention to another "problem" that his lover might pose by not sleeping with him. He writes, "But at my back I always hear/ Times winged chariot hurrying near" (21-22). Marvell is concerned about death in this situation. He is now pleading to his woman because he feels threatened by time. He tells her that time is running out and that they had better sleep together before it is too late. Marvell solidifies this argument a few lines later by presenting the idea of death and the fact that they can not have sexual intercourse once they are dead. He writes, "The grave's a fine and private place/ But none, I think, do there embrace" (31-32). This time, Marvell is trying to scare his woman into having intercourse with him. If she truly believes that she might die a virgin, she will be more apt to sleep with him after hearing this well-made point.
In the final stanza of the poem, Marvell presents a solution to all the predicaments he had previously mentioned. "While the youthful hue/ Sits on thy skin like morning dew/ And while thy willing soul transpires…" (33-35), he writes, proposing that while they are both young and willing, they should have sex. He then suggests the type of sexual activity they participate in: "Let us roll all our strength and all/ Our sweetness into one ball" (41-42) suggesting what is known in modern terms as sixty-nine.
Many of the tools Marvell used in his poem "To His Coy Mistress" to seduce women are utilized in this century. First, Marvell's argument that his vegetable love will grow for his woman is comparable to the words that men commonly use today. Men will tell a woman they love her simply to get her in bed. They try to convince their woman that they will always be there to hold and to cherish them, so committing to sex is a profession of that love and will guarantee permanence in the relationship. If a man promises a woman that he will always be around, and shows it, she will trust him. If a woman trusts a man she will be much more likely to sleep with him. Secondly, Marvell brings up the issue of aging, also used today by men to get women in bed. "Life is short" is the modern cliché, and men and women both approach sexual relations with the attitude that you are only young once; why not have sex while it will be wild and carefree? It is a common scenario in modern times. And at the end of the poem, the suggestion of sixty-nine is still common practice today, showing that techniques in lovemaking and seduction have not changed as much as many people think.
poet Donne also employs many tactics to get a woman to sleep with him. In one of his poems, "A Valediction: forbidden Mourning," the early stanzas present a problem, much like in Marvell's work. He suggests death or possibly a separation, but in later stanzas assures his woman that being separated will not destroy their love, but expand and strengthen it. It is written:
Our two souls therefore, which are one, Though I must go, endure not yet A breach, but an expansion, Like gold to airy thinness beat. (21-24)
The major argument in Donne's poem is presented in the final three stanzas. He is trying to convince his woman that God will keep them together, no matter what happens. He compares himself and his lover to "twin compasses," (26) with she being the fixed foot and he being the moveable part. The final two lines read, "Thy firmness makes my circle just/ And it makes me end where I begun" (35-36). The suggestion of a circle represents the circle of life that God made, and ending where he began would be with her. All this in turn is better reason for her to sleep with him - it goes back to the idea that they will always be together.
The ideas presented by Donne in "A Valediction: forbidden Mourning" are relevant in modern relationships. First, his argument that separation will only expand their love is comparable to the modern adage "Absence makes the heart grow fonder," which is one of the most trite expressions used when illustrating love today. Secondly, using God as an excuse is also common practice in current times. Men will use God in many ways, saying that He will keep them together, that He put humans on this earth for reproduction, or that He will take care of them. All of these excuses bring religion into the matter, which could be an effective tool in reasoning with women to consent to sexual intercourse.
Donne's second poem, "The Flea," brings many strategies of seduction to light. The poem begins with the image of a flea that represents sexual. For the remainder of the poem, Donne uses the "flea" as a metaphor implying that intercourse is as small and insignificant as a flea. Donne begins the first stanza, "Mark but this flea, and mark in this/ How little that which thou deny'st me is" (1-2). He is telling his woman that whether or not he sleeps with him is inconsequential, suggesting that sex in general is a trivial matter. He continues the first stanza in the same manner, comparing sex to a flea's bite, or nothing significant at all. He writes to his woman, "Thou know'st that this cannot be said/ A sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead" (5-6). In essence he is saying that sex is not a big deal. In the second stanza, Donne urges the woman not to kill the flea because it will kill both of them as well as their relationship: "Though use make you apt to kill me/ Let not to this, self murder added be/ And sacrilege, three sins in killing three." (16-18) The third stanza opens with Donne asking the woman why she crushed the flea when it did nothing to her: "Cruel and sudden, hast thou since/ Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?" (19-20). However, a few lines later Donne adds that it does not matter that she crushed the flea, trying to make her think that his love for her is true regardless of whether or not they have sex. This could be to convince her that he really is worth sleeping with. He writes, "Yet thou triumph'st, and say'st that thou/ Find'st not thyself, nor me the weaker now" (23-24). This points out that even if she killed the flea, their love would still stand strong. This would allay any fears the woman might have about the effects of sexual intercourse on their relationship. And as his final plea, Donne tells his woman, "Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me/ Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee," (26-27) or that she will not lose any honour by sleeping with him. This also is trying to alleviate any concern the woman might have about losing her virginity and the effects of sex on the relationship.
In the 21st century, men use these and similar ploys to get women to consent to sexual intercourse. The idea that sex is not a big deal is widely used to allay the apprehension of sexual relations. The unfortunate element is that this is becoming so widespread that intercourse is taken lightly these days. But the idea is still commonly heard. The other technique Donne used, in asking his woman why she wouldn't sleep with him but then saying that the answer isn't important, also holds true today. Men will frequently pressure their woman to sleep with them but always reinforce the idea that whether they sleep with them or not is unimportant. The actuality of the situation is that the man is often trying to seem caring and thoughtful so as to sweet-talk the woman into having intercourse. This is not always the case but by acting out of concern and consideration the man is inadvertently saying that he is worth sleeping with, and that will work just as well. Furthermore, Donne's argument that killing the flea will in turn kill the feelings in the relationship is similar to the prevalent notion that by not sleeping with someone it means that you do not love them. Donne explains that refusing intercourse will kill him. Today, it translates into killing the love, or in other words, "it must mean you don't love me." At the present time, the argument "if you loved me then you would sleep with me" prevails. Associating love with doing sexual favors is common practice: the more you love someone, the more willing you should be to perform sexual acts. This is a conventionalized idea in modern relationships and it is seen frequently. Lastly, Donne's arguments that honor will not be lost as a result of intercourse is taken to a higher level today. Sex is becoming more and more of a prize of sorts; the more popular or attractive you are, the more sex you should be getting. In turn, you are more popular and attractive if you have sexual experience. It even goes so far as to define social status for men: the more women they sleep with, the "better" they are.
The themes presented in 17th century seduction poems are relevant today, in the 21st century. Men will still go great distances to get a woman in bed, and in today's society, sometimes the role is reversed. Either way, when sex is desired, the same ploys are used to get it. Going after sweet spots in a woman's heart is common practice. Professing unconditional love, like Marvell in "His Coy Mistress," is still used to get women in bed. It makes them feel secure in a relationship, which in turn makes them more likely to have sex with their partner. Building up the relationship, like Donne in "A Valediction: forbidden Mourning," will also make a woman feel secure in a relationship in modern times by establishing dependability; it also romanticizes the relationship. If a woman feels she is being swept off her feet by Prince Charming, she will be more likely to get in bed. Allaying a woman's fears will also convince her to consent to sex, much like in Donne's first stanza of "The Flea." He reassures his woman that sex is not a big deal. These days sex really has become quite inconsequential and men do not have difficulty pointing that out to a woman they are trying to sleep with. Generally, many of the basic ideas expressed in 17th century poetry are similar to those presented today in relationships. Making excuses, finding arguments, allaying fears, and professing true love are all still utilized to speed along the occurrence of sexual relations.
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