John Donne as a Love Poet

Though John Donne was immensely complex and always vexed, life for John Donne was love. He depicted many other aspects of his life but all these aspects were just the details. It was love that was the supreme and motivating force in his mind. It was love that kept his heart engaged and always surrounded him. Definitely, it was the subject of his poetry. Thus, the fact that love was the main and motivating force in his life also became the nucleus of his poetry. Thus, the whole poetry written by him revolves around love whether it was worldly or love for God. He also relished love both physically and mentally. He became unconventional in his approach and founded the new angle of love. As Joan Bennett said, Donne’s poetry is the work of one who has tasted every fruit in love’s orchard.   
One of the popular works by John Donne is his master-piece Songs and Sonnets.” However, the reading of these poems shows how difficult it is for a reader to give one simple definition of love given by Donne because all these poems have a great variety of mood and attitude to the emotion for feeling. Sometimes, these poems give sensual touch and sometimes splendid passionate touch. Similarly, sometimes they give cynical and sometimes touch of scorn and bitterness. Commenting on Donne’s love poetry, a critic remarks: Donne’s love poems have a power which is fascinating and disconcerting —–Their depth and range of feeling was unknown to the majority of the Elizabethan Sonneteers and song-writers. The treatment of love by him is entirely unconventional and original, in many a respect.” Now let’s discuss his qualities as a love poet.
            First quality of Donne as a love poet is his innovation which he gave to Elizabethan literature. He did not adopt the set pattern of Petrarchan in Elizabethan poetry. Petrarch, an Italian poet wrote master-pieces which were full of passionate type of poetry. But it was Donne who challenged this tradition root and branch and that’s why, we never observe bleeding of hearts, cheeks like roses, lips like cherries and teeth like pearls in his poetry. However, one thing is worth mentioning that Donne could not avoid using this tradition completely. He could not resist using conceits which he derived from the nontraditional areas of learning including law, physiology, scholastic philosophy and Mathematics. He could also not prevent himself from using another Petrarchan device of how a lover should address his beloved.
            The use of conceit in A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning, is very prominent. In the conceit, natural motion of the earth and earthquake is compared. The rotation of earth is stronger than an earthquake. He also opines that it does no harm. In the same way, the detachment of the true lovers does not do any harm. How beautifully he writes!
Moving of the earth brings harmes and feares,
                        Men reckon what it did and meant,
                        But trepediation of the spheres,
                        Though greater farre, is innocent.
            Dramatic style is also derived from Petrarchan tradition. The way the poem opens is truly dramatic in its passion. The poem “The Funerall” also starts in dramatic passion.
                                    Whoever comes to shroud me, do not harme,
                                    Nor question much.
            Second major quality of Donne as a love poet is his use of variety of themes in his poetry. He introduced a vast range and variety of themes in his poetry. He did not want to write what he did not suffer and enjoy. That’s why, the combination of both the dramatic and lyrical elements was part and parcel of his poetry.
            Second major quality of Donne highlights the third major quality of Donne as a love poet and that is theinculcation of Donne’s personal experiences. No doubt, his poetry is replete with the details of personal experiences in love, but he has also tried to explore the very nature of this experience. When we start reading his poetry, we become acquainted with all the shades of “Love”and “Love Making.” The poem, “The Good Morrow”has indirect experience of making love. This poem is the greeting of souls of two lovers. Their love has the ability to make one little room anywhere the lovers want.
“Let us possesse one world, each
                        Hath one, and is one.
Fourth major quality of Donne as a love poet is his use of language which has special features.  The language includes combination of simple words and use of odd phrases. For example, we can see: “No tear floods, nor sigh tempests, move.” Similarly, sometimes Donne appears before us as a juggler in using a language. He tries to play upon with the words and repeats them to lay stress on his ideas. Love so alike, that none doe slacken. None can die.
Fifth quality of Donne as a love poet is his sense of connection. However, this idea is attached to the physical fulfillment of love. He thinks that love is mutual and physical union even outside marriage cannot be censured. He feels that love bond is essential for sexual union. Without love sexual love is mean and degrading. He writes in one of his poems. My face in thine eye, thine in my appears.
Sixth quality of Donne as a love poet is that he introduces in his poetry “The theory of perfect possession.  Actually, Donne’s personal experiences of love and love making have made him acquainted with the weakness of flesh, the pleasures of sex and the joys of secret meetings. However, he tries his level best to establish a relationship between two souls. He says in The Ecstasy.
                                    “So must pure lovers soules descend
                                    Taffections, and to faculties.
                                    Which sense may reach and apprehend,
                                    Else a great prince in prison lies.
But on the contrary to it, he is of the opinion that physical union is not necessary in love making. It is the relationship of one soul to the other. As in Velediction Forbidding Mourning”, he says:
                                    Our two souls, therefore, which are one,
                                    Though I must go, endure not yet.
            Seventh major quality of Donne’s love poetry is Intellectual Analysis of Emotions.” He is a lawyer who knows how to support and argue his point of view. In Valediction: Forbidden Mourning”, he proves like an analyst that true lovers should not need to worry when they are to depart from each other.
            Eighth major quality of Donne’s love poems is that out of love and divine poems, love poems are specially entitled to be called metaphysical in the true sense. So many examples can be quoted in this context. “The Anniversary”, “The Good Morrow”, and “The Canonization” are the best examples of it. We often see Donne depicting before us the lovers souls coming out of their bodies to negotiate with each other. Grierson studies Donne’s poetry and gives his own opinion about it. He believes that Donne’s poetry is based on three main strains. The first strain in his poetry is that it is cynical in approach. A cynic is a person who believes that there is no sincerity, faithfulness and true love in human relationships. Perhaps, he believes in Shakespeare’s philosophy, Frailty thy name woman.”An instance can be given from his poem in which he claims that a beautiful woman may not be faithful.No where lives a woman true, and faire.” Second strain in Donne’s poetry is that it is Platonic in approach. In Platonic love, we don’t observe the sexual love. The poems like Twicknam Garden, “The Funerall”, “The Blossom”, and “The Primrosebeautifully display Platonic love. In these poems, the poet addresses the ladies friends of well-to-do families. These ladies were the wives of others but the lover continued to love them.
O perverse sex, where none is true but shee,
Who’s therefore true, because her truth kills mee.”
            Third strain is conjugal love in Donne’s poetry. By conjugal love we mean the love between husband and wife. In most of his poems, we see Donne addressing his wife Anne More.
Love all alike, no season knows, nor clyme,
                        Nor hours, days, moneths, which are the rages of time.”
            J.E. Craft has criticized Donne’s poetry. He thinks that Donne was influenced by an old and traditional theology that a woman was inferior to a man mentally as well as spiritually. But I think, J.E. Craft hasn’t got what Donne wanted to preach. Actually, Donne wants to present the idea a woman is not a sex doll or a toy to be played by a man. However, he thinks that a woman is totally a bundle of contradictions.
To sum up, it is not easy for Donne’s reader to find a real and exact definition of love and single and unique approach of Donne’s treatment towards love because all the love poems deal with different attitudes to the emotions. However, whether he is dealing with sensual or spiritual love, or the complex combination of both, Donne is always passionate in his approach. However, one thing is crystal clear and it is the problem which forms the basic theme of Donne’s love poetry. This theme is the place of love in this world of change and death. This problem has been touched with different angles. That’s why, sometimes love is seen as immortal and sometimes as futile. We can say that the poems express a surprising variety of attitude and love is seen as the one thing which always remains immortal. On the whole, we can say that Donne’s love poems have a balanced view of love. It tells us that love would be a sex if it is based on physical love. It would be an idea if love is spiritual. So, to be really in true love, the combination of both the body and soul are required.  (Words: 1635)