John Donne as a metaphysical poet

Donne as a Metaphysical poet.


John Donne stands out in the history of English literature not merely as the leader of the metaphysical school of poetry, but also as one of the masters of poetic novelties in theme and technique. In his secular works as well as religious, he is found to strike his originality as a creative artist. There is, perhaps, seldom seen such a literary figure, with so stupendously a revolutionary zeal in the poetic world.


The novelty of Donne's metaphysical poetry is marked more specifically in his love poems which are immensely popular. Of course, there are numerous English poets who have treated love  with much intensity and impulsiveness, but there is seen hardly any one to give love such an intellectual bias as Donne is found to have done. Intellectual vigour and depth, restraint and impetuosity, are found well combined in him as a charac-teristic feature of his dignified artistry.


Of Donne's love poems, The Good Morrow may be instanced as a typical one. His novelty as a metaphysical love poet is here exhibited distinctly as elsewhere. The poem remains quite engrossing and entertaining, as a specific instance of metaphysical love poetry, combining and adjusting intellect and of  emotionin right proportions.


Of course, Donne's theme is here nothing new. It is the old story of love and devotion and the old pleading for unity in diversity in love. The poet addresses his ladylove, wonders to ascertain what they did before their love, feels confident of their oneness through love and asserts their constancy that nothing can  "slacken" or "destroy".


But the entire theme of the poem is expressed in a highly Singular and suggestive manner. The novelty of Donne's poetry as also of metaphysical poetry in general, lies not in the matter but in the manner of expression. In this respect, "The Good Morrow", "The Flea", "The Anniversarie" and "The Sunne Rising", are typical instances. The theme in each of these poems is the oneness of and devotion to love. What, however, counts most here is the way in which this oneness is shown by the poetic craft which is unconventional and essentially radical for the age to which Donne belonged.

Metaphysical poetry consists of conceits. In a conceit, two incongruous elements are compared with a profoundly intellectual penetration, causing thereby a mental stir. This is evident in Donne's comparison of two lovers to two hemispheres", "without sharp North, without declining West." The concluding words of the poem specifically convey a conceit.  Loveis so unified that none of the lovers can 'slacken' and
none can die.

"If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike that none do slacken, none can die."

The unification of the lovers is conveyed by means of a rare conceit of the flea in the poem, "The Flea". The little insect sucked. the lover first and then sucks the lady and it mingles their 'two bloods'. The flea is the point of union of two lovers and the poet's assertion is quite novel-

This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;"
The Anniversarie, another significant poem from Donne, illustrates equally the novelty of the metaphysical style in the treatment of love. The complacent mood of the lovers has a quite startling, rather epigrammatic expression-
"Only our love hath no decay;
This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keepes his first, last, everlasting day."
Metaphysical poetry, as asserted already, is essentially intellectual. Donne's love poetry is also essentially intellectual. This is revealed both in its reflective nature and in its play of wit. In "The Good Morrow", metaphysical intellectualism is found triumphant, and the poem flashes both with reflectiveness and wit., The predominance of Donne's reflection is clearly expressed in his observation on the unity in diversity, attained through love. His theme is a simple and solid expression of, and bears out his profound reflection on the true strength of devoted love. The reflective element of the poem, however, is made poet's interrogation as to what the lovers did till they had loved
particularly diverting by the play of wit. The poet's indicates this clearly-
"I wonder by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we lov'd?"
Again, his analogy of sea-discoverers and maps to express the devotion of love testifies to the range of his wit and the depth of his intellectualism.

Metaphysical poets are found logical and analytical rather than sensual and emotional. Their uniqueness lies much in the synthesis of divergent elements, the abstract and the concrete, the remote and the near, the sublime and the commonplace.
This is a specific novelty of the metaphysical style and also of. Donne's His imagery to describe the devotion of love is conceived in a quite novel manner. The images of 'sea- discoverers' and 'maps are well employed to assert love's constancy and oneness.
"Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to others, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.
The poet's imagery is taken from unconventional elements. The conventional matter of love is demonstrated and emphasized through the unpoetical, rather materialistic and prosaic elements. This, however, forms the genesis of the metaphysical style and originality as also Donne's poetry.

Examine Donne's 'The Sunne Rising' as a metaphysi-cal love poem.


In metaphysical poetry, Donne is an outstanding name. He is regarded as the leader and master of this. The novelty of Donne's  metaphysical poetry is marked specifically in his love poems which perfectly balance impulse and intellect. In fact, the emotive element of love is seen to have a rare intellectual bias in his hand. Indeed impulsiveness and intellectual restraint, emotional depth and intellectual rationality, are found well combined here. In this respect, The Sunne Rising is a characteristic work from Donne.


The poem The Sun Rising is on joyous, fulfilled love. The lover's mood is self-complacent, absolutely satisfied with his love that he extols over all other things. His sense of pleasure leads him to challenge the sun and claims that his love is not subjected to the mere laws of nature. He even counsels the sun to shine on and warm up the lovers and thereby to perform its duty to the universe. The intensity of the poetic emotion is echoed in the lover's excited assertion-
"Love, all alike no season knows, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, moneths which are the rags of time."
Yet, the poem contains the characteristic paradox of Donne's metaphysical love-poetry. While emphasising that nothing exists to a lover, apart from the experience of love, the poet has a lively and humorous approach and speaks sardonically of those who are involved in matters, more than love. In a mock-witty vein, he counsels the old busy sun to remind the late-going school boys, sour apprentices, court-huntsmen and country-ants of their tasks. Again, the use of the expression 'call country ants to harvest offices smacks smart wit in the metaphoric suggestion of farm- labourers engaged in harvesting.

Moreover, intellectual flashes are not unmarked in the lover's diverting assertion to the sun-
"I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink.
But that I would not lose her sight so long."
The reference to 'both the Indies of spice and Myne' equally sound the intellectual depth of Donne's metaphysical poetry. At the
same time, there is heard the emotional emphasis of love "All here in one bed."


Metaphysical poetry is essentially concise. The compression of imagery and expression, as noted in- She's all states, and all Prince, I.
Nothing else is" is typical of Donne and his metaphysical love poetry. Again, the conversational tone that is dominant in the poem,  is also typical of the metaphysical character of the poem. In this connection, the dramatic beginning of the poem is also worth-noting. The sun is sharply rebuked as a fool and intruder:
"Busie old foole unruly sunne
Why dost thou thus
Through windowes and through curtaines call on us"?
Of course, Donne's theme here is nothing new. It is the old story of love, of happiness and oneness in love. The sun is introduced only to establish the triumph of love over all. Moreover, the entire theme of the poem is expressed in a starkly singular and suggestive way. The novelty of metaphysical love poetry, as of Donne's, consists herein. In fact, the essence of metaphysical poetry lies not in the matter, but in the manner of expressions. What counter here most is the manner in which this theme of happy love is brought by the very poetic craft that is unconventional, and rather radical for Donne's age. In this respect, the presence of conceits in metaphysical poetry is noteworthy. In a conceit, two incongruous elements are compared with an intellectual profundity that strikes and stirs and has also an epigrammatic vigour of expression. The comparison of the lover and the ladylove to princes and states respectively is a quite engaging specimen.


The diction of the poem is typical of Donne's metaphysical poetry. This is simple and pointed and full of meanings. The poet's versification is in tune with the singularity of his mood and feeling. The metrical swing is steered, not by impulsive urge but regulated by intellectual originality. The intellectual beat of the poet's rhythim is, too, original enough, and heard distinctly not seldom in the poem. A single instance may be quoted in this context to affirm the contention-
"I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not loss her sight so long;
If her eyes have not blinded thine.






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