John Donnes Use Of Wit, Language And Metaphor In Poetry Essay, Research Paper
As discussed on a previous short essay question, John Donne is considered to be one of the greatest metaphysical poets of our time, even though he published only a small number of poems in his lifetime. The poems he did write were metaphorical and often humorus poems telling the tale of religious love and sex. Being a metaphysical poet he exhibited many characteristics of the metaphysical poets. He wrote with metaphysical wit, metaphysical conceit, metaphors, symbols and paradoxes. If these were some of the things that defined a metaphysical poet, then John Donne is a good example of one. I will use three of his poems, “Holy Sonnet 14″, “The Flea”, and “Song” to show how Donne uses these aspects in his writing.
Metaphysical conceit is a comparison between two things that is so far out in left field and so abstract that no one would ever think of using it. But John Donne isn’t no one, and he used metaphysical conceit in many of his poems. In “Holy Sonnet 14″ Donne is talking to god and asking for forgiveness for all his sins. He wants God to punish him in order to make him a stronger and better person. He uses two examples of metaphysical conceit in his quest to convince God that he should punish him for all that he has done wrong. On line 5 when Donne states “I, like an unsurpt town to’another due,” he is comparing himself to a town that the enemy has taken over. Many people would never think of making such a comparison, a man being similar to a town is not something that people can really grasp on first sight, but I think what Donne was really saying was that because he was a sinner, and had done so many wrongs his body had been taken over by the devil, or the enemy. Because of this he was unable to be held unaccountable for his actions and did not really have a mind of his own, just as a town under enemy control would not have a choice in what they did or the rules that they passed. In line 11 he says “Divorce me, ‘untie, or break that knot again”. Here he is saying that in order to punish him God must “Divorce him”. He is comparing his relationship with God as a marriage. This idea may not be as far off as comparing him to a town, but it is still an example of metaphysical conceit.
Metaphors are evident all through Donne’s writing, he uses symbols and paradoxes constantly, giving human characteristics to inhuman objects, letting one thing stand for another in order to allow the reader to better understand his feelings and thoughts on a subject. Donne’s poem “The Flea” Donne uses the Flea as a metaphor throughout the entire poem. The poem is actually a sexual poem where he is talking to his lover and trying to convince her to go to bed with him. He starts out the poem by referring to a flea that has just bitten his arm and how it is now showing a mingling of three bloods, his, his lovers, and the fleas. By saying this he is using the flea to represent the holy trinity. United and joined together in the flea are the three bloods, therefore why shouldn’t’ they be united and joined together in bed. He then uses the symbol of the flea to say that if she were to kill the flea she would not only be killing one soul, but instead three because the flea is a representation of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By killing the flea she is also killing him. The flea is used as a metaphor for life throughout the poem.
Donne’s poem “Song” is a poem of impossibilities such as to “Go and catch a falling star”, or “Teach me to hear the mermaids singing”. The mermaids are a symbol for the Sirens whose song only Odysseus heard without dying, and we all know that it is impossible to catch a falling star. This poem uses impossibilities and word usage to challenge one to go and try something that may seem impossible. His use of words and symbols in this poem make it one of my favorites.
As you can see Donne uses many aspects of metaphors, metaphysical conceit, symbols and word usage in his poems, which is what makes him one of the best poets of our time.