Donne’s poetic style

Much like in “The Flea”, “Woman’s Constancy” attacks the common view of women as Goddesses and idols and argues against them with witty and casual comments. Once again, Donne writes his poetry from the perspective of a male persona. In this poem, he employs much greater use of sarcasm, satire, and irony, and a much more bitter, angry tone is achieved. The sarcasm in the first line – “Now thou hast lov’d me one whole day” – is comparable to modern humorous sarcasm, and it sets the tone energetically for the rest of the poem.

Unlike “The Flea”, this poem is not structured in a simple, obvious stanza form, but instead takes the shape of several rhetorical questions – each making up a “section” of the poem – in the form of predicted arguments the persona believes his lover will use in the morning. These arguments are suggested and attacked in sections with differing length and rhyming patterns, creating a far more agitated and erratic mood than in “The Flea”.

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A constant evolving use of satire is used throughout the entire poem, creating sarcastic conceits for each of the potential arguments of the woman in question, using phrases such as “We are not just those persons, which we were?” to patronise his target. Donne also creates an over-dramatic, symbolic but casual feel within the phrasing of the persona’s rhetorical questions by using words such as “oathes” and “reverentiall”, as well as phrases like “some new made vow”.

The final two lines of the poem create a climactic ending in which the true intentions of the persona are revealed. The feeling of surprise created at this point is the basis of the “action” of the poem. This is similar to “The Flea”, in which the dramatic, climactic moments take place in the third stanza. Both of these poems end on a sort of revelation – the surprising and triumphant comment in “Womans Constancy” of “For by to morrow, I may thinke so too”, and the argument “‘Tis true, then learne how false, feares bee” in “The Flea” that turns the argument of the persona’s lover against her – which create a feeling of intellectualism and smoothness that rounds off Donne’s poetic style.

Both of these poems would have been considered very controversial during their time, and both represent a great shift in poetic method for Elizabethan society. Most of Donne’s inspiration for these two poems – as well as many of his others – seems to be based around the concept of challenging the already established conventions for poetry. Particularly in “Women’s constancy”, the “roles” of the characters are reversed, a feeling of cynicism and realism is created, and many ideas and opinions of the society Donne lived in are challenged. This way of casually and wittily attacking views and concepts that are common in society may well have been the basis for what is now accepted in the modern world as stand-up comedy.

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