The Development of the Concept of Love in Poetry from Petrarch to Donne

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"Metaphysical poetry is the poetry of the great age of our drama. Its master John Donne was, we are told, ‘a great frequenter of plays' in his youth. As an ambitious young man of social standing he would not have considered writing for the players, and his work is too personal, wilful, and idiosyncratic for us to imagine him doing so with any success. But his strong dramatic imagination of particular situations transforms the lyric and makes a metaphysical poem more than an epigram expanded by conceits." (Gardner 1985:23)

Personality and idiosyncrasy are a good starting point to describe the poems of John Donne. Also his love poetry which will be investigated a little bit closer in this work shows many personal elements. But John Donne did not start a whole new poetry from the scratch, therefore this paper will give an overlook how and where the poetry developed and how it was picked up and changed to meet the requirements of the metaphysical poets. The sonnet as a lyrical form became popular in the time of Petrarch. His kind of love poetry came into fashion in England in the sixteenth century. It became very influential throughout Europe in the following centuries. The sonnet was brought to England by Sir Thomas Wyatt. Mainly his achievements were the introduction of the petrarchan sonnets into the English society and their translation into the English language. Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey established a new rhyme scheme that he had developed out of the petrarchan rhyme scheme. Today the so called Shakespearean sonnet follows the rhyme scheme that the Earl of Surrey invented. Like the Petrarchan sonnet, the Shakespearean sonnet is not named after the inventor, but after its most famous representatives. Shakespeare and Donne wrote their love poems approximately around the same time. But they still differ in their form and matter. Overall this work wants to prove that the love poetry of Donne is more complex and much more differentiated than that of Petrarch. During the following centuries the love poetry in the sonnet form also started to differ in the themes. That means the metaphysical love poetry combined the love theme with the fields of alchemy, the renaissance and the reformation. It also brought in ironical elements, which are often described as the typical "Metaphysical wit" (Beer 1972:26). These ironical elements often find their linguistic realisation in the metaphysical conceit. The metaphysical poets also brought in a change in the formal style of poems. They did not always stick to the conventional forms or only sticked to them on the surface. The starting point of this paper are two sonnets by Petrarch from his "Canzoniere" namely number thirteen ‘Quando fra l'altre donne ad ora ad ora' and number ninety ‘Erano i capei d'oro a l'aura sparsi'. The development of the Petrarchan sonnet in England is shown with the help of some excerpts from at first Thomas Wyatt and his poems ‘Madame, withouten many words' and ‘Who so list to hunt' and at second with the poem ‘Description and Praise of his Love Geraldine' by Henry Howard, the Earl of Surrey. The next step in this comparison will be some excerpts from the ‘Dark Lady Sonnets' by Shakespeare. Finally, I will analyse Donne's ‘Elegie: To his Mistris going to Bed' and prove the development also with the help of some references to other poems of John Donne.

2. Development of love poetry until Donne
2.1. Petrarch
Petrarch was very much concerned with the theme of love in all its variations in his poems. The ‘Canzoniere' shows all the different aspects of love, but as a collection of sonnets and cantons it also has poems in it that are about the nature, certain cities or even the political situation in Italy at that time. In sonnet number 13 ‘Quando fra l'altre donne ad ora ad ora' the overall theme is love, more specific the love to a woman who is out of reach. The poet observes the woman from a distance. He does neither speak to her nor...
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