John Donne Undone Essay, Research Paper
John Donne wrote cynical verse about inconsistency, poems about true love, brilliant satires, hymns and holy sonnets depicting his own spiritual struggles in which he asks God to purge him of sin. Embracing a wide range of secular and religious subjects he is one of the most outstanding of the English Metaphysical Poets. Born in London to a prominent Roman Catholic family, Donne converted to Anglicanism during the 1590’s. Growing up as a Catholic and then moving to Anglicanism had a huge impact on his writings. Earlier in Donne’s life, he was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Keeper of the Great Seal, in 1598, however a secret marriage in 1601 to Egerton’s niece, resulted in his dismissal and brief imprisonment. Nevertheless, inspired by the love he possessed for his wife and God, Donne’s writings reflected the beliefs of divine love, separation, and a celestial relationship with God.. For Donne, the decay of the world, physically and morally, heralds Heaven as its potential regeneration. (Grierson, 36) The sensual love poetry that typified his youth, soon became obsessive thoughts of sin and death which characterized his later career. However, throughout the writings of John Donne, the universal theme that is apparent is one of understanding and furthering man’s relationship with God. Donne has a strong idea of how man is supposed to relate with God, often likening it to the loving relationship between a man and a woman. However, he implies that while a man’s metaphysical relationship with God is similar to those of mortals, the spiritual bond is much stronger though harder to achieve. Since the spiritual relationship which Donne describes is difficult to break once established, his writing reflects internal conflict based on the inability to separate his love for both a woman and for God. He believes the relationship between man and God is attainable to all those capable of earthy relations, for if someone can give themselves completely to another mortal with inherent flaws, then surely they are capable of doing the same to a perfect God. Donne’s continual conflict seems stem from a need to determine where his loyalty should lie. For him, it is important to achieve that personal relationship with God, however, he feels his love for a woman is spiritual as well. While clear on how to achieve the personal metaphysical relationship, Donne fears that his love for a mortal might jeopardize his path to celestial spirituality.In a Valediction: Forbidden Mourning, Donne speaks of his spiritual relationship as “Stiff twin compasses,” indicating they always lead to each other. This draftsman’s compass, an ordinary mundane object is transformed into a symbol of love that transcends the physical world. Donne adds that the woman’s soul, “the fixt foot,” would always lead him back to her. (Raine, 65)Through this conceit Donne reveals how his love for this woman is ethereal. Filled with images of transcendent purity the lover’s world greatly contrasts the mundane realities of life. This exaggeration employed by Donne serves to demonstrate the superiority of spiritual love over physical love. Donne chides those who fear small disturbances, yet think nothing of the great disturbances of the universe and of God, for his love for the woman and God have a spiritual basis and therefore can never be separated. The many similes that Valediction employs can be seen in the first line, “As virtuous men pass mildly away,” in which the comparison is made between the lover’s separation and the death of a great man. He feels that their divine love has been placed in existence by God, and therefore no one can ever sperate them. Their souls will never be taken away from each other, however the separation of their bodies will be as innocent as an erratic orbit in one of the outer spheres, but purer because they are closer to heaven. His going away is merely expands the wedding ring the symbol of their union, “Like gold to airy thinness beat.” (McDaniel, 4)In the mock hymn to the sun, “The Sun Rising,” the theme of divine love is continued with the lover’s tryst. The beginning shows how the lover’s bed has been intruded upon by the presence of the sun, and his offense at this untimely entrance. The narrator realizes that the sun’s presence indicates the end of his beloved’s time together, and he tries to deny it through boasts of a higher reality, thus disputing the sun itself. After attacking the sun as an “unruly” servant, he then chides him on where true loyalties and riches lie. (Grierson, 36)He demaens the sun, saying that he could shut out the suns beams at any time, but as a result he would lose the sight of his love. Donne informs the sun that if her eyes “have not blinded thine,” it should tell of where the riches of the world lay. Slowly, the lover condescends, allowing the sun to warm him and his partner, for they are all that is important in the whole world. However, regardless of the events the sun still shines quietly as an unwanted reminder of his reality. The sun symbolizes the end of what the man deems to be the beginning of a “lovers’ season.” For him the time is too soon to part, pleading, “Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?” The plea is of no avail for the sun is an unstoppable force, however, all is not lost. The sun has bright beams of light, but the man can “eclipse and cloud them with a wink,” due to his great love. This affection allows the two lovers to become not only the superior rulers of the sky, but of all others as well. In stating, “Princes do but play us; compared to this , all honors mimic, all wealth alchemy,” Donne implies that those who rule kingdoms merely play a game, and that all the wealth of the world lies in their bed, a product of union. All of the world is but an imperfect imitation made so by love. Wealth means nothing without their divine love. However, though all of the ranting the sun continues to climb higher into the sky as the day wears on, offering nothing but silence to the couple, for he has witnessed many lovers and outlasted them all.
The Canonization stands out among the other works of Donne, for it is addressed to a male. However, the theme of divine love is still present throughout this work. The narrator rejects the worldly advice of his friend and “vindicates his own abandonment to passion. “has the lover rudely dismiss his friend’s advice, stating, “For God’s sake, hold your tongue, and let me love.” (Legouis, 32) Much like Valediction, the lover in Canonization defends himself for his removal from the world by saying he and his beloved are saints to love. His persona claims that he and his beloved are the clergy and a tearful embarkation publicizing their marital happiness would only serve to desecrate their love. By making fun of himself and then his friend in the incoherent stanzas the tone changes dramatically, but not the theme. The theme of divine love is always present within each of Donne works, leading the lovers back to each other. In whatever way the bodies may separate, the relationship with the soul can never be broken, for it is a spiritual enterprise. Much like the relationship Donne has for God. The “sighs,” and “tears,” “fever,” and “chills” in stanza are common during the time of Donne’s writings. Turning from defense to offense in the last three lines of the second stanza, Donne implies that throughout everything their love is eternal, and no outside occurrence will change the bond they share with each other. Their “sexes fit.,” so perfectly they are truly meant for each other. In line 37-38 the quote revels how the narrator feels about his divine love. He believes that it is a direct result of the pious love he holds for God, and only good can come from it. Even “dying” was to bring on the mystery of the resurrection of the body. (McDaniel, 2)”The Good Morrow” seems to fit nicely into the group of love poetry written by Donne before his spurned lover phase. However, this poem is purely metaphorical in bringing Donne’s concept of divine love. The lovers are not parting, neither does the sun remind then it is time to part as in “The Sun Rising.” Instead, it is the awakening of the souls and not the physical bodies of the two lovers. Their happiness is solely based on their union and they wonder how they lived before they loved. (Legouis,32) In their “little room,” the impassioned dialogue has become their entire world and existence. The woman is silent, but Donne makes her presence felt with the line, “Her face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,” creating the feeling that they have become one. Therefore the feelings end as they began, with the two lovers in a type of “equilibrium.” The relationship here is not purely physical however. By using the statement that “none can die,” he reveals how the lovers in this bond will never be sperate, for their feelings are too strong to deny, even in death. In Donne’s poetry, the one view that remained constant was his desire to forge a solid spiritual relationship with God. Knowing that he needed to repent, he often plead with God to teach him how, believing that only God’s grace could grant him salvation. In “A Hymn to God the Father,’ as well as “Hymn to God My God in My Sickness,” Donne confronts his sins and asks for God’s forgiveness, so that he may live eternally. In the latter poem Donne sees himself, the sick man, as in a rehearsal room, waiting to go on to the celestial stage and sing with the Eternal Choir. Hence, he must look over his part and tune his instrument. In preparing spiritually for death, he introduces the controlling metaphor for the poem., which is the human body as a map. In this his physicians, “by their love” have become map-readers, studying him to discover the cause of impending death, just as cosmographers studied maps. He puns on the word straits, believing all of them lead to the Western Sea, or the sea of eternal peace. The dying man becomes a meeting place for both the first and last Adam, his fevered grow shows the curse of Adam, while his soul is embraced by Christ. In his sickness, Donne calls for the crown also the crown of eternal life, much like the one worn by Christ himself. Believing in repentance, the poem, “A Hymn to God the Father,” reveals all of Donne’s sins. The poetic voice lists all the sins that he has, including original sin, sins of omission, commission, and collusion. In each instance, he concludes his catalogue of sin with, “When thou hast done, thou hast not done.” In the last stanza this “Renaissance man” confronts himself on the sin of pride. He fears that his ultimate sin will be to doubt the efficacy of the Grace of God and his ability to save such a titanic sinner such as himself, leaving him to “perish on the shore.” He then asks for reaffirmation of the Covenant, punning sun and son, by which he is saved through the light of Christ. (Raine, 65)Only in that he died saved can he die secure. “And having done that, thou hast done./ I fear no more.” Indicating the great love he felt for God and his abilities. The relationship between Donne and God was one of spirituality and of divine love and therefore could never be parted. Death would only be the separation of the physical body and not the soul. All of Donne’s verse- his love sonnets and his religious poems can be distinguished by a blend of passion and reason. Bringing about the root of spiritual love in physical love, as well as the possibility of the soul’s transcendent union with God, he reveals his feelings of divine love and his relationship with God. His love for both formed a spiritual bond that he believed could never be separated, thus lived on eternally. This love formed the basis of many of his earlier love poems.
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