Saturday, 18 April 2015

Donne’s Treatment of Love

couple 1700sDonne’s Treatment of Love: Donne’s poetry may be classified under three groups –  love poetry, the miscellaneous and occasional poems and verse letters and the religious poetry. But as a poet of love, he is chiefly remembered. Donne love-poems deal with the basic theme of the problem of the place of human love in a physical world dominated by change and death. The problem is approached in different ways - sometimes by asserting the immortality of love and sometimes by declaring the futility of love. That’s why the mood of his poetry extends from ecstatic and passionate idealization of love in The Sun Rising, The Undertaking, The Good Morrow and The Dream to the deliberately cynical flippancy of The Flea and Go and Catch a Falling Star. The poet who is capable of profound sense of spiritual union in love is also capable of savage bitterness. The poet who affirms the constancy of love in absence of the lovers can also go to the extent of describing “changed lovers” as “changed sorts of meats”. But in spite of his fluctuating attitude to love, Donne’s poetry is marked with an unusual directness and concreteness of suggestion. He deliberately avoided the smooth fluency and courtliness of diction of the average Elizabethan lyric and introduced colloquialism in poetry. Moreover he dispensed with Petrarchan tradition of woman-worship. To Donne, woman is no goddess. She is a creature, desirable but not adorable. “His love poetry”, says Prof. R.G. Cox, “is remarkable for realism, psychological penetration and above for the range and variety of mood”.
                                            The Sun Rising opens with colloquial tone with the poet rebuking sun for intruding upon his private room and disturbing his pleasant moments of intimacy with his beloved. Then the poet in a sardonic tone belittles the mundane activities which are subject to change and immortalizes his love: “Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, / Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.” His love is the real experience. Everything compared to it is a mere counterfeit: “…compared to this, / All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy”. Finally their private world of love transcends the mundane reality and becomes self-contained, complete and the microcosm of the world. So the poet advises the sun: “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere; / This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.”. Though the poet here speaks of higher love that transcends earthly reality, the poem smacks of an implied eroticism. The poet celebrates higher love. “But it must reach out”, A.E. Dyson and Julian Lovelock remarks, “beyond the bedroom if it is to carry conviction, to clearer loyalties, stronger renunciations of erotic possessiveness, than this poem affords”
                                            In Go and Catch a Falling Star, the poet in a bitterly cynical tone subverts the romantic concept of courtly love and deification of lady-love. He speaks of the impossibility of finding a truly sacred woman. It is the most bizarre thing in the world to find a pure woman: “All strange wonders that befell thee, / And swear / Nowhere / Lives a woman true and fair”.

                                          Thus in the two poems Donne reveals his two completely different attitudes to love and its treatment. Sometimes Donne considers love as a divine experience and sometimes he sets it in ground reality. In this respect we can quote Louis Martz who said in his essay John Donne: Love’s Philosophy: “ His best poems are not those which move toward either extreme…but they are rather those in which the physical and the spiritual are made to work together, through the curiously shifting and winding manner that marks Donne’s movements toward Truth”. This shows that Neoplatonism which was in vogue in Renaissance in England influenced Donne to some extent. 

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