John Donne's Poetic Philosophy of Love
For the enormously complex and vexed John Donne (1572-1631), the one in whom all “contraries meet,” (Holy Sonnet 18), life was love—the love of women in his early life, then the love of his wife (Ann More), and finally the love of God. All other aspects of his experience apart from love, it seems, were just details. Love was the supreme concern of his mind, the preoccupation of his heart, the focus of his experience, and the subject of his poetry. The centrality and omnipresence of love in Donne’s life launched him on a journey of exploration and discovery. He sought to comprehend and to experience love in every respect, both theoretically and practically. As a self appointed investigator, he examined love from every conceivable angle, tested its hypotheses, experienced its joys, and embraced its sorrows. As Joan Bennett said, Donne’s poetry is “the work of one who has tasted every fruit in love’s orchard. . .” Combining his love for love and his love for ideas, Donne became love’s philosopher/poet or poet/philosopher. In the context of his poetry, both profane and sacred, Donne presents his experience and experiments, his machinations and imaginations, about love. Some believe that Donne was indeed “an accomplished philosopher of erotic ecstasy” (Perry 2), but such a judgment seems to be too much. Louis Martz notes that “Donne’s love-poems take for their basic theme the problem of the place of love in a physical world dominated by change and death. The problem is broached in dozens of different ways, sometimes implicitly, sometimes explicitly, sometimes by asserting the immortality of love, sometimes by declaring the futility of love”. Donne was not an accomplished philosopher of eroticism per se, but rather a psychological poet who philosophized about love, sometimes playfully, sometimes seriously. The question, thus, arises as to the nature and content of Donne’s philosophy...
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