, Research Paper
How John Donne Showed his Love
John Donne s poetry has been both ridiculed and praised. One reason
for the ridicule is due to the fact that many people believe his work is vulgar,
and his discussion of sex may seem improper to some people. Even in this
modern age some people may find it a bit offensive. You can imagine what
people thought of it in the sixteenth century. His discussion of sex in this
disgusting manner is more obvious and prevalent in his early work, while he
still had many female acquaintances and before he was settled down with his
wife. Donne eloped with his underage lover Anne More which in itself was a
scandalous event. Her father, Sir George More, objected to their marriage.
Her father was so irritated he had John thrown in jail for marrying a minor
without parental consent. Though the couple went through many hardships
they loved each other very deeply (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia). The
words in Donne s poetry after the marriage only proved that fact. After their
marriage the words in his poetry showed a more emotional side of Doone, you
could sense the feeling of true love through the words. The way he spoke
about the love he and his wife shared during this time shows it was much
more then just sexual, and the sex was much more meaningful. After the
death of his wife in 1617, Donne was devastated and although he had already
been involved in the church even becoming an ordained minister for the
Church of England (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia). His relationship with
God became stronger almost as a replacement for his one true love Anne. At
times in his poetry it is even difficult to tell if he is talking about God or his lover.
Whether you think Donne s poetry is perverted or not one can hardly call his
work anything but genius. He is after all considered to be the leader of the
metaphysical school of poets. As Herbert Grierson explains, Metaphysical
Poetry has been inspired by a philosophical conception of the universe and
the r le assigned to the human spirit in a great drama of existence (147-148).
As Theodore Redpath illustrates everywhere in the poems are to be found
instances of rapid and ingenious thinking (223). The wording which he uses
in his poetry can be some what difficult to comprehend at times. Once it is
understood, his emotions and feelings can be felt very strongly throughout the
poetry. One of the most important literary techniques, which can be found
throughout his poetry and he uses quite frequently to inveigh his emotions and
feelings is through the use of metaphors.
One of the most prominent feelings one can find in Donne s poems is
love. Joan Bennett puts it in her article entitled The Poetry of John Donne ,
we can not be certain if it was written for Anne, another women or even God.
(180) Bennett also argues that But the fact remains that such touches of
description are very rare in Donne s poetry. His interests lay elsewhere,
namely in dramatizing, and analyzing, and illustrating by a wealth of analogy
the state, or rather states, of being in love (180) In other words saying that all
of Donne s work may in fact be non-fiction. But to me the poems were
brimming with feeling, feeling which can not be fabricated even by the best of
writers. What John Donne wrote, was for a woman, his love.
In one of his poems entitled The Canonization, it can be thought of as
having a deeper meaning due to the fact that the poem is about two lovers
whose love cannot be understood by anyone else. Nobody believed they
should love each other, and they talk and ridicule them behind their backs.
There love is so great, greater then any other love Donne writes in his poem
all shall approve / Us canonized for love (35-36). In other words he is saying
that everyone will look up to them and long for a love as deep as the love
Donne and his lover share. This is one of the many profound metaphors that
can be found in his poetry. Through his use of these metaphors one can sense
how deeply they love each other, and the words he choose to use in his poetry
only make the poem more effulgent. The metaphors which he uses impact the
reader by allowing him/her to understand strongly where Donne is coming from
and the inner meaning of the poem. In another instance, again in the The
Canonization, Donne does not use just one metaphor for a deeper impression
explaining why others should not object to the love he and his paramour share
and how their love is not affecting anyone in anyway; instead, he uses seven.
Alas, alas, who s injured by my love?
What merchant s ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
When did my colds forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious man, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love. (10-18)
Using so many of these metaphors to prove just one point may seem a bit
severe and overdone but it really gives the poem more feeling and more
meaning. It also shows how strongly Donne felt on that issue. It makes the
reader realize that it really isn t anybody else s business whom you love and it
doesn t affect their lives in any way, so they should just stay out of your
relationships, and you out of theirs. The way he states them is also very
intriguing, he asked them through questions.
At first glance these few stanzas may not have too great of a meaning,
but at second inspection the reader can see the idea Donne is trying to convey
through his lines. What merchant s ships have my sighs drowned? represents
his sighs for his mistress. He sighs for her because he loves her. This line
shows how strong her feels towards her, and she towards him. Over all, it
shows how deep he loves her, but that their love for each other has not caused
harm to others. Their sighs for each other have not sunk ships. Who says my
tears have overflowed his ground? represents the tears he has cried for her.
But the tears he has shed for her have not caused any harm to anyone, they
have not caused floods. In these few lines in which I have quoted Donne is not
only, showing his love for his paramour. How he sheds tears for her, and longs
for her and he has chills for her when he is missing her but he is also trying to
state that everyone should stay out of their love. It is not causing them any
harm, and above all it is none of their business. The lawyers will still find
disputes to settle, soldiers will still find battles to fight and life will continue as it
has for years while all this time he and his mistress will still love each other.
Another poem which shows the love he and this women share is A
Valediction Forbidding Mourning. This poem in fact shows their love quite
exquisitely, possibly even more than in any other poem. In it he uses many
metaphors, in fact that is almost that entire poem, one long metaphor. In this
poem Donne says that he and his lover are not two, but one joined together
forever by love. In the poem Donne is leaving his lover for a while, but he
insists that their love will endure. As he leaves he calls it an expansion and
compares it to gold being beat Like gold to airy thinness beat (24) and
although they will be further apart their love will still be great. As we discussed
in class he was probably also trying to say that their love will become more
precious, like beat gold, but it will also become more fragile, needing more
care. Then he goes on to compare him and his lover to a compass.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff compasses are two:
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do. (25-28)
In these few lines Donne is explaining that when either he or his lover is away
from the other, even if only for a bit, or even not that far away, they lean toward
each other, longing for each other, missing each other. They lean as does a
compass. The word erect in those lines, may have been put there for more
purposes then one. It may in fact have a sexual meaning, since we all know
that Donne was fascinated with sex, and enjoyed it very much. The last few
lines of the poem it read:
Such wilt though be to me, who must,
Like the other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun. (33-36)
Here he discusses, that they, like a compass, move in synchronization; one
holds the other, allowing it to make a perfect circle, the sign of perfection. In other words their love is perfect. It can be best seen where he says ends
where I begun, he means he may come and go but he will always come back
to her, because that is where he truly belongs. Another interesting poem, with a fascinating metaphor is The Flea. The metaphor in this poem is considered to be a conceit. A conceit is a metaphor between two objects which at first glance seem to have nothing in common at all, but they are still compared. In this poem Donne and his lover are lying in bed. A flea is also in the bed with them. He sucks blood from the two. Then as Donne puts it and in this flea are two bloods mingled be (4). Then Donne says This flea is you and I, and this our marriage bed (13).
At first one may not be able to find the distinction between the two, but then it begins to become apparent what Donne is meaning. The flea took fluids
– blood — from the two. During the sexual act which occurs in the marriage
bed fluids are exchanged. That is the meaning of the flea, what at first sight
may have not been apparent now makes perfect sense. Donne is talking about
the sexual act, how two people s fluids are mixed, and how it all occurs in the
John loved Anne very deeply and she loved him. The critics that say
that his poetry wasn t coming from his heart and rather from his brain are
wrong. Likewise for the critics who say that his poetry was not meant for a
specific woman, thinking that instead it was based on nothing but what people
think love should stand for are wrong. Nobody can write poems like these few I
have explained to you without a deep sense of love for someone. If they were
in fact not written for his wife Anne, why did his poetry suddenly change after
her death? When Anne died, Donne was very distraught, his one true love
was dead. He turned to God to help heal his heart, and it seems as though it
may have worked. In later poems Donne shows the same love toward God as
he had in earlier poems written for his lover. Donne was a very passionate
man and his poetry was his way of showing his love towards his lover, Anne.
Donne s poetry is not about the difference between marriage and adultery, but
about the difference between love and lust (Bennett 184). She goes on to
also say that this is not proven in a single particular poem, but throughout them all we can obtain this feeling. In pertaining to his wife, he loved her deeply. I sincerely believe the poems were written for her. It is also possible that he had adulterous relationships, which he most likely did. He loved his wife nobody took her place. If he did have adulterous relationships it was just because they lusted each other and did not love each other. These adulterous relationships were entirely sexual. And that is what Bennett is trying to state. Nevertheless
Donne s poetry is very compelling, full of great metaphors and really gives youa sense what he is feeling. The feeling of love can be felt throughout, true love.
Bennett, Joan. The Love Poetry of John Donne. Donne 178-194.
Donne, John. John Donne s Poetry: Authoritative Texts; criticism. Ed. Arthur L.
Clements. 2nded. New York and London: Norton, 1992.
Grierson, Herbert Sir. Donne and Metaphysical Poetry. Donne 147-157.
Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia, 1996 Grolier Interactive Inc. Microsoft
Encarta 98 Encyclopedia, 1993-1997 Microsoft Company Online.
Internet. 19 March 1999. http://www.ultranet.com/
Redpath, Theodore. The Songs and Sonnets. Donne 217-227.