John Donne- Treatment of Secular Love

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Using four poems, examine the distinctive poetic features of Donne’s treatment of secular love. Within Donne’s vast range of secular works he provides no simple definition of love; his treatment of such matters reaching radical and unconventional highs. It is through his great variety of emotion and passion that Donne explores, arguably, his most consistent theme of love itself. “The Sunne Rising”, “The Ecstasy”, “A Valediction of Forbidding Mourning” and “Air and Angels” are four poems which contrast on various levels but still link on common ground in their ideas and techniques to which Donne uses to portray a passionate yet sometimes cynical outlook on love. Donne’s insight into the agony of love is expressed through his own personal experiences: his dramatic sorrow, sincere or not, serves to emphasise his frustrations in the falseness of women and his want for physical closeness, his misery in secrecy, and then love in death creating, questionably, the ultimate agony. Donne is cynical in his description of the “weak men” who’s love, he states, will never be as pure as his due to their understanding that physical love is the ultimate connection : his distress then comes as own body is prompting him into compelling urges surrounding the physical elements of love. His poems espouse sexual connotation to deliver possible hints to his sexual desire: “pregnant bank swelled up”. He references to parts of his lovers body, “Care less eyes, lips and hands to miss”, this list of attributes represent her whole being, revealing his struggle as the frustrated lover in a relationship with a reluctant female, his want for the female body and his love of her. The conceit used in “Air and Angels”:

“With wears which would sink admiration, / I saw I had love’s pinnace overfraught;” This is an analogue of his physical admiration for his lover serves to overwhelm him, “much too much”; thus he has metaphorically drowned her in his seductive approach or contrastingly she has drowned him in her perfection. His hyperbole over the want of something he can’t quite reach is possibly the direct reason for his agony and he is left empty, “lovely glorious nothing”: the contradictions of these words are not unusual of Donne and bring forth an ambiguity to his works in which his agony in love is sometimes hidden. This idea of the contrasting extremes of overwhelming everything or complete nothingness in love is continued in the “The Ecstasy”: “Else a great prince in prison lies”. The theme of entrapment in love due to pressures from the outside from “dull sublunary lovers’” or indeed the “busy old fool” in “The Sunne Rising” again all contribute to Donne’s apparent agony. In his attempts in all four poems to escape normality and to elevate his love into something purer and more regal he is left unfulfilled in love and thus the misery sets in. It could be said he is trying to convince himself of the strength of their relationship as he turns to extreme hyperbole: “No tear-floods, nor sigh tempests move”, to prevent grief at their separation. His dramatic tone used throughout provides the question as to how sincere he is in his agony; his arrogance provides a mock sincerity in his, some might say, chauvinistic address to his treatment of love. Donne continues his obsession with love using neo-platonic concepts to aptly convey the comparison between love and lust. He renders ecstatic visions of the souls which describe his treatment of love: their love, as something purer, deeper. In “A Valediction of Forbidden Mourning”, he uses this philosophy in a form of a conceit:

“twin compasses are two… the other far doth roam,/ It leans, and hearkens after it,/ And grows erect, as that comes home.” Donne’s, intellectual pursuits were both renaissance and radical in thought for the time period; here he brings forth geographical imagery into a somewhat sexual analogy. Her soul is regarded as the pin of the compass, fixed on the page, whilst his...
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