The Ecstasy By John Donne
“The blood begets spirit, the spirit goes into the brain, the brain gives direction to the muscle and this gives rise to an interrelated being. This interrelation brings the image of ‘subtle knot.’ This complex character of man envisages a blend of body and soul: “The union of body and soul, through the working of spirits ‘makes us man.’” (Helen Gardner)
“The Ecstasy” is a remarkable and distinguished love poem containing a very unique idea. It is one of those love poems which carry Donne’s basic and unconventional philosophy of love and that is: “Love is not a sexual passion. Rather it is the combination of two souls.” It shows that pure love is only the part of souls which are connected through bodies. Here, Donne seems to agree with Plato that true love is spiritual but unlike Plato Donne never ignores the claims of the body. He believes that definitely, it is the body that compels the lovers to come close to each other. Sensuous apprehensions are the basics of being in love. Spiritual love obeys sensuous apprehensions. That’s why, the claim of the body should never be ignored or rejected. It means Donne wants to convey the idea that the union of bodies is possible only through the union of souls.
As the poem begins, we see two lovers passionately in love love and embracing and experiencing ‘ecstasy.’ The scene has been described erotically. The reference made to the pillow and bed suggests sexuality. Pregnancy which is presented in the form of a river bank “like a pillow on a bed” also suggests sexuality, although the approach of the poet towards love is ‘asexual.’ The image of asexual reproduction of violent plants is also presented in the poem. It has been used to compare the propagation of lovers. Both lovers are completely lost in love in each other’s company. They are holding each other’s hands and staring at the reflecting images of each other in each other’s eyes. They have a special sensation of heart which they are enjoying with each other. Blushing and perspiration are getting their way. The poet presents them at last as a couple becoming ecstatic because their souls have escaped from their bodies. Here we can see Donne comparing the condition of two lovers with two armies having fought between them. Donne says that these two armies do not know which way the scale of victory or fate will turn. These two lovers are engaged in making love without having souls that they give birth to a new and refined soul. This new and refined soul bestows them with ecstasy. Although they become lifeless bodies, but they are united and knit into a single soul. But even being ecstatic, they cannot forget the roles of bodies in making love and getting a refined soul. Here the ides of the poet is very clear. He does not ignore the role of physical coordination in making love and getting spiritual love. He stresses the physical attachment in getting a new and refined love and having the same new and refined soul.
Donne as a metaphysical poet has skillfully used images and conceits in the poem. He has presented two opposites together. We see the presentation of the abstract and the concrete, physical and spiritual, and the ordinary and the metaphysical. The poet also uses an approach that is unconventional and that favours the detachment of souls. We can say that the poet stresses the idea of being in love through physical attachment to get real and spiritual love. we fully agree with the remarks of Coleridge who opines: “I would never find fault with metaphysical poems, were they all like this (Extasie) or just half as excellent.” (Words: 622)