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John Donne as a Love Poet

Updated on February 4, 2015
John Donne as a Love Poet
John Donne as a Love Poet | Source

John Donne as a Love Poet

John Donne was a unique poet of love. He was born at a time, when it was a great fashion for the poets to write love poetry. It was the practice and fashion of the poets to praise the beauty of their beloved or feel sorry at their jilted love in their poetry. Jon Donne, who was a metaphysical poet by nature, was not behind them in writing love poetry. He jumped into the field of poetry and wrote original and startling love poetry. He was different from all of its contemporary poets in the sense that he did not follow the beaten path. He deviated from the traditional and conventional means of poesy and used colloquial, simple and ambiguous diction to dwell upon every aspect of love. He is not the one, who will dwell only on the beauty of his beloved. Sometimes, he will praise the beauty of his beloved, while other times he will scorn the women. There is an amalgam of love and hatred in his poetry.

John Donne as a Love Poet
John Donne as a Love Poet | Source

Characteristics of John Donne's Love Poetry

Originality in John Donne's Love Poetry

Originality is an important characteristic of John Donne’s love poetry. They are not as conventional as other poets of his age. He deviated from contemporary rules of diction and poesy and followed his own way of poetry. He explored such topics in his poetry which had never been discussed before him by any poet or author of books. That’s the reason; we can safely call him the most original poet in the history of English literature. There are many poets who copy or steal ideas from other writers and present them to their readers in different language and different forms of literature, but John Donne was absolutely different from them. He presented new ideas in his poetry before his readers. For example, For example, in The Flee, John Donne prevents his beloved from taking the life of the flee, who has just bitten both of them, by arguing that it would be like killing of three souls. Look at the following lines taken from The Flee:

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,

Where we almost, yea, more than married are.

This flea is you and I, and this

Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.

Though parents grudge, and you, we're met,

And cloister'd in these living walls of jet.

Though use make you apt to kill me,

Let not to that self-murder added be,

And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

(The Flee by John Donne)

Blend of Love and Scorn in John Donne’s Poetry

You might have read the Elizabethan poetry or any other love poetry, wherein either the poet wants to praise the beauty of his beloved or he complains about indifferent manner of his beloved. There is only one strain of feeling and emotion in their poetry. But in case of John Donne, he is totally different from them. Look at the following lines, wherein the poet expresses his anger at indifferent manner of his beloved:

When by thy scorn, o murderess,
I am dead
And that thou think’st thee free
From all solicitations from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed.

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Metaphysical Strain in John Donne’ Love Poetry

Another unique quality of Donne’s love poetry is its metaphysical strain. He does not go to extreme in dealing with beauty of his beloved or aesthetic elements in his poetry. He gives the passion, feelings and emotions an intellectual tone, which makes it difficult for the readers to understand its meanings. Dryden says in this regard, “Donne affects the metaphysics not only in his satires but in his amorous verses where nature only should reign. He perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with softness of love.” We can observe the metaphysical strain in his hyperboles, conceits, paradoxes and scholasticism. Look at the following lines, taken from Love’s Growth, wherein he compares love to the growing circles of water, when someone stirs it with a pebble:

“If as in water stirred more circles be,
Produc’d by one, love such additions take.”

Supremacy of Love in John Donne’s Love Poetry

John Donne considers love as an important entity in the world. He convinces us that love is a permanent thing and it won’t come to an end. It won’t change with the passage of time; rather it will remain constant forever. Look at the following lines from his poetry, wherein he says that love cannot change with the change in season, climate and time:

Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

John Donne as a Love Poet
John Donne as a Love Poet | Source

“My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixt equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.”

---John Donne

Conjugal Love in John Donne’s Love Poetry

Conjugal love carries paramount importance for John Donne in his poetry. He has written many poems, wherein he praises conjugal love. In many of his poems, he addresses his wife, Anne More and tells us about the joys and bliss of conjugal love in poems like Valediction Forbidding Mourning and A Valediction of Weeping. He is of the view that conjugal love is more rewarding and meaningful than the unfulfilled love. For example, in Valediction Forbidding Mourning, he convinces his wife that their love is pure and noble that they do not fully understand its implications. Being independent of physical attraction, it rests on mutual confidence and faithfulness. It does not mind physical separation and consequent absence of eyes, lips and hands.

But we by a love, so much refin’d,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care lesse, eyes, lips, and hand to misse.

John Donne wrote The Anniversary to celebrate the second anniversary of his wedding. It gives us a fine picture of domestic bliss. Married love knows no change or decay. It is immortal and must continue even in the grave. For example:

All other things to their destruction draw
Only our love hath no decay;
This no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday.

John Donne's Love Poetry
John Donne's Love Poetry | Source

Platonic Love in John Donne’s Love Poetry

Another kind of love that we find in the poetry of John Donne is platonic love. In many of his poems, he considers love as a holy thing. In his poem, Canonization, he dwells upon the nature of platonic love. In his poem, Extasie, he considers physical an important medium for consummation of spiritual love. Thus, he not only approves of spiritual love but physical love as well.

Yet nothing can to nothing fall,

Nor any place be empty quite;

Therefore I think my breast hath all

Those pieces still, though they be not unite;

And now, as broken glasses show

A hundred lesser faces, so

My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,

But after one such love, can love no more.

— John Donne

Attitude towards Women in John Donne’s Love Poetry

Donne’s attitude towards women is of different kind when compared with the poets of his age. In some of his poems, he adores women, while in other poems; he is totally indifferent towards women. In many of his poems, he dwells upon the fickleness and disloyalty of women. In his view, there is no woman, who is capable of faith and virtue. In his song, Go and Catch a Falling Star, shows us that no one can find a true and faithful women even if one searches the whole world. In case you find a true woman, she might have cheated you before you visit her:

Yet she,
Will be,
False, ere I come, to two, or three.

Physical Love in John Donne’s Love Poetry

John Donne also approves of physical love. Many of his poems show a unique blend of physical and platonic love. He says that physical love is necessary for consummation of love. In his poem, Ecstasy, he convinces the readers that physical and spiritual love are necessary for each other. He says that spiritual love cannot be consummated without the union of tow bodies.

To our bodies turn we then that so
Weak men on love reveled my look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

Sometimes, John Donne seems to be more erotic and sensual in his poems. He is impressed with the beauty of his beloved to such an extent that he does not want any restrictions in this regard. In To His Mistress Going to Bed, he asks her beloved to allow him to play with her whole body:

Licence my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, belove.
O my America! My new found land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned….
To teach thee, I am naked first, why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.


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