Lady Mary Wortley Montagu: Poems

Lady Montagu's Pursuit of Love

Lady Mary Wortley Montagu wrote “The Lover: A Ballad” in an effort to dismiss the sexist attitudes of several male poets from the period. John Donne (“The Flea”), Andrew Marvell (“To his Coy Mistress”), and Robert Herrick (“To Virgins, Make Much of Time”) attempt, through poetic means, to pressure virgins and youthful women to find mates and lovers before their beauty has deteriorated and the women are rendered useless by their old age. In a calculated response to these men, who wrote these poems around or before the birth of Montagu, she states on behalf of all women her greatest desire: to find the perfect man. Montagu laments the impossibility of this worthy man throughout the poem and addresses the likes of Donne, Marvell, and Herrick in the final stanza by saying “I will never share with the wanton coquette, or be caught by a vain affection of wit.” Montagu’s perspective is this: until the perfect man comes along, a woman should not share her body with every man that approaches her with poems about her beauty. It is not the woman that should be urgent to give up her body, but rather the man who should actively seek it by valuing the woman beyond her physical beauty.

Montagu begins the poem with an acknowledgement of the...

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