Passion and Thought in John Donne's Poetry

Also Read

      The metaphysical poets, of whom Donne is the best representative, always looked for a connection between their emotion and mental concepts. Experience to Donne was, as it were, grist to an intellectual mill. When in one of his Holy Sonnets Donne writes,

At the round earth's imagined corners, blow
Your trumpets, Angels..

he is not discussing whether the world is round or flat; he is using thee speculation to express and define his emotion. The idea is used in connection with death, Judgement and eternity. In The Good Morrow, he writes:

Where can we find two better hemispheres
Without sharp north, without declining west.


One cannot deny the passion in the poem, but the passion is inextricably fused with thought. The poem is a long argument to prove the greatness of the experience of love. The conceits are used to illustrate his argument and to persuade.
Passion & Thought

      He draws upon several spheres of knowledge - geography, medieval philosophy, sea discoveries, etc all to prove that the world of love is more important than the geographical world. The intellectual images arise from an emotional situation so intricately woven with thought, as expressed in the very first line:

I wonder by my troth what thou, and I
Did, till we loved?

      One cannot deny the passion in the poem, but the passion is inextricably fused with thought. The poem is a long argument to prove the greatness of the experience of love. The conceits are used to illustrate his argument and to persuade. The lovers can never die because of the intensity of their love. From the beginning - the lover's world is as good as the physical world - he moves to the conclusion that the world of love is, in fact, better than the physical world because it is immortal. Step by step, point by point, the poet succeeds in establishing his point of view. The poem illustrates the tight fusion of feeling and ratiocination (or reasoning).

      The Sun Rising is another poem illustrating the peculiar blend of passion and thought, feeling and ratiocination. The delight of satisfied love is the feeling in the poem, but it is expressed in intellectual terms and not merely in an emotional tone. How well the fusion of feeling and thought is expressed in the finality of:

She is all States, and all Princes I
Nothing else is.

      Passion is conveyed in images which are erudite, logical and of an intellectual nature, In the poem, we again see Donne's ratiocinative style, reasoning step by step towards his conclusion, which, in this case, is that love is self-sufficient and unaffected by any outside force.

      In The Canonization, we again see the mingling of passion and thought. The supreme feeling of satisfaction in love is expressed in lines, such as:

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 ..
We can die by it, if not live by love ..

      But there is an intellectual tone imparted in the poem through the complex conceits, as well as the argumentation. Donne reasons out how lovers are "canonized" or made into saints. In Donne's poems, emotions are shaped and expressed by logical reasoning, and both sound and imagery are subservient to this end. The very rhythm is as intricate as the thought and is dictated by the meaning; thus it functions as a stimulant to the intellect. In the Holy Sonnet, This is my play's last scene, the framework is logical, and sound is used to appeal to the intellect.

      The search for intellectual equivalents of emotion ensures detachment, or a distancing effect. An experience, in order to be handled by the intellect, has to be held at arm's length: This is best seen in The Ecstasy. Donne transmutes the personal experience of the lover into an affirmation about the nature of man. But at the same time, the emotion is not ignored.

      In poems such as The Anniversary and A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, he progresses from thought to thought with a measured and weighty music. Here there is no intellectual jugglery, but a series of reasoned comparisons. Donne looks for intellectual figures analogous to an emotion which is itself both felt and thought - and the emotion is that of the security of a love in which the relation between mind and body has been fully established. The Apparition is a poem which also illustrates Donne's argumentative quality.

      Metaphysical poets, and especially Donne, are valued in the twentieth century for their power to catch in verse the ring of passion and to render the accents of a "naked and thinking heart". Donne's poetry gives the impression that the thought and arguments are arising immediately out of passionate feeling. It is part of the dramatic realism of his style. Donne could amalgamate disparate experiences, and form new wholes out of diverse matters, Thus we do not see any sharp demarcation between his secular poems and his religious verse. Both reflect the unity of experience. Part of his unity of experience is his "sensuous apprehension of thought," what T.S. Eliot called his "unification of sensibility." A thought to Donne was an experience. His poems arise out of an emotional situation. Then the poet argues or reasons to make his attitude acceptable. And in this process, the conceits are used as instruments.

Previous Post Next Post