Who is Donne referring to in his poem, "To His Mistress Going to Bed"?There are several pages on the internet that suggest that he is referring to a victim or to some prostitute and not his wife....

Who is Donne referring to in his poem, "To His Mistress Going to Bed"?

There are several pages on the internet that suggest that he is referring to a victim or to some prostitute and not his wife. What I have learned is that Donne wrote most of the poems for his wife. Also, most of the poems are about Platonic love, how is it that Donne is talking about a victim or a prostitute in the poem?

Asked on by zahrabarlas

1 Answer | Add Yours

accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

This is a very interesting question. The truth of the matter is there is nothing in the poem to indicate the identity of the person that the speaker is addressing. You are right in your thoughts that Donne wrote most of his poetry for his wife, and so this would indicate that the speaker is unlikely to be addressing a prostitute. However, we cannot be sure either way, and so perhaps it is best to consider Donne's work as a whole. If the majority of his poems were written for his wife, what proof have we to suggest that this poem concerns a different woman?

Far more important to focus on is the way that Donne uses conceits to describe the woman's nakedness. Note how the central conceit describes her as territory and the man plays the role of the imperial invading force:

O, my America, my Newfoundland, 
My kingdom, safest when with one man mann'd, 
My mine of precious stones, my empery ; 
How am I blest in thus discovering thee!

The repetition of "my" makes the question of ownership clear. To the speaker's mind, the woman's body is a territory waiting to be symbolically dominated, filled and controlled. It is typical of Donne and his poetry that he is able to evoke an intimate dramatic moment, whilst at the same time through his choice of imagery proposing that these events have vast eternal significance.

We’ve answered 318,929 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question