The Canonization: by John Donne - Summary and Analysis

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The Canonization

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five grey hairs, or ruined fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace,
Or the King's real, or his stamped face
Contemplate; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas, alas, who's injured by my love?
What merchant's ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove,
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us; we two being one, are it.
So to one neutral thing both sexes fit
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love.
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We'll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as hall-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love:

And thus invoke us; 'You whom reverend love
Made one another's hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world's soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes
(So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize,)
Countries; towns, courts: beg from above
A pattern of your love!'

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love, Or chide my palsy, or my gout, My five grey hairs, or ruined fortune flout, With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve, Take you a course, get you a place, Observe his Honour, or his Grace, Or the King's real, or his stamped face Contemplate; what you will, approve, So you will let me love.
The Canonization

Summary and Analysis


      Love has been an object of fun and hair-splitting with the metaphysical poets. Donne has also dealt with different moods of love and has played with its several fancies and visions. In 'The Canonization', Donne has taken a positive and serious view of love. It is a selfless and saintly affection as worthy of respect as worship. Here we find his great devotion to Anne Moore - his beloved - though the marriage marred his career and brought him into disrepute, The main idea is that his love does not interfere with the lives of others and so why should they take exception to it. Donne's passion is physical and the lovers really believe in sexual indulgence. Their bodies become one and so do their souls, as in a religious mystery.


      Stanza 1: The poet wants his friend who tries to discourage him from making love to keep his mouth shut and allow him to continue his love without any let or hindrance. Just as it is useless for him to rebuke the poet for suffering from diseases like paralysis or gout, or baldness or infirmities like old age or his misfortune, in the same way it is equally futile for him to try to dissuade the poet from making love. Instead of wasting time in advising the poet, it would be better for him to improve his position by amassing wealth or cultivating his mind by acquiring knowledge or developing a taste for arts. He may undertake a course of study or secure a position at the court and thereby get a chance of observing the grace and honor of the king. As a courtier, he will watch the real face of the king (see him in his true colors) or he may enter business and make money and thus see the king's image stamped on coins. Let him do whatever he likes but let him not disturb the poet in making love to his beloved.

      Stanza 2: Alas, none is harmed by his love-making. His sighs have not drowned any merchant ship. His tears have not caused any floods, and the coldness of his fears has, not prolonged the winter season or delayed the advent of spring. The heat of his passion has not been added to the list of persons who die of plague. The soldiers continue the fight the wars and the lawyers are busy in their litigation. In spite of his love, the normal life of the world continues as usual (why should then anyone object to his love-making).

      Stanza 3: The friend will call the poet and his beloved whatever he likes (mad or funny), but whatever they are, is the result of their love-making. The friend may call the poet a fly and the poet's beloved another fly chasing after light. He may call them candles as they both burn themselves out in mutual love. He may compare them with the eagle and the dove because both of them are violent and gentle and prey on each other. Perhaps the legend of the Phoenix would adequately describe the poet and his beloved. Their two sexes match together so perfectly as to form a being of unisex, i.e. after they die, they come to life again in the same form as they were before just as the Phoenix after death arises from its own ashes. Like the mystery of the Phoenix, their mystery of love will command respect.

      Stanza 4: If the lovers cannot get immortality by their love, they can at least die for it. The story of their love may not be worthy of tombs and monuments, but at any rate, it is good enough for the material of poetry. Their love may not be recorded in volumes of history but it will certainly find mentioned in sonnets and lyrics. Just as the ashes of great men are preserved in an ornamental urn or in tombs covering an area of half an acre, in the same way, they will be respected by the world as canonized lovers (saintly lovers). Just as saints are canonized for the love of God, in the same way they will be canonized for the sake of love. Their love is pure and selfless.

      Stanza 5: After the lovers have been accepted as saints of love, people will pray for their blessings as under -

"You are the saints of love who made each other your pilgrimage, for each of you the other was a world in himself or herself. For others, love was a furious passion but to your love brought peace and bliss. You saw the reflection of the entire world in each other's eyes. You perfomed the miracle of contracting the world (within your eyes). In your eyes, you saw the countries, towns and courts and thus saw a more meaningful world. Since you are the saints of love, we pray to God to fashion our love on your pattern so that we may also love as you did".

Critical Analysis

      Mark the sudden and dramatic opening line of the poem The Canonization. The first two stanzas are rhetorical full of contempt and rebuff for those who argue against love. There is a lot of hyperbole. Can 'sighs' turn into 'sea storms' or 'tears cause floods' or the 'heat of passion' cause plagues. Donne uses these metaphors to laugh at the Petrarchan paraphernalia of love. Donne also laughs at two good professions - soldiering and litigation which make fun of love.

      Organic imagery is a strong point of the poem. The two lovers moving round each other like flies or again consuming themselves like tapers; or again the images of the eagle and the dove - the violent one preying on the weak, and ultimately the riddle of the Phoenix indicate the whole process of love from courtship to consummation of love. Though they are two, they are one, of the neutral sex like the Phoenix. As the Phoenix is reborn from its ashes, the lovers are reborn (revitalised) after sexual indulgence. In fact, Donne treats physical love like divine love. The canonization which leads to the lovers being regarded as the martyr saints of love will make them a model of love. The 'rage' of love will be transformed into peace. The lovers need no mention in history-books or any monuments or inscriptions. Donne's wit is seen in his mention of the King's face the real one in the court, the fake one stamped on coins. The lovers' eyes are the mirrors in which each sees the reflection or the image of the other. Each eye contains the whole world with its countries, towns and courts. In short, the poem shows the craftsmanship of Donne at its best.

The Paradox:

      Donne treats physical love as if it were divine love. Saints are canonized for their renunciation of the world and its comforts. In the same way, the lovers have renounced the material world. The love of Donne for his beloved causes no damage or injury to the society or to the world: Other people continue to carry on their normal daily chores and duties. The lovers have lost the world but gained more in the world of each other. The lovers are, so to say, dead to the world. They have, therefore, deserved the status of saints. They are the saints whose blessings other lovers will invoke. The lovers are devoted to each other as a saint is devoted to God. Some people may regard it as paradox of Christian Canonization, but there is no doubt that the tone of the poem is both serious and convincing.

The Debate:

      Donne begins his argument 'with a friend who dissuades him from love-making. He tells him to stop his nonsensical talk and allow him to love. Let his friend regard his love as a natural or hereditary disease. Let his friend mind his own business and look after his own career and fortune.

Love is Harmless:

      After all, the poet's love does not cause any harm or damage to anyone. It does not disturb the even flow of social life. His sighs and tears have caused no offense to anyone. People are busy in their own affairs. His profession is love and so why should anyone take objection to it.

Secret of Love:

      The poet deals with the secret of love. Love is an association or union of two persons. Human isolation is awful; the lovers find mutual satisfaction in love. They are like flies and tapers which enjoy being consumed to extinction. Like the Phoenix, the lovers are resurrected from their ashes. Both are consumed by the fire of passion and out of this consummation emanates their resurrection. Physical love is elevated to the plane of spiritual love.

Life Beyond Death:

      The poet and his beloved are prepared to die for love if they cannot live by love. The tale of their death will form the subject of love poets. Their love will be commemorated in lyrics and sonnets. They will attain the status of saints, of love. People will copy their love and regard it as a model.

Martyr Saints:

      Lovers will worship the poet and his beloved as the martyrs to love. Lovers will invoke the blessings of these martyr saints. Love will bring them both peace and solace. Like them other lovers will devote themselves entirely to their respective beloveds. Each will find in his beloved the whole soul of the world: The lovers will pray to God to grant them the same kind of true love which the poet and the beloved enjoyed while living in the world.

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