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Donne’s Poetry. ENGL 203 Dr. Fike. Metaphysical Poetry. Harmon and Holman: “psychological analysis of the emotions of love and religion” “penchant for the novel and the shocking” “use of the metaphysical conceit”

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donne s poetry

Donne’s Poetry

ENGL 203

Dr. Fike

metaphysical poetry
Metaphysical Poetry
  • Harmon and Holman:
    • “psychological analysis of the emotions of love and religion”
    • “penchant for the novel and the shocking”
    • “use of the metaphysical conceit”
    • “the extremes to which they [metaphysical poets] sometimes carried their techniques”
further characteristics
Further Characteristics
  • #1: Linkage of opposites: (wit [fancy, inspiration, originality, imagination], antithesis, paradox)
    • Eliot quoting Jonson: “‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together’”
    • Coleridge’s point: far-fetched comparisons (next slide)
coleridge on opposites
Coleridge on Opposites

With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,

Wreathe iron pokers into true love knots;

Rhyme’s sturdy cripple, fancy’s maze and clue,

Wit’s forge and fire-blast, meaning’s press and screw.

example of linkage of opposites
Example of Linkage of Opposites
  • “Batter my heart” sonnet (#10)
  • Questions:
    • What comparisons is Donne making?
    • What is the effect of the phrase “Three-person’d God”?
    • What paradoxes do you find in the poem?
    • How do you read the final line?
    • Form: What is the rhyme scheme here? Do you find any exceptions to iambic pentameter?
  • God as lamb vs. God as ram: a kind of violence in Christian doctrine
  • Seige: speaker’s heart is a gate
  • Trinity: triple strength
    • Father: break instead of knock
    • Holy Spirit: blow instead of breathe
    • Son (Sun): burn instead of shine
  • Paradoxes:
    • Wrestler must fall to rise.
    • Speaker must be imprisoned to be free.
    • Speaker must be ravished to be chaste.
  • This was Robert Oppenheimer’s favorite poem.
  • The first nuclear test was code named “Trinity.”
  • Break, blow, and burn: like a nuclear weapon.
further characteristics1
Further Characteristics
  • #2: Often irregular meter or rhyme scheme.
  • #3: Different voices—a metaphysical poem is a dramatic event (the poet, though, is not the persona/speaker). “The Flea” is a terrific example of unfolding drama.
  • #4: The poems are anti-Petrarchan: interest in what was novel and shocking; images drawn from everyday life (not idealized life).
2 irregular meter and rhyme
#2 Irregular Meter and Rhyme

When I do count the clock that tells the time

What guile is this, that these her golden tresses

She doth disguise under a net of gold.

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I

Did, till we lov’d? were we not wean’d till then?

  • Questions:
    • Which lines are from Donne?
    • How do you scan the lines?

When I do count the clock that tells the time

--Shakespeare, Sonnet 12

What guile is this, that these her golden tresses

She doth disguise under a net of gold.

--Spenser, Amoretti

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I

Did, till we lov’d? were we not wean’d till then?

--Donne, “The Good Morrow”

POINT: Smooth and regular metrics (musical-sounding) vs. the likeness of a passionate conversation.

4 anti petrarchan
#4: Anti-Petrarchan
  • Petrarchan:
    • Woman as goddess figure
    • Chaste love
    • Elaborate description of ideal beauty
  • Anti-Petrarchan:
    • Consummated love
    • Interest in the novel and the shocking
    • Imagery drawn from everyday life
    • Unconventional imagery
further characteristics2
Further Characteristics
  • #5: Metaphysical conceits: extended metaphors
  • Eliot: “a device which is sometimes considered characteristically ‘metaphysical’; the elaboration (contrasted with the condensation) of a figure of speech to the furthest stage to which ingenuity can carry it” (“The Metaphysical Poets”)
  • Harmon and Holman: “A highly ingenious kind of conceit widely used by metaphysical poets, who explored all areas of knowledge to find in the startlingly esoteric or the shockingly commonplace telling and unusual analogies for their ideas.”
  • Sometimes grotesque or absurd.
  • Goal: To portray the world in a way that we have not thought of before.
best example of a conceit
Best Example of a Conceit
  • “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”
  • What is the conceit here?
  • How do you paraphrase stanzas 3-5?
    • 3:
    • 4:
    • 5:
  • How do you paraphrase stanzas 3-5?
    • 3: Natural disasters can kill you, but the motions of the spheres will not hurt you.
    • 4: Earthly love is compromised by the absence of the body.
    • 5: A higher love endures despite the absence of earthly flesh—its lack of physical proximity.
characteristics of donne s poetry
Characteristics of Donne’s Poetry
  • #1: He sees the world in small things, and man is a microcosm
    • “The Good Morrow”
    • “The Sun Rising”
the good morrow
“The Good Morrow”
  • 11: “And makes one little room, an every where.”
  • 17-18: “Where can we find two better hemispheres / Without sharp north, without declining west?”
    • Hemisphere = a symbol of perfection
  • POINT: Donne likes to see the world in small things.
the good morrow1
“The Good Morrow”
  • The poem’s organization:
    • Stanza 1: The past—lust vs. love, emphasis on the flesh (“pleasures,” “beauty”)
    • Stanza 2: The present—fear vs. trust, emphasis on the mind (“waking souls”)
    • Stanza 3: The future—inconstancy vs. fidelity, emphasis on the spirit (“west”—death; true love cannot die)
looking babies
“looking babies”
  • Seeing each other in the eyes = “looking babies,” as the English called it in the 16th and 17th centuries.
  • Line 15: “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears”
the four humours
The Four Humours
  • Line 19: “Whatever dies, was not mixed equally”:
    • Blood (hot and moist)—cheerfulness, warmth of feeling
    • Choler (hot and dry)—a quick, angry temper
    • Phlegm (cold and moist)—dull sluggishness
    • Melancholy (cold and dry)—fretful depression

--Source: the glossary in your anthology

another example of seeing the world in small things
Another Example of Seeing the World in Small Things
  • “The Sun Rising”:
    • Sun, leave us alone—let us love. Go mess with others. Love is timeless.
    • Our love could eclipse you, sun. The world centers on our bed.
    • We are all states and all princes. We are greater and richer than them all. We are central:
      • “the world’s contracted thus”
      • “This bed thy centre is”
characteristics of donne s poetry1
Characteristics of Donne’s Poetry
  • #2: Fascination with death.
  • Best example: “Death be not proud”
    • The inevitability of physical death
    • Death depends on the stuff in line 9ff.: “fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,” etc.
    • But faith in the soul’s immortality
    • Belief that souls sleep until the Last Judgment
    • Then Death itself will die.
more on fascination with death
More on Fascination with Death
  • Emphasis on the Last Judgment
  • Example: Sonnet 4
    • Octave: Judgment Day, the end of the world; Donne imagines souls reanimating their bodies.
    • Sestet: Let the dead sleep awhile longer so that the speaker, a sinner, will have time to repent.
    • Note how the Italian sonnet structure reinforces the turn at line 9.
characteristics of donne s poetry2
Characteristics of Donne’s Poetry
  • #3: Sacred elements in secular love poems (and the reverse).
  • Physical and spiritual love are bound up together.
best example of 3 the relic
Best example of #3: “The Relic”
  • Contraries: It is a love poem, but the context involves digging up the corpses of two lovers!
  • The grave digger will leave their bodies alone because he will assume that the lovers will be reunited at the Resurrection. They might even mess around a little in the grave.
  • If they are dug up in a time of “false religious practices,” as the note puts it, people may mistake their bones for relics and use them to perform miracles.
  • Hey, these lovers were pretty miraculous in life as well!
more on the relic
More on “The Relic”
  • Blasphemy?
    • “A something else” = Christ?
  • A mixture of the sacred (relics) and the secular (earthly love).
  • A mixture of the solemn (graveyard) and the playful.
the point of characteristic 3
The Point of Characteristic #3
  • This is NOT the Platonic ladder of love that we discussed in connection with Sidney. In Donne, the physical and the spiritual are mingled.
  • The blending of sacred and secular elements signals full participation in the human condition.
  • It is hard to separate the love poems from the religious ones:
    • The love poems (“The Relic”) have sacred elements in them (relics, miracles).
    • And the religious poems (Sonnet 10) contain secular material (battle, wrestling, rape).
  • There is not hard-and-fast distinction between Jack the Rake and Dr. Donne: this is a false dichotomy.
  • Instead there is a dynamic tension between Donne’s worldliness and his religious devotion.
categories of poems
Categories of Poems
  • Idealistic: “The Good Morrow,” “The Sun Rising,” “The Ecstasy,” “The Canonization”
  • Cynical: “The Flea,” “Woman’s Constancy,” “The Indifferent”
  • Valedictory: “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” “A Valediction: Of Weeping”
  • Neither cynical nor idealistic: “The Relic,” “The Undertaking,” “The Blossome”
  • Let’s read “The Flea” one stanza at a time, and you can comment on what you discover there.
another example of 3
Another Example of #3
  • “The Flea”:
    • It was common in poetry to have a flea walk the woman’s body and go where the lover wants to go.
    • See the note: “…Donne’s treatment, making the flea a symbol of the desired union of his and his mistress’s blood, is original.”
points about the flea
Points About “The Flea”
  • Donne sees the world in small things:

something small (a flea) encompasses the whole of their love. “This flea is you and I” (line 12).

  • Linkage of opposites: The flea is associated with love and seduction.
summary of the flea
Summary of “The Flea”
  • Stanza 1: If the lovers’ blood is mingled in the flea, then copulation, the speaker implies, is not such a big deal—they are already joined in the flea. Look what the flea has done and compare it with what you deny me! (Note the visual pun: “s” looked like “f” in Donne’s day. The word “suck,” then, becomes….)
  • Stanza 2: Don’t harm the flea! Since it “is you and I,” killing it is three sins in one: murder (pun: to die = to have an orgasm), “self murder” (pun on masturbation), and sacrilege.
  • Stanza 3: Well, whadya know? You killed the flea, and we didn’t die! Your fears were false! Therefore, there is little risk in going to bed with me. END