Donne's Love Poetry

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Since the publication of his `Songs and Sonets' in 1663, the intellectual wittiness of John Donne's love poetry has caused much speculation about the views of the poet himself. Donne took the traditional form and imagery of love poetry in his own day and forced it to "emerge reinvigorated and radically transformed by his hand, demanding from the reader an unprecedented level of mental alertness and engagement" Just as Donne threw himself eagerly into capturing the mood of the moment in his works, so he succeeds in sweeping the reader away in the intense emotions of his poetry.

Several critics have believed Donne's `Songs and Sonets' can be divided into two groups; an earlier group of cynical and promiscuous poems, and a later group of more idealistic poems (supposedly written after Donne's marriage) However, even categorizing the poems in this way cannot banish the sense of variety between the attitudes to love found in the poems. For Donne, it would appear that love is not a singular and distinct emotion, but (to use his own words) is "mixt of all stuffes, paining soule or sense" (`Love's Growth') Rather than speak of love as a separate entity, Donne portrays it as deeply ingrained in the other feelings and activities that he describes.

For this reason, it is difficult to decipher which attitude expressed in his poetry is actually Donne's view on love. In `The Flea', it would appear that sexual gratification is the solitary objective of the poem, whereas in poems such as `The Canonisation' love is elevated to a level where it refuses to abate even to the loss of the physical body. Similarly, many of the poems contain a sense of urgency about love, whilst others depict love as utterly unyielding to the passage of time.


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...ertain dignity and the only thing we can be sure of is that Donne leaves his reader with the sense that love is a "mysterie."



The Norton Anthology of English Literature, M.H. Abrams (ed.) 7th edition, volume 1. (New York and London, 2000)

Critical Studies

C.S Lewis, `Donne and Love Poetry in the Seventeenth Century', in Seventeenth-Century English Poetry, W.R. Keast (ed.) Oxford University Press (New York, 1962)

Phillip Mallett, York Notes Advanced. John Donne: Selected Poems. York Press (York, 1999)

Samuel Johnson, `The Life of Cowley', in Johnson's Lives of the Poets. A Selection, J.P. Hardy (ed.) Oxford University Press (Oxford, 1971)

Internet Resources

Ian Mackean, The Love Poetry of John Donne.
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