Analysis Of John Donne 's ' The Bait ' Essay

Analysis Of John Donne 's ' The Bait ' Essay

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John Donne’s ‘The Bait’ is essentially, in terms of content, an erotic invitatory masked in a metaphysical, typically abstract - in terms of Donne 's poetic oeuvre - piscatorial conceit, in which the speaking persona analogises men and women with fish and bait, respectively. In this essay, I will be exploring how Donne constructs a multiplicity of meaning throughout the text, with particular focus on the bubbling undercurrents of libido and misogyny, the use of hyperbole, paradox and overtly sexual imagery, and the self-contained, almost oppressively rigid form. Consisting of seven quatrains, a series of rhyming couplets and written in iambic tetrameter (initially eliciting the metronomic aural quality of a heartbeat before evolving into something resembling agitated bitterness), the form clearly juxtaposes the seemingly pastoral serenity that pervades the first four stanzas and helps eventually reveal a somewhat unflattering, negative authorial voice musing on the pursuit of love (or perhaps, more appropriately, lust), the nature of Renaissance relationships, and potentially the persona’s addressee, the presumedly female - but literally genderless without the use of gender-defining pronouns - object of desire: the eponymous bait.

Firstly, it would be pertinent to note my subscription to Lynn Hamilton’s view that ‘The Bait’, despite being ‘usually [and unfairly] dismissed with the comment that it is [only] Donne’s response to [Christopher] Marlowe’s ‘Passionate Shepherd to his Love’’, remains a poem rich in Donne’s distinctive rhetoric, his characteristically complex, provocative subtleties, gross paradoxes and his ironic, playfully seedy humour. For example, the primary thematic concern of the text is the parabolic parado...


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...ersona, for all his rejection of Petrarchan ideals, is nonetheless attempting to seduce a seemingly unrequited lover. To interpret the text through a religious lens, as is apt with Donne’s converted Protestant background, this bitterness and confusion could be considered reflective of a tenuous relationship with faith, religion and a higher, celestial entity: the addressee is described almost ethereally, transcending simile and metaphor, as ‘more than the Sun […] I need not their light, having thee’ (l.6, l.16) and is tellingly referred to solely in genderless pronouns. Fusing the spiritual and corporeal in an underwater, purgatorial realm, the persona surrenders solely to this light source, and consequently battles a sense of entrapment in religious instability and blind faith but remains somewhat comforted by the alluring magnetism and naked truth of the addressee.

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