The Anniversary : poem by John Donne || Analysis

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The Anniversary

All kings, and all their favourites,
All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun itself, which makes times, as they pass,
Is elder by a year, now, than it was
When thou and I first one another saw :
All other things, to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away, But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

Two graves must hide thine and my corse,
If one might, death were no divorce,
Alas, as well as other princes, we,
(Who prince enough in one another be,)
Must leave at last in death, these eyes, and ears,
Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet salt tears,
But souls where nothing dwells but love,
(All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
This, or a love increased there above,
When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

And then we shall be throughly blessed,
But we no more, than all the rest.
Here upon earth, we are kings, and none but we
Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be;
Who is so safe as we? where none can do
Treason to us, except one of us two,
True and false fears let us refrain,
Let us love nobly, and live, and add again
Years and years unto years, till we attain
To write threescore, this is the second of our reign.

All kings, and all their favourites, All glory of honours, beauties, wits, The sun itself, which makes times, as they pass, Is elder by a year, now, than it was When thou and I first one another saw : All other things, to their destruction draw, Only our love hath no decay; This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday, Running it never runs from us away, But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.
The Anniversary

Critical Analysis:

      This poem celebrates the first anniversary of Donne's marriage with Anne More. It is addressed to his wife. It is a noble and impassioned hymn of domestic bliss. Donne regards "married love" as immortal as it will, according to him, persist even in the grave. All other things decay their mutual love remains eternal, knowing neither change nor satiety. This is one of the love-poems of Donne which are marked by rare vigour and grandeur. To find a parallel for the love-song we have only to turn to Robert Browning who celebrated his love for his wife in his immortal love-lyric, "One Word More."

Donne, in this poem, anticipates by two centuries, the modern attitude towards life, according to which the only thing which gives a definite sense of satisfaction and goodness are human relationships based purely on individual affinities, unquestioned love and companionship. Donne realised this truth emotionally through his relations with his wife.

Development of Thought:

      Donne gives expression to a mood of ecstasy inspired by the consciousness that their mutual love is at once eternal and immortal. It knows neither decline nor satiety:

All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday.
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last everlasting day.

      Donne's love-poetry attains to rare grandeur when it is touched by a thought of death, as in The Anniversary. In this poem, the inspiring thought that love will persist even in the grave, lends the poem an unearthly beauty and sweetness. Love, according to Donne, is an all-pervading comprehensive emotion which embraces both the body and the soul. The poem is one of the finest illustrations, in poetry, of the "immortality of love."

But souls where nothing dwells but love,
All other thought being inmates then shall prove,
This or love increased there above,
Then bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

      The final stanza contains a beautiful metaphysical conceit where Donne regards himself and his wife as two kings who have only themselves for their subjects. In this stanza "he plays like a juggler with logic, but the result is not superficial cleverness; it is the rock bottom of the fact that they both love and nothing else matters."

Critical Remarks:

      The Anniversary deals with a most unusual subject - the anniversary of the poet i.e. Donne's marriage. Other poets have written thrilling love poetry dealing with the period of courting, but very few have been rapturous about 'wedded love'. Donne the husband was also Donne the lover. He was not only grateful to his wife for the peace and happiness she had brought him, he was also in love with her and found in their mutual love and companionship the rarest of all feelings-security.

      Donne's conception of true love is something abiding and imperishable, something that dwells permanently in the soul, the other thoughts being inmate only - is expressed in lines ringing clear melody and untouched by any of the peculiarities of conceit or subtle logic which usually mark Donne's style.

Only our love hath no decay;
This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday.
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

      Donne is not contented with a simple statement, because what he feels is not simple. He wants to render all the subtle phases of his mood by means of far-fetched imagery, refinement of logic and daring conceits of all kind. Thus the poet argues that if he and his wife were buried in one grave-then there would be no divorce for them even in death. The idea of kings and princes with their absolute sway over their subjects is applied by the poet to the wonderful relationship between him and his wife. They are both kings to each other as each has absolute power over the other - and so they are better off than earthly princes. Donne pursues the idea throughout the last stanza. They are such kings that no one can commit any treason against them except they themselves. The second year of their reign is now beginning. Donne hopes that they will attain three score years.

      The idea that true love here only increases in heaven where there can be not even any shadow of parting is expressed with subtle logic in the second stanza. Throughout the poem, there is a fine blend of passion and logic, deep feeling and intellectual analysis. Although it is a love poem, it is so original in its choice of subject and treatment that the average reader may be quite shocked by it. But to those who have felt the wonder of complexity and intensity of this passion, Donne may not appear to be an obscure or perverted singer of love.

      The Anniversary ranks with the best of Donne's love-poems. It is appreciated even by those readers who generally remain unmoved by the bulk of Donne's poetry. It strikes a note of sincerity and freshness and presents a refreshing contrast to the love-poetry of Donne's contemporaries and predecessors. Donne is invariably fresh and original in his love-poems; he despises the conventional romanticism of Elizabethan poets. He tempers his emotional flights with a rare tinge of intellectualism. There is nothing stale, threadbare or traditional in his love songs. He never employs conceits for their own sake-just to parade his learning. Whenever he uses far-fetched comparisons or figures of speech, he employs them because he wants to set down and reveal the truth of his mood, whether it be of love, despair, or scorn, from every conceivable facet of his consciousness.

Paraphrase:

      Stanza 1 : All kings and their courties, all glory, beauties and wits, the sun itself, by which we measure time, are older by one year since we two (Donne and his wife) met each other a year back. Everything is drawing nearer to its destruction (by growing older than it was last year). Only our mutual love knows no decay. It has neither a future nor a past (for it is eternal and transcends time). Though it is growing old, yet it never loses its freshness or charm. It is truly eternal and everlasting.

      Stanza 2 : Your and my dead bodies would be buried in two separate graves. If they were buried in the same grave, death even would not part us. Like all other princes, we two (who are princes of love) in the eyes of each other, must die one day and be deprived of our eyes and ears which shed sweet tears and hear pleasant oaths of love respectively when we are alive. But though we will die, after our deaths, our souls will prove which would be pervaded by pure love - that death cannot part two lovers. The union of our souls after death will conclusively prove that either our love has remained undiminished or it has been even enhanced when our bodies would be buried in the graves and our souls would be released from the prison-house (graves of the body).

      Stanza 3 : When our souls will be united, we will enjoy the highest of bliss. Now we enjoy no more bliss than any other couple also living in this world. We are like kings and subjects to each other. None else can be such a king or such a subject as we mutually are to each other. We are far more safer than other kings because other kings are afraid of treason against their thrones. In our case only either of us can be guilty of treason against the other (which, however, is impossible). Let us refrain from true or imaginary fears (of treason against each other). Let us love each other nobly and live through years till we have attained the age of sixty (which is the normal human span). This is the second year of our married love.

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