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An Analysis Of John Donne's Poetic Works Essay


"Use one or more of the passages as a basis for a discussion concerning John Donne's poetic works"

Despite the prevalent theme of love, most specifically the contradistinctive feathers of love, Donne's works, "To his Mistris Going to Bed", "The Sunne Rising" and "A Valediction forbidding mourning" describe an underlying tone of male dominance, the power of argument and egotism. The notable disparity in the disposition and the mannerisms of Donne's love poetry, with some poems being concerned with the mere physical, in that the narrator gives the appearance of interest solely in the woman's body, to the commemoration the purity of love and the refinement of it, so that the point of interest to the narrator is inner beauty alone. These varying views on love present an interesting scenario depicting the styles of love.

The dominance of males, is one of the established underlying ideas in Donne's works. "To his Mistris Going to Bed" is a prime example. The poem has a seductive tone laced with demand-"Off with that happy busk, which I envy"- then continuing on to compare the women's geography with geographical references-"O, my America, my Newfoundland"-is such the narrator's exclamation when feeling the woman's body. Donne refers to the woman as "My mine of precious stones, my empery". The economic and political orientation raises the question whether Donne's poetry concerns itself with the image of the man, who exercises his dominance over women. In Donne's poem, the narrator's hands mirror the ships and the passages of the adventurer: "Licence my roving hands, and let them go Before, behind, between, above and below. O my America, my new found land, My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned." The metaphoric value of the exploration of new lands and the conquering of uncharted territories, codes for having sexual relations with the woman. The woman's uncharted territories are juxtaposed with the yet to be mapped Americas and Africa, which were at that time recently discovered. In Donne's works, the exploration of new land and conquering of land becomes a facet of masculinity. The supposed protesting and final submittal of his mistress is a vital portion of the sexual excitation or 'chase', acutely symbolised by the hardships faced on the journey in any exploration and conquering of land. "To His Mistris Going to Bed" depicts the triumph of the male libido over the mysterious and hidden sexuality of the woman: "Gems which you women use Are like Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views, That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem, His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them. Themselves are like mystic books, which only we Whom their imputed grace will dignify Must see revealed." The playful and boasting tone of the narrator in "The Sunne Rising" as he mocks the sun and the reassuring and almost admonishing sombre tone of "A Valediction forbidding mourning" also present the recurring theme of male dominance in their argumentative and persuasive stances in comparison to the persuasive stance the narrator takes in "To His Mistris Going to Bed".

In all three poems, "To his Mistris Going to Bed", "The Sunne Rising" and "A Valediction forbidding mourning", Donne presents an argumentative case. The cases stem from persuasion in "To his Mistris Going to Bed" branching to boastful behaviour in "The Sunne Rising" and finally blooming with reassurance and admonishment in "A Valediction forbidding mourning". Donne uses various persuasive techniques to entice and seduce the mistress in "To his Mistris Going to Bed" ranging from sometimes overly intellectual like "My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,

My mine of precious stones, my empery, How blessed am I in this discovering thee! To enter in these bonds, is to be free;" to more human like lustful behaviour comprising of verse such as "License my roving hands, and let them go Before, behind, between, above, below", depending on the narrator's desperation at the time. "The Sunne Rising" takes a more authoritative tone as the narrator goads the sun for disturbing him and his lover, complaining that they are more important than the sun and the world, and that they are above all, at the centre of the universe. Again, Donne use of intellect and his clever reference to current issues of the time, in this case, the discovery of the earth revolving around the sun and not the other way around, identifies him as a metaphysical poet.

"A Valediction forbidding mourning" is also a front for presentation of one of Donne's famous love arguments. This time he discusses a man leaving his wife, and attempting to consolidate her by reassuring his love, "If they be two, they are two soAs stiff twin compasses are two ;Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show To move, but doth, if th' other do." This however begs the question, why must he justify himself and reassure his lover, has he been unfaithful in the past? Is that the reason she doubts his love for her? Donne's recurring need to argue and persuade in his love poetry is a notable phenomenon, one that reflects the very essence of humanity. Is our need to have our own way greater than all other needs? Throughout the three poems, Donne places his object of desire in these cases, the woman and the love for her above all else, even degrading the sun, and the love of others. Donne's need to have his own way begs the question of egotism in the male characters of Donne's poetic works.

The issue concerning male dominance and empowerment is one of the most difficult aspects about Donne's poetry, all stemming from the root cause which is egotism. The speakers in the poems often seek pleasure through their use of emotional and intellectual power. The emotional side of the argument is present as Donne presents himself as a free man in relation to the inhibiting fears that thwart women from submitting to his will, and intellectual power is exerted through the patient (and possibly patronising) step-by-step arguments and dazzling flashes of verbal ingenuity. Another aspect to this concept, is the argument whether the poet's real object of desire is the woman, or himself? The opening of "A Valediction forbidding mourning" concerns itself with the death of virtuous men, which is then in turn analogously applied to the lovers, "so let us melt", turns to the uncertainty of the friends "The breath goes now, and some say, no" and the seemingly cold take at the image of conventional lovers, "no tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move." The absence of singulars and interesting touching blend of harmony and pain, made possible by sounds of the words, should we speak of a tension between egotism and loving concern or about egotism downtrodden to be overcome by true love?

Donne's poetry ranges all over the love spectrum, from true love to romantic and finishing with what is described as love, but being purely physical can be noted as lust. The works, truly captivate the variation in natural desire. Each poem presents an argument and formulates question regarding egotism and love in Donne's poetry.

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