Treatment of Love in John Donne’s Poetry

Treatment of Love John Donne

Donne’s poems were written by him during different periods of his life but were published in 1635. A reader cannot find a single definition of love from his poems, because, during every period, his approach to love has been varying according to his mood and attitude and even personal experiences. Some of his poems are sensual while others are passionate and sometimes he writes cynical as well as satirical.

In “Canonization”, he opens up dramatically. For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love” and in “The Good Morrow”, he says: “I wonder by my troth, what thou and I did till we loved?”

The lover through Donne, tries to reveal what both of them (lover and beloved) have been doing during lovemaking.

During another period, his mood varied and he showed great contempt towards himself. In his poem, “Go and Catch a Falling Star,” he reveals his hatred towards the fair sex. Ironically, he suggests that it is impossible to find a beautiful woman, who can remain consistent in love with one man. He is of the opinion that a fair woman will have different lovers one after the other but on the other hand, an ugly woman will be more faithful because she will not be able to attract any man.

There is a poem the Apparition where the theme of a woman’s faithlessness in love becomes a hymn of hate. Other poems are replete with simple and pure affection. The Anniversaries, A Valediction forbidding Mourning are the true example, expressing the extraordinary love. Similarly, “The Sun Rising”, “The Good Morrow”, and “The Dreamer” are the cogent examples that relate the joy and mirth, which the lovers enjoy on account of lovemaking with full mutuality and cooperation without hindrance.

In the poem “Message”, the poet first hands over his eyes to his beloved beside his heart. The aim of giving the eyes is to feed his glaze with her beauty all the time. But later on, he withdraws them because now they must have learnt “forced fashion” and “false passion”.

Send home my long strayed eyes to me
Which too long have dwelt on thee
Yet since there, they have learned such ill
Such forced fashion
And false passion
Made by thee
Fit for no good sight, keep them still

If we read all the love poems written by Donne and analyze them keeping in view their themes, we can discern that there are five different themes, which were adopted by him at different times with the variation of his mood. These themes are as under:

  • Sorrow of parting
  • The misery of secrecy
  • The falseness of mistress
  • The fickleness of the lover
  • Contempt for love

In one of the elegies “On His Mistress Going to Bed”, Donne becomes sensual. He does riot hesitate from expressing his keen desire to let his hands move over every part of the beloved’s voluptuous body so that he can enjoy touching different contours of her body. Such elegies were first published in 1633. They are all love-poems and in loose iambic pentameter couplets and have always had a reputation for indecency. A cogent example of indecency:

Full nakedness;
All joys are due to thee
As souls embodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste the whole joy

The Greatness of Donne’s love poetry is large since his experience of passion ranges from its lowest depths to its highest. He is rebelling against conventional love poetry. The intensity of passion is quite evident from his love lyrics. The themes vary to his mood.

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