Choose two or three poems that you think exemplify the characteristics of Donne’s poetry Essay

Donne’s poetry is varied including, as it does, both religious and secular poems. However, much of his poetry is characterised by elaborate conceits, surprising symbols and persistent wittiness making use of paradox, puns and startling parallels. Donne’s love poetry notably ‘The Good-Morrow’ and ‘The Sun Rising’ both succeed in exemplifying characteristics peculiar to Donne’s poetry. In ‘The Good-Morrow’ Donne begins to wrestle with a question, which other lovers have faced. He is sure that the love he feels is different from any he has previously known, but lovers often feel that, and the fact remains that they have each loved others before.

What thou and I Did, till we lov’d? ‘ Donne ponders over the significance of this for the relationship they are about to begin. If they have loved, and left others in the past, what security can they have for the future? Although ‘Good-Morrow’ and ‘Sun Rising’ are secular poems they can be seen to share certain characteristics with the holy sonnet ‘Batter my Heart’. To each of these poems Donne brings the full force of his passion and intelligence. None of the poems can be regarded as a simple cry from the heart: they neither are, nor pretend to be, raw expressions of emotion.

All of the three poems are about Donne’s relationship with others, both lovers and God. They all contain complicated metaphors reflecting the complex nature of these relationships. Love, for Donne does not exist isolated from other emotions and activities, as it does in the work of some other poets, but alongside and mingled with them. Consequently, in his poetry love appears under many guises from the assurance of ‘The Sun Rising’ to the sense of discovery in ‘The Good-morrow’. ‘The Sun Rising’ celebrates the pleasures of a satisfied love in extravagant terms.

The woman is ‘all States’ and he, her lover, is accordingly ‘all Princes’ while the sun which wakes them is paltry in comparison. In ‘The Good-morrow’ Donne suggests that here at last is a love that will survive even in a world dominated by change. However the idea of the self-sufficiency of the lovers is part of the argument of both these poems, as they set out to defy time. In ‘The Sun Rising’ the claim for the lovers’ supremacy over the temporal world is accompanied by an acute sense of their vulnerability in a world dominated by time.

These conflicting emotions are felt in a number of Donne’s poems notably ‘The Anniversary’ where the lovers’ convictions that ‘Here upon earth, we’re kings’ cannot obscure that ‘Two graves must hide thine and my corse’. Likewise the bravado of ‘The Sun Rising’ cannot disguise the fact that the sun will rise and set regardless of the lover’s boasts. ‘The Sun Rising’ exemplifies many characteristics of Donne’s poetry, particularly his love poetry as his Jack Donne persona is typically light hearted and witty.

Donne immediately reverses expectations of what the poem will be about as he begins the poem with a characteristically vibrant first line that dismisses the sun outright. ‘Busy old fool, unruly sun’. Donne is both condescending and supercilious when readers might instead expect him to be awed by the Sun’s great power. In poetry, personification of the sun is not uncommon but Donne’s is particularly unusual as the sun’s personification takes the form of a voyeuristic, old man.

‘Why dost thou thus, Through windows, and through curtains call on us? The line opens with great energy, in which is recognised not only Donne’s determination to win an argument but also his triumphant mood as a successful lover. In ‘Good-Morrow’ too, the first line illustrates the remarkable directness of Donne’s poetic voice. ‘I wonder by my troth, what thou and I Did till we lov’d? ‘ Several of Donne’s poems are written in the dramatic and rhetorical form of an urgent and heated argument, notably ‘The Flea’ and ‘To his Mistress Going to Bed’ and ‘Sun Rising is no different’. However in this case, Donne is questioning the sun rather than his lover.

Donne can be seen to first draw in the reader with his sharp wit before launching his argument to the sun. Readers are at once impressed by the worldly assurance of this lover who professes to care nothing for the world. Despite his complaint that the sun has disturbed him and his lover, there is nothing sleepy about his opening outburst; he is already more alert and indeed more ‘busy’ than any of those who are reluctantly setting about their day’s work. He is too arrogant to regard the sun as a possible threat to his happiness, treating it instead as an incompetent but harmless servant to be sent about his business ‘go chide’, ‘go tell’.

In the same brisk manner the poet scoffs at the ‘rags of time’ as hardly meriting the lovers’ attention, since love is of its very nature ‘all alike’, and therefore exempt from the pressures of time and change. The poem is both solipsistic and narcissistic in keeping with many others of Donne’s songs and sonnets. The lovers are at the centre of a living and attractive world and Donne gives full weight to their sense that they are, uniquely, immune from time.

“Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime, Nor hours, days, months which are the rags of time. Love does not know of time, seasons or social responsibility but shelters lovers in their own secluded world. In this way, Donne uses the idea of the Ptolemaic universe in which the earth is at the centre. At the time Donne was writing the Copernican universe was beginning to be established, with the sun at the centre and with it came the dawn(! ) of a rational era. However, the Ptolemaic universe was still frequently used in poetry, being a more romantic idea and Donne uses images from both contemporary science and outgoing science.

Donne repeatedly uses images of exploration and discovery as Drake’s circumnavigation of the globe was still fairly recent and Donne would have been well aware of the new treasures that were being discovered. His lover is both ‘th’ Indias of spice and mine’. In ‘Good-Morrow’ images of discovery are used in order to enliven the poetry and comparisons are made between the excitement of two lovers waking up in a new world of love and the thrill of ‘new worlds’ which have been found. ‘Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown’.

This can be considered to be the central conceit of the poem and is characteristically complex. Donne seeks to acknowledge the past and the future as well as the present reality of the couple’s love, and ambition leads him to include a wide range of feeling and mood in the space of the poem. Humour is present in nearly all of Donne’s poems although in ‘Good-Morrow’ it is more subtle than others such as ‘Sun Rising’. The bungled ‘country pleasures’ of the past provide an opportunity for the lovers (and readers) to express their love in shared laughter.

At the same time Donne shows himself acutely aware of the possibility that love will be invaded by fear ‘And now good-morrow to our waking souls Which watch not one another out of fear’. He seems instinctively to recognise that while we cannot banish fear, we can nonetheless rise free of it. The effect of this recognition is profoundly emotional as the movement of verse signals the lovers’ sudden emergence from suspicious watchfulness into a world of mutual contemplation. ‘For love all love of other sights controls And makes one little room an everywhere’.

The couple’s literal awakening after a night together is made to suggest the awakening of their souls into a new clarity of feeling. This metaphor is not original to Donne but the poem is so characteristic of him because the images are not used merely decoratively, to give poetic status to a simple idea but rather, argumentatively, to reveal more about the experience of love than was at first evident. Despite their differences both ‘The Good-Morrow’ and ‘The Sun Rising’ can be seen to exemplify Donne’s poetry sharing, as they do, complex metaphors and challenging perspectives on love.