The poem "The Ecstasy" is one of John Donne's most popular poems, which expresses his unique and unconventional ideas about love. It expounds the theme that pure, spiritual or real love can exist only in the bond of souls established by the bodies. For Donne, true love only exists when both bodies and souls are inextricably united. Donne criticizes the platonic lover who excludes the body and emphasizes the soul.
The fusion of body and soul strengthens spiritual love. Donne compares bodies to planets and souls to the angels that body and souls are inseparable but they are independent. According to medieval mystical conception, 'ecstasy' means a trance-like state in which the soul leaves the body, comes out, and holds communion with the Divine, the Supreme or the Over-soul of the Universe. In Christianity also, it denotes the state of mystic/religious communion with God. Donne uses the religious and philosophical term with religious and philosophical connotations to build his own theory of love.
The poem is an expression of Donne's philosophy of love. Donne agrees with Plato that true love is spiritual. It is a union of the souls. But unlike Plato, Donne doesn't ignore the claims of the body. It is the body that brings the lovers together. Love begins in sensuous apprehension, and spiritual love follows the sensuous. So the claim of the body must not be ignored. Union of bodies is essential to make possible the union of souls. The poem is in an unbroken series of narration, argument and even contemplation.
The poet begins the narration of the event with a typically passionate scene as the backdrop for the lovers to embrace and experience the 'ecstasy'. The setting is natural, very calm and quiet. The scenery is described in erotic terms: the riverbank is "like a pillow on a bed"; it also is "pregnant". The reference to pillow, bed and pregnancy suggest sexuality, though the poet says... [continues]
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