Poetry

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The Union of Two Souls in John Donne’s Poem “The Ecstasy” In the poem “The Ecstasy,” John Donne explores the meaning of true love by illustrating the spiritual union and the metaphysical experience surrounding love. In addition, he approves of sex and treats it as a beautiful, unifying act, though he does not consider it as important as the union of the souls. While some may interpret this poem to be seductive in nature, Donne does not actually describe the physical actions that characterize sex that could stimulate sexual desire; he merely expresses its beauty and significance. Although sex plays an important role in any relationship, Donne feels that the true power and significance of true love lies in the union of souls. Donne spends the first three stanzas introducing both experiences of love: physical sex, which he introduces metaphorically, and the metaphysical experience when two lovers’ souls first begin to unite. He begins the poem by mentioning a “pregnant bank” that “swell[s] up,” or a river that is overflowing; however, his choice of words here, “pregnant,” already tells the reader that this poem will concern sexuality to some degree. However, in the third stanza, the reflections that the two lovers see in each other’s eyes are the only “propagation” that he speaks of early on in the poem. Donne writes: “And pictures in our eyes to get/Was all our propagation” (9-12). Because Donne writes that the pictures were “all” their propagation, he draws the reader away from thoughts of physical sex and places the emphasis on the metaphysics of the poem without completely abandoning the theme of sex and reproduction which appears later on. He does not refer to propagation in the literal sense but in a more metaphysical sense, as though the reflections are the offspring of their spiritual union. In addition, Donne chooses to use the violet as his symbolic flower. He writes: “A pregnant bank swelled up to rest/The violet’s reclining head” (2-3). The river here rests the violet’s “reclining” head, which suggests that perhaps the flower is dying and is thus bent over. Violets propagate almost as fast as weeds, have heart-shaped leaves, and were considered symbols of fertility and love by the Ancient Greeks (The Flower Expert). The metaphor of the “pregnant” overflowing river also represents fertility, and because it helps the violet in a sense, Donne seems to show the helpfulness of sex, since it is the means in which one becomes fertile. In the second stanza, Donne describes the connection of the two souls with their eyes. These eyes do not look at the body but rather their “eye-beams twisted, and did thread/Our eyes upon one double string” (7-8). Donne does not use the eyes to show how one lover looks at the other’s body out of lust; rather, he describes the metaphysical and spiritual experience the lovers go through when they look into each others’ eyes. They feel a connection and this is where the union of their souls begins. Thus, without going into much detail, Donne introduces his poem with his two main themes: the unity of souls and sex. Donne first writes about the actual ecstasy, that is, the movement of the soul outside of the body, in the fourth stanza. He chooses to right about the ecstasy and the interaction between the two souls first in order to emphasize its importance over the bodily interaction. He writes: “Our souls (which to advance their state/Were gone out) hung ‘twist her and me” (15-16). The phrase in parentheses “to advance their state” suggests that the union of the lovers’ souls and the metaphysical experience are far more significant than the physical experience since they “advance” the state of the lovers. In the fifth stanza, Donne writes: “And whilst our souls negotiate there,/We like sepulchral statues lay” (17-18). In this statement, the verb “negotiate” suggests that the souls are discussing their love and possibly sex, which Donne includes to demonstrate the interaction...
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