The love poetry of John Donne reflects his early age experiences. As a love poet, John Donne focused his attention on worldly love. Readers witness the personal experiences, feelings, and emotions of the poet in “Love Poems”; however, in many sonnets, the poet has exaggerated his feelings. Somewhere, he talks about the company of his beloved; somewhere, he prefers love to any other thing in life; whereas, at some point, he talks about the unfaithful nature of women. Nevertheless, later on, he changed his attitude. The collection of “Divine Poems” is the mirror of spirituality. Although as a love poet, John Donne was not practically mature yet poetically he was mature enough to get the attention of his readers. It is because he was a very witty kind of person. Moreover, “Love Poems” by John Donne are universal in nature. Furthermore, every poem spreads light on the love relationship from a man’s perspective.
Features of Donne’s “Love Poetry”:
Several features are there in Donne’s poetry, which separate him from common poets of his era. He was a poet of realism; therefore, every poem narrates the personality and autobiography of the poet. It is obvious to us that he has broken the convention and has used a variety of poetic devices. Conceits and hyperboles are remarkable in this regard. In addition to it, the chief characteristics of John Donne’s “Love Poetry” are as under:-
- The three Strains:
- No depiction of female beauty
- Love-limited philosophy
- Variety of emotions
The Three Strains:
There are three strains in the poetry of John Donne, which are:-
- Cynical strain
- Conjugal love strain
- Platonic strain
Cynical Strain Makes Donne a Good Love Poet:
As a love poet, John Donne demonstrates three strains in his love poems. First and foremost among them is the cynical strain. Nonetheless, his cynicism is always related to women’s unfaithfulness. For instance, in “Go and Catch A Falling Star”, he gives argument after argument to prove that loyalty is very rare in women. One cannot find a faithful girl; if, after doing hard efforts, he finds her then it would have been changed until the person reaches her. John Donne may have experienced life from a wide angle but the truth is his experiences are only related to love relationships. When his relationship does not do more or his beloved betrays him, he becomes cynical. Thereby, cynicism is an important strain in the love poetry of John Donne.
Conjugal Love Strain:
John Donne finds peace and harmony in love. He sees it as a passion instead of nasty work. Numerous poems by John Donne depict this strain. For instance, “Valediction: Of Weeping” and “Valediction: Forbidden Mourning” are about spiritual peace. As a love poet, John Donne has proved that love is part of life and that without it, life is barren and useless. Whenever he remembers his beloved, he attains peace and serenity. He cannot forget her or the moments that he has spent with her. Thus, bundles of poems contain the conjugal love strain.
It is the last but the most important love strain. Love is love whether it is before marriage or after. There is always spirituality in it. Donne has improved this strain and written “Divine Poems”. To exemplify, In “The Sun Rising”, the poet considers love as the best thing on this planet. Similarly, in “Canonization”, he takes love as a holy passion. Hence, this strain is entirely the opposite of the cynical strain.
Apart from the strains, John Donne has a variety of moods. In every poem, it is different. Indeed, these strains and moods come first to make John Donne as best unconventional love poet of every era.
John Donne as (Love) poet of Realism:
Conventional poems were not original; they were about fairies and that too copied from other languages. John Donne and Ben Jonson were against the tradition. They wrote poetry, which was based on reality. Donne’s poetry is also the most realistic. As mentioned earlier, he expresses his deep love experiences; therefore, his poetry is actually his biography. Realism is one of the prominent factors, which makes John Donne a memorable love poet.
No depiction of female beauty:
Donne might talk about women but he never praised their beauty. He never said that he liked the hairs or lips of his beloved. He is a love devotee and talks about emotions, not physical appearances. For him, love is not just about sex. If he talks about any part of her beloved’s body then he mere describes its charm. Moreover, in his eyes, physical contact is not necessary for love. This very fact is evident from “Valediction: Forbidden Mourning”. It is desirous and spiritual. In this regard, John Donne is different from the second-best love poet of his era.
Donne’s philosophy is limited to love. He has covered only this topic in his poems. Only love poetry of John Donne is not limited to the philosophy of love but “Divine Poems” are also about it. However, in those poems love is for Christ and God. In love poems, it is typically between him and his wife Anne Moore. Thus, he has no worldly philosophy. He never touched politics or any other social issue of his society nor does he mention any sophisticated philosophy in his poems. He is best in one and only one topic i.e. “Love”. His approach in this regard is Platonic and Petrarchan; where love for the body is not considered love but lust; pure love is of the soul. Thus, it is another trait of John Donne, which makes him overall best love poet.
Variety of emotions:
Songs and sonnets are all about emotions. What makes him the best poet of every century is his wide range of emotions; no previous writer or poet has such a long list of emotions as John Donne has. The list of his love affairs is also long. He has spent time with many women. Some relations were temporary, whereas some were everlasting. What he experienced, he expressed in form of poetry; therefore, every line, each word and every single poem of John Donne is full of emotions. Hence, this capability of John Donne also separates him from the masses and helps him to gain the title of the best love poet.
Womanhood Describes Donne as Love Poet:
Donne’s world might be limited to one woman yet his attitude towards women is different in every poem. Somewhere they are loyal, whereas somewhere they are unfaithful. C.S. Lewis summarizes Donne’s attitude towards women in the following lines:
“Contempt for women is the dominant note of Donne’s love poetry.”
Clive Staples Lewis
In the true sense, it is a wrong statement. John Donne follows Petrarchan dogma, in which the beloved is really worthy of love. In “Go and Catch a Falling Star”, he is against women’s nature but a majority of Donne’s poems are about love from both sides. In most cases, he does not degrade women but respects them. Undoubtedly, in his early poems, his attitude was rough as well as cynical but later on, it was much improved.
To conclude, John Donne has not studied love but experienced it. He does not advise his reader but speaks the truth. He leaves everything to his reader to decide whether he is right or not. Donne’s greatness lies within the expression of feelings and his philosophy of love. He is different; he is overwhelming and finally, we can say that John Donne is the best metaphysical love poet ever witnessed in the history of English Literature.
- What is your estimate of Donne as a love poet?
- In his love poetry, Donne exhibits a more varied range of feelings than the Elizabethans. Moreover, his imagery, diction and versification are startlingly different. Discuss.
- Discuss Donne as a