The Growing Up of John Donne in His Love Poetry

The Growing up of John Donne in his Love Poetry “Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time” is a quote from John Donne which talks about how love defies time however he did not always have such an optimistic view of love. John Donne was a writer in the 1700s’ who used the theme of love in quite a few of his poems. Donne can be a pessimistic poet, which often creates misunderstandings in both the theme of love and how the poem is written.

Since love is so unclear and there is nothing definite about love, it makes it difficult to write about and often misunderstood says R. V. Young (251). Donne shows his love in these poems through references to physical love, the union of two souls, and journeys. These references can be seen in “To his Mistress Going to Bed,” “The Flea,” “The Extasie,” and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. One of the ways Donne expresses the theme of love is through physical love. The two main poems that refer to physical love are “To his Mistress Going to Bed” and “The Flea. Donne’s poem “To his Mistress Going to Bed” is about the speaker trying to convince a women to remove her clothes by saying “Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glittering, / But a far fairer world encompassing. / Unpin that pgled breast-plate, which you wear” (lines 5-7). The speaker talks in great detail about his wishes for this woman to remove her clothing even though the woman does not want to. In order to comfort her, he says “there is no penance due to innocence” (line 46) meaning that removing her clothes is an innocent act and not a sin; therefore there is nothing for her to fear.

In this poem, the speaker does not say that he loves this woman; he only refers to the physical relationship he wishes to have with her and how happy he is to share a romantic encounter with her but not looking to further any relationship that may follow together. The speaker says, “My mine of precious stones, my empery; / How am I blest in thus discovering thee! ” (lines 29-30) which is the speaker’s way of expressing his happiness created by being with this woman while also complementing her on her beauty and power over him.

Donne ends “To my Mistress Going to Bed” by saying, “To teach thee, I am naked first; why than, / what needst thou have more covering than a man? ” (lines 47-48) which gives off the impression that the women gave into the speaker’s temptations and removed her clothing. The other work of poetry that discusses physical love is “The Flea” which has a very obscure plot line that contains an ambiguous way of symbolizing physical love shared between two romantic partners.

In this poem, the speaker once again is trying to persuade a woman to participate in an expression of physical love by saying that “me it suck’d first, and now sucks thee, / And in this flea our two bloods mingled bee” (lines 3-4) meaning the flea had bitten him and his partner causing their blood to be combined, which in his time “signifies loss of virginity through heterosexual copulation” (Mansour 7), but the woman refuses his advances.

The speaker then tries to comfort the woman, like the previous poem, by saying “thou know’st that this cannot be said / A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead” meaning that it was not sinful or shameful to express physical love however the woman still refuses his advances. The woman reacts to the speaker’s attempts to persuade her into physical love by eventually killing the flea. By killing the flea it showed that her answer was not going to change and that she wished the speaker to stop pressuring her (7).

Donne also has many poems that deal with the theme of love that instead of referencing physical love; they reference the topic of two souls becoming one and show Donne’s desire for a deep connection which was not seen in “To his Mistress Going to Bed” and “The Flea. ”. The topic of two souls becoming one can be seen in the poems “The Extasie” and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”. Donne’s works when looked at collectively cover a variety of topics and experiences. Donne does not limit himself to one category or care if one poem contradicts another.

This can be seen when comparing “The Extasie” and “To his Mistress Going to Bed” (Young 251). “The Extasie” refers to the souls uniting and becoming one as the purest form of love, while “To his Mistress Going to Bed” holds physical love as the most important aspect in a relationship. Donne’s concentration on showing how two souls uniting is the purest form of love causes physical love to seem unimportant. “The Extasie” begins with a description of two people sitting on a river bank with their hands “firmly cemented” (line 5) while their “eye-beams twisted” (line 7).

They laid there all day “like sepulchral statues” (line 18) saying nothing. This description shows the deep connection the two people already have without physical love. Their love is deeper and more substantial then physical because it is emotional love. “The Extasie” is about having a relationship before engaging in the act of physical love. Donne holds this relationship up on a high pedestal at the beginning of the poem then the tone changes when they say “Our bodies why doe wee forbeare? They’are ours, though they’are not wee; Wee are / The intelligences, they the spheare. ” (lines 51-53) and talk about possibly engaging in physical love so that they truly can become one soul. They later decide they need to engage in physical love “so soul into soul may flow” (line 60), however, their act of physical love is different because they have a relationship, and it means more than if they were to engaged in physical love without a prior relationship. According to Donne, this unity of the souls is supposedly more gratifying than the physical love itself.

The flowing of souls is used to represent how, if there is a deep connection, the physical love does not seem to matter as much anymore. This idea of having a deep connection before engaging in physical love contrasts the concepts mentioned in “To his Mistress Going to Bed” and “The Flea” because in this poem Donne does not mention this connection that he holds up so highly in this poem. The other poem that mentions the idea of souls becoming one is “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” which is a goodbye poem to his wife before he leaves on a journey.

The speaker considers his wife to be his soul mate, and in this poem, he tells her that their souls are one soul, hinting at the deep connection there is between the two. The speaker mocks how “ordinary love” needs to be close and not capable of dealing with distance. The speaker tells his wife that if she is able to cope with the distance it will make their love stronger when he returns. In this poem, Donne uses the image of souls becoming one not to show how the deep connection is related to physical love, but how the deep connection makes their love stronger (Levchuck 207).

The speaker says “Our two souls therefore, which are one, / Though I must go, endure not yet” (lines 12-13) meaning that because they are one soul, the distance will be easier to deal with and they will come out stronger, which is very important to the speaker. Having a strong relationship is a desire that was not present in “To his Mistress Going to Bed” and “The Flea” so the readers begin to see Donne’s opinions toward love change and how important this union of souls is becoming to him. “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is also used when talking about physical journey, but actually meaning an motionally journey. Journeys are a topic mentioned in John Donne’s love poems. “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is a poem that discusses the use of journeys in Donne’s love poetry. ”A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is the speaker’s way of giving his wife reassurance before leaving her for a long period of time while he went off on a trip. The poem is meant to comfort her by comparing their love to “the way virtuous men behave at the moment of death” (Pipkin 212) which may appear to be a dark message, but the poem is actually meant to show the deep connectedness of the lover.

The speaker says that even though they will not be close because he leaving on a journey, their love will survive and be even stronger when he returns. The speaker does not “tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move” (line 6) because the speaker believes that if she cries or shows sadness, it means their love is not as deep as he thought it was as he wants to say their love so resilient that no distance could tear them apart (Bussey 1). The poems says “Moving of th’earth brings harms and fears” (line 9) meaning that his moving brings up some fears that the speaker does not want.

The speaker wants their love to be exceedingly strong and to be able to with stand any dilemma they face together. Throughout this poem the speaker seems to really stress the point of having a strong relationship. This want for a strong faithful relationship is significantly greater in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” then when mentioned in “The Extasie”. John Donne’s opinions have changed vastly since his writing about his desire for physical love now; Donne now desires for a strong and faithful relationship.

Though “To his Mistress Going to Bed,” “The Flea,” “The Extasie,” and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” John Donne expresses references to physical love, the union of two souls, and journeys. Donne mentions physical love in “To his Mistress Going to Bed” and “The Flea. ” In these the reader sees an immature version of Donne and his desire for the expression of physical love. In “The Extasie”, and “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” which discussed the union of two souls, the readers begins to see a more sophisticated side of Donne.

Donne begins to see to there is more to love then physical love and the importance of a relationship. Also in the “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” the readers see this concept of journeys. This concept of journeys and moving past the idea of love being the emotion felt just on the surface and more a deep connection with a strong relationship shows how much Donne’s idea and perception of love has since change from his poems about physical love.

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