How John Donne Showed His Love Essay


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How John Donne Showed His Love Essay, 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

marriage bed.

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.

Works Cited

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.


Redpath, Theodore. The Songs and Sonnets. Donne 217-227.


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