Friday, May 4, 2012

John Donne's Ideas on Love and Salvation

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To understand John Donnes ideas on love and salvation the responder must understand the context in which Donne writes. As a 16th century poet Donne lived in a time where everyone believed in god. He lived in a society where there was a constant battle between the protestant and Catholic branches of Christianity. There was no division between church and state and the monarchy were believed to be appointed by god. Donne lived in a time of discovery and exploration. In this context his poetry both religious and secular contains ancient and medieval philosophy ideas about alchemy, astronomy and physical science. One theme Donne repeatedly explored was that of love. He identified two types of love the poem A Valediction Forbidding Mourning explores both of these representations.


The first type of love is that of true love. This is the type of love that the persona of the poem believes he shares with his female partner Donne represents this love with an array of metaphors that emphasis the unearthly nature of there love.


The poem begins with the idea that the body and soul are separate entities that break apart at death. This was a controversial statement in the time of writing as some religious leaders that the body and soul were one. Donne makes the difference in beliefs clear in the line “whilst some of there sad friends do say, the breath goes now and some say nay.”


After establishing this idea Donne begins a liquid metaphor “so let us melt and make no noise” This brings images to the responder of mixing of two substances that cannot be taken apart. This demonstrates the depth if this love, the true love.


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The metaphors pf earthquakes and celestial spheres add to the responders understanding of the personas love. The “trepidation of spheres “ and “Moving of the earth” show that Donne believes this love has great force. In the context of John Donne’s time the spheres around the earth were the largest structures imaginable. The magnificence of this love is further high lighted by the words “but we buy a love so much refined. That we ourselves know not what it is.”


As a paradox to this perfect love Donne introduces the second type of love. This is described as the love of “dull sublunary lovers.” Unlike the first type of love that can admit the bodies absence this earthly love cannot endure because being apart from each other prevents the actions from which the love was originated.


The mentioning of this inferior love heightens the responders feeling of the superior nature of true love, which, with absence does not brake but expands.


Donne concludes the poem with a conceit in which the love is represented by a twin compass. This conceit shows D belief that even if the bodies are separated the souls are still joined like the handles of a compass. The distance becomes insignificant because they are not really apart, simply spread out. Their love will make them return to each other. “ Thy firmness makes my circle just and makes me end, where I began”.


If we look at this poem from a feminist perspective, the female persona is seen as a passive responder to the male’s actions. The very purpose of the poem is to console the woman as he leaves on a journey. This suggests some weakness of character in the female. The line “Thy sole the fixed foot makes no show” highlights the woman’s role in the context of J D. She is the one who stays at home and “harkens” after her lover, only becoming “strong and erect” as her male lover returns. In a modern society, this would be seen as…………………


To portray his ideas on salvation Donne uses secular metaphors paradox and alliteration. In the holy sonnet batter my heart Donne uses violent paradoxes to explain more complex issues.


“Except you enthrall me I shall never be free, Nor ever chaste except you ravish me”


Through this Donne represents his idea that salvation is only attained by god breaking the spirit and making it new.


The alliteration “To Brake, Blow, Burn” shows the repetitive crushing that Donne feels is necessary of god in order to make a person clean of sin.


A structuralism criticism looks at the type of Myth, language and binary opposites used to create meaning in a text.


Donne uses the Myth of Christian belief involving death and resurrection to depict underlying truths about the human condition. The use of binary opposite also allows the responder to draw meaning. In the sonnet Batter my heart Donne uses images of evil and torture. Buy defining what is evil a person also defines what is good that is what is not evil. Donne talks about being “betrothed unto your enemy” buy understanding this enemy one can understand in more depth the value of a friend. In this case God.


For example “may I rise and stand, Overthrow Me.”





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