Aphra Behn

A Thousand Martyrs by Aphra Behn

‘A Thousand Martyrs’ by Aphra Behn is a powerful exploration of faith, persecution, and the enduring strength of the human spirit.

‘A Thousand Martyrs’ by Aphra Behn is a three-stanza poem that is made up of sets of six lines or sestets. The stanzas conform to a structured and consistent rhyme scheme of ababcc, alternating as the lines progress from beginning to end. 

Additionally, each stanza ends with a set of rhyming lines, known as a couplet. In this piece, each couplet contributes an entirely new thought to the poem and could be read separately from the rest of the text. 

A Thousand Martyrs I Have Made by Aphra Behn


A Thousand Martyrs’ by Aphra Behn scorns those who “whine” for love and describes a speaker’s enjoyment of their own philandering.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that they have made “A thousand martyrs” for the cause of their own pleasure. They come to them willingly, and they burn them up until they are tired. The speaker has a skillful control over their own emotions. They are able to keep themselves from feeling any true emotion for someone they sleep with but also appear like they do feel something.

This fact allows them to move easily from lover to lover, taking as they please and discarding those they grow bored with. The speaker feels superior to those around them, stating that no one else is of the same mind as they are and no one else escapes from relationships unscathed. They disdain those who spend their lives whining about love and losing love and feel it is far better to “rove” or move from person to person and from place to place without allowing love to truly influence them.

Analysis of A Thousand Martyrs

Stanza One 

A thousand martyrs I have made,

All sacrific’d to my desire;

A thousand beauties have betray’d,

That languish in resistless fire.

The untam’d heart to hand I brought,

And fixed the wild and wandering thought.

In the first stanza, the speaker begins by utilizing the line which became the title of the poem. This line is one to which a reader should refer throughout the poem. It works as a summary of the general wrongs done by the speaker and their obsession with self-aggrandizing. They have achieved something that others have not, the poem suggests. This phrase refers to their ability to create martyrs or people willing to sacrifice themselves for the speaker. These are people who love the speaker and who, in the end, are disappointed by this person’s disdain for true devotion. These people are numerous, reaching into the thousands.

In the second line, the speaker reveals how and why the martyrs are created. They were not sacrificed for any great purpose but instead for the speaker’s own “desire.” These people to whom the speaker refers were used as they wanted and then sent to the “resistless fire.” They happily present themselves to the speaker and willingly go to the “fire” of which they speak. The women destroy themselves for the speaker and “languish” in their own deaths. 

In the next lines, the speaker adds that they have a control over themselves that others lack. They tamed their thoughts and actions. They know that they’ll get far more pleasure from moving from lover to lover than they will be devoting themselves to one person or even the idea of love.

Stanza Two

I never vow’d nor sigh’d in vain

But both, tho’ false, were well receiv’d.

The fair are pleas’d to give us pain,

And what they wish is soon believ’d.

And tho’ I talk’d of wounds and smart,

Love’s pleasures only touched my heart.

The ideas that make up the speaker’s opinion of themselves and approach to love and sex are continued in the second stanza. The speaker declares that they never made a real effort in a relationship or committed themselves with a vow. They also never let out a “sigh” (as a symbol for emotional expressions related to love). But they were still able to seem like they were really in love and devoted to love.

They were able to “talk” of love and relationships or say all the right things, but in their heart, they were never truly touched. They only took physical pleasures from love rather than anything truly emotional. This fact makes the speaker feel emotionally and intellectually superior. They are very good at playing the game of love.

Stanza Three 

Alone the glory and the spoil

I always laughing bore away;

The triumphs, without pain or toil,

Without the hell, the heav’n of joy.

And while I thus at random rove

Despis’d the fools that whine for love.

In the final sestet of the poem, the speaker describes how they have been utterly triumphant in the game of love. Those who came to the speaker were used up and discarded. They took what they wanted and easily carried off all the “glory and spoil[s].” They were “alone” in this fact, seemingly the only person who truly knew how to handle love and relationships (at least in their mind). They achieved all the pleasures of love, or triumphed, without “pain or toil” or the emotonal distress that’s usually associated with love.

The poem ends with the speaker expressing their disdain for those who spend their lives seeking out and whining about love. That is no way to live, the speaker suggests. It is far smarter to “rove,” or move, from person to person than it is to commit oneself to making another fall in love with them.

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Emma Baldwin Poetry Expert
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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