John Donne is a poet of love, and his love lyrics are replete with realism. When we read them deeply, we find that he oscillates between physical love and holy love. He very much believes in the sanctity and dignity of married life. Being realistic in his approach, he presents various love situations in his love lyrics. These situations, which he portrays in his poems, are based on common experiences of life as well as on his personal experience. His love songs are unconventional and original both in form and in content.
Donne’s treatment is realistic and not idealistic. He is fully aware of the faults and foibles of flesh and the pleasures of lovemaking. Also, He knows the joy and happiness, which lovers enjoy when they meet secretly. He tries to make a clear distinction between platonic love and sexual love. He says that true love does not pertain to the body. It is a relationship of one soul to another soul. He has a realistic approach to each type of love. in his poem “Relique”, he regards physical union as essential. (John Donne – An Intellectual Realist)
Donne does not emphasize any particular parts of the female body. Some poets start admiring either the eyes or the lips of a beloved and others wander over the different parts of the female anatomy. However, Donne does not indulge, in any such parts which attract the immediate attention of the onlookers. When the reader does not find any such admiration, he gets surprised, because a poet, who is so fond of sex, abstains from the physical charm or beauty of any part of the female body.
Donne’s realism also lies in his frank confession when he declares that if love is mutual, the physical union even outside marriage cannot be condemned. Basically, he is a Christian, but as love and as a poet, he does accept extramarital indulgence in sex. In his opinion, such as is realistic approach leads, such relationship should not be labeled as adultery. WHat Donne feels is that an intimate love bond is essential for a sexual relationship. Without love and deep intimacy, sex cant be joyful. Both the partners should have mutually and full cooperation. Donne claims, however, that true love can exist outside marriage, though religious leaders and moralists sneer at it.
Taking various examples from his love lyrics, we find that: Donne was a poet of high intellectual caliber. In his poem The Good-Morrow, he compares himself and his beloved to two hemispheres:
Where can we fund two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west
The poet says that the two hemispheres, which, we two constitute are better than the geographical ones because one of us two, is without the slanting North pole and the other one is without the declining west, where the sunsets. So, our love is hot subject to vagaries of weather or time. These lines depict the exclusive world of two loving hearts, and the latent passion, all the time surging in their hearts. (John Donne – An Intellectual Realist)
Similarly, in the poem “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, Donne develops an intricate conceit quite logically. These images, which he highlights, show his intellectual realism. First of all the mind does not accept the images described therein, but on deliberating deeply we find that the conceits have the truth. (John Donne – An Intellectual Realist)
Some of his poems reveal his satiric and ironic wit as they are contained in “Go and Catch a Falling Star”. This song ends with a bitter mocking at the fair sex:
Yet Shee, Will bee,
False, ere I come, to two or three
According to the poet, nowhere one can find a true woman even if one travels the whole globe. Even if we assume that a faithful woman has been found, that woman will prove faithless even before you write a letter to her.
In the poem, The Sun Rising, after the night of love, when the sun rises, the lovers rebuke the sun for disturbing them by penetrating its rays through windows. They admonish the sun to go and awake the Schoolboys so that they do not get late:
Basic old people unruly Sunne
Why dost thou thus
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lover’s seasons run?
Sawyer pedantic wretch goes chide
Late school boys and swore prentices (Li., 1 – 8)
In short, Donne through his wit and intellectual ingenuity avoids all types of self-pity and Hamlet-like frustration. That’s why Drummond, very correctly calls him “the epigrammatist we have found in English”. Similarly, Leishman says:
“Donne’s monarchy of wit was not a trick or fashion, but one of the greatest achievements of the poetic intelligence.”