Among different genres, John Donne has used poetry in order to show and explore his own identity in it, in the genre in fact he expresses his own feelings including his personal life, or that’s better to say that by his poetry, he struggles to prove himself. This essay will discuss Donne’s states of mind, his views on love, women, religion, his relationship with God; and finally how the use of poetic form plays a part in his exploration for an identity and salvation.
The speaker in Donne’s poetry is a kind of theatrical one, which always has gotten different roles to adapt into the action. He can be a lover as in the “lover’s infiniteness”, or the other roles, but the speaker in the most of his poem is himself.
The researcher tries to show different personalities of Donne and his attitude in different poems of him. In his “Elegy” we observe his personalities. The poem starts like this:”come ,madam ,come! All rest my power defy;/until I labor ,I in labor lie. In the poem the reader suddenly is thrust into the middle of a private scene in which Donne creates a sexual scene and provokes his beloved. As the reader finds, there is only one speaker in the poem and it is Donne himself, we hear no other voices. So the comment of Samuel Johnson comes true when he claims that “the metaphysical poets were men of learning, and to show their learning was their whole Endeavour…,”what is so striking not just about this poem but the majority of them is that the woman is always in his poem as a kind of incentive for him to write poetry, while there is no voice for the woman. For example in this poetry he is involved in the battle of sexes in which by the battle he has to defeat the woman that is undress her, he wants to prove himself and his identity. The main role of Donne is exactly the role of the poet to be a prophet both for himself and others, and in fact by the role he just wants to make an apiphany for himself and the readers.
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What Donne has always tried to do is to personify himself, for example in his elegy, he wants to prove himself as a poet, and he enjoys this process, because by creation of his poem he can convince his lover to do what he wants. And of course all the persuasions pave the way for the revelation of his identity.
Readers can completely perceive that Donne’s personality changes with every new experience. His poetry reflects his changing roles by taking on a different form each time .perhaps elegy can be seen as a time in his life when he wanted to establish himself as a poet in his own mind. But there was a significant event in Donne’s life that changed his attitude toward women and himself. It shows us a person who only thinks of his gratification, the woman is there, so he can invent. In “the good morrow”, Donne shows another aspects of himself, a man in love while finding his own identity inside another person, with a very new style. In the style we see the use of extended metaphors, and so implication of rebirth.” I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I, Did till we loved? Were we not weaned till then, but sucked on country pleasures, childishly? Or snorted us in seven sleepers’ den? ‘Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be. If ever any beauty I did see, which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee. And now good-morrow to our waking souls, Which watch not one another out of fear; For love all love of other sights controls, And makes one little room an everywhere. (1-11)
The above lines, suggests that the concepts of women he portrays in his poetry is not a real existing being but dreams of them, the beloveds or even lovers are separate worlds, they have their own identity but at the same time they are united as a big whole.
Always there is a sense of ambiguity in ontologically existing of his characters, always there is time which disapproves of their love and the unities of his characters are disturbed by the outside world. As I mentioned some times even the number of his characters is not an exact one. for example in “the sun rising” suddenly the sun intrudes and reminds him that its not just he and his lover that exist.
Busy old fool, unruly sun,
Why dost thou thus
through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are rags of time.(1-10)
This poem can be considered as a dramatic monologue, a kind of complaint to the sun. His frame of thinking is the representative of the outside world. The world that he is clearly aware of, but wants no part in it. As if he exists outside of the time .just with his love within the unit they form. The lovers hands are firmly cemented, their eyes beams twisted together to become a unit, as in “the Ecstasy”. In “the sun rising” Donne makes a juxtaposition between his relation to the sun and at the same time to the lover. While he and his lover appear timeless ,immortal, able to disregard the sun with a wink of an eye, but the sun is aged and has worldly thing to do, of course here the poet no longer contrasts his unit with the sun, because the lovers become the world:
She is all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls thy sphere(21-30).
Perhaps that’s better to claim that the most dramatic of Donne’s poetry is “the canonization.” This poem portrays Donne’s anger at the criticism of others and their opinions about how he chooses to live his life. The poem begins by the request of being alone, a demand to the people bothering him to mind their own business:
For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five grey hairs, or ruined fortune flout;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace,
Or the king’s real, or his stamped face
Contemplate; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.(1-9)
In his poems, Donne defends his choices, as in the poem. He chooses some how to remain completely separated from the outside world, alone in a relationship that hurts nobody, as if his personality is going to be shaped in idleness, in a sheer need of being alone, he can’t be comprehended by those, who are not in the circle of his unity with his own beloved. This poem was written after his elopement with Anne More and a lot of stress that went because of this marriage .The beginning of the poem brings the reader into a debate between Donne and his friend, then he returns inward and examines his love, the opponent here is lost, and we get Donne’s feeling on the matter of love, as stated before ,Donne defines himself with his poems. In every of them he shows one aspect of his personality and asserts that nobody but just his love can understand him. The only possible comprehension and understanding of him is Donne by the love he has acquired.
We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns all shall approve
Us canonized for love… (28-36)
The kind of love described in the poem, becomes like a legend inscribed on their tombs stones ,immortalized in verse, building shelter through the poet’s words. He turns his love into the written word, a law to live by, while others take to their courtly duties. Again immortalization of his poems and his personality is done just by love.
John Donne’s Holy Sonnets as it is clear is the revelation of his relationship with God, his thoughts on religion and at the same time his hope for salvation. Of course some believes that the poems bring the reader to the time after Ann More’s death, when in fact Donne didn’t have the identity he found in the eyes of his lovers. In the era Donne found himself alone with God and his religious beliefs. In the era his only lover was god personified in different works of him ,so his identity was formed in his meditation on God and his presence in every nook and cranny of his life ,besides ,writing poetry has always been a private experience for him ,his dramatic self-presentation remains in his writings .Proffesor Crooffs asserts that:
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And so, later in life, though the stuff of his meditations changes, this inability to lose himself remains. It is not of God that he thinks so often or so deeply as of his relation to God; of the torturing drama of his sin and its expiation, the sowing and the reaping, the wheat and the tares. The great commonplace of his sermons, it has been said, is death: but in truth it is not death that inspires his frightful eloquence so much as the image of himself dying; and the pre-occupation culminates in that ghastly charade of his last hours, described by Walton, when he lay
Contemplating the portrait of himself in his winding-sheet like a grim and mortified Narcissus.
As I mentioned in the previous paragraphs, readers play an important role in the style of Donne’s poetry and his narration. He always intends to imply some notions in his poetry hidden in it to be revealed by the readers, like his identity that is always hidden to be revealed by the readers. As we see the reader is thrust into the action of the poem in “sonnet 14”.In the sonnet we see a very intimate mutual relationship between Donne and God. Donne calls on God in a frenzied demanding tone:”Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you/As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mendâ€¦â€¦â€¦â€¦,in a sense Donne wants God to beat sin out of him because he feels so distant and helpless.
The majority of Donne’s poetry deals with the sense of solititude, and this loneliness make the theme of his work. Sometimes in his poems such as the Divine Poems we encounter with Donne’s sickness and loneliness. In the sonnets he wants God to act, to repair his illness and prevent aging .of course in some of his poems he appears to be helpless:
Thou hast made me, and shall Thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste;
I run to death, and death meets me as fast…(1-3)
His poetry some times and in some of his sonnets becomes the incarnation of his salvation, he begs God to be a magnet for his hardened heart, to tear him away from sin. In “sonnet 2″Donne wants God to fight for him. Now poetry becomes the model and frame for his own salvation .Donne, in a sense, is in fact an active participant by calling on God to save him. In “Sonnet 5”, the poet sees himself as a little world, a microcosm, and his body as a kind of the entire world, his eyes swelled with tears like the tears, in fact these images parallel his own first meditation.
Donne has always different and various biblical stories of Old Testament allusions in his writings .Of course ,one observes The New Testament Apocalypse as he calls foe God and implores him to burn the sins contained within him as a microcosm. In his sickness, he believes the biblical experience is being fulfilled in him, as was the Old Testament in the New. There are very prominent differences between Meditations and Holy Sonnets. In the Meditation, Donne seems completely alone and dejected ,always in his sickness, scorning the witchness of human being while in the Divine poems we see a kind of adaptation of him with all of he illnesses and miseries ,here he embrace sickness and death believing that God really helps him to get out of the problems and is saving him from the sins, and on the basis of these two different kinds of poems he again adapts two kinds of personalities.
In poems such” as the Hymn to God,My God,In my Sickness ” the reader notices in fact Donne’s death-bed poem, in fact the final acceptance of his sickness that he believes was in preparation for his salvation:
Since I am coming to that holy room
Where, with thy choir of saints for evermore
I shall be made Thy Music, as I come
I tune the instrument here at the door,
And what I must do then, think here before.(1-5)
In the poem unlike the premiers ones, we don’t see and observe the feeling of helplessness, in the poem we see his optimist personality in which he actually is confidant and sure that his bodily illnesses has metamorphesized his different identities into a clean one so that it can enter heaven. This tuning of instruments refers to the writing of the Hymn itself, and the instrument, an image for Donne’s soul, will become the music in Heaven.
John Donne takes a journey through his life and uses poetry in order to find his own identity. The poems take the reader through dramatic situations, confrontations, and debates between the poet and a person whose voice is not heard. In the poems Donne is acting out different personas– characters like the womanizer, the monogamist lover, a man sick and dying calling on God to save his soul, and finally a man accepting his death to the point of obsession. This is a journey through the poet’s vulnerability, his pleas for sex, isolation, and finally salvation and all of them paving his way for knowing and showing his identity. Donne’s writing reveals his attitudes about sex and religion, experiences he believes should be private and cut off from the outside and reality. By using elaborate conceits, Donne is not only trying to be witty and show his great learning as Samuel Johnson might suspect. The paradoxes and strange comparisons are written as an attempt to understand what is happening to him. The poetry portrays a man obsessed with himself, and obsessed with finding a place or a person so he can exist.
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