The Apparition : by John Donne || Analysis

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The Apparition

When by thy scorn, O murderess, I am dead,
And that thou think'st thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feigned vestal, in worse arms shall see;
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tired before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think,
Thou call'st for more,
And in false sleep will from thee shrink,
And then poor aspen wretch, neglected thou,
Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie
A verier ghost than I;
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Test that preserve thee, and since my love is spent,
I had rather thou shouldst painfully repent,
Than by my threatenings rest sill innocent.

When by thy scorn, O murderess, I am dead, And that thou think'st thee free From all solicitation from me, Then shall my ghost come to thy bed, And thee, feigned vestal, in worse arms shall see; Then thy sick taper will begin to wink, And he, whose thou art then, being tired before, Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think, Thou call'st for more, And in false sleep will from thee shrink, And then poor aspen wretch, neglected thou, Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie A verier ghost than I; What I will say, I will not tell thee now, Test that preserve thee, and since my love is spent, I had rather thou shouldst painfully repent, Than by my threatenings rest sill innocent.
The Apparition

Critical Analysis:

      The Apparition is one of the bitter and fanciful poems of Donne showing his disappointment in love. In his early years, Donne was fond of women and this poem is addressed to a girl who refused his advances. The argument of the girl is that she will lose chastity and virginity. But the poet ridicules her fake purity because soon she will be in bed with another man. His love is turned into hatred and he wants to have his revenge for his rejection. Not only his ghost will disturb her in her sexual enjoyment with others, but her lover will also shrink from her. She will then feel terribly repentant and frustrated and realise her mistake in rejecting the poet, rather too late.

Development of Thought:

      The theme of woman's inconstancy is again handled with great skill by the poet. His rejection by the girl he loves, is due to her love for other suitors. This excites jealousy in the poet and so he wishes to pour his ridicule and fury on her. His revenge on this girl will take the form of pestering her and harassing her when she is at the height of her joy. He calls her a murderess, as he cannot survive her rejection. But he assures the girl that she will be mistaken if she thinks that she is rid of him. He would, in the form of a ghost, follow her even to her bed when she would entertain her new lover. The poet tears to pieces her objection that she would have loved him, but for the fear of losing her chastity. What about her boasted virginity, now that she is in bed with another man?

The Terrifying Ghost:

      The lady, in bed with another lover, if discovered by the ghost, will perspire with fear at the sight of the ghost. She will be terribly excited and in that nervous condition, she will pinch her lover and cling to him. The lover already exhausted by sex will feel that she wants more. Having no energy left, he will repulse her advances and pretend to sleep. The lady will be in a miserable condition, because she has been neglected by her lover. In her excitement and agony, she will be troubled like the leaves of the aspen plant and her body will be dripping with 'cold quick-silver sweat'. In that condition, she will be a more miserable ghost than the poet's.

Repentance:

      The poet does not tell the lady in what way his ghost will rebuke and harass her. This is necessary to prevent the lady from taking precautions against such a horrible situation. Now that he has no idea at all of accepting her love even if offered, he advises the lady to repent for her folly. The poet gives up the idea of taking revenge on her and thinks that her penitence is sufficient punishment for her. Even so, her frustration in passion has already been some sort of punishment. In the end, the poet does not feel bitterly against the lady and gives up his plan of revenge.

Critical Remarks:

      The poem is not to be regarded as a satire on an imaginary situation, as some critics believe. James Reeves remarks that it is a piece of savage joking, addressed to a woman who rejects his advances. Similarly A.J. Smith observes: "It is not only a piece of superbly blown-up vivaciousness, but an expose of conduct which implicitly debunk all the customary protestations and claims of lovers ... witty extravagance here seems to turn upon itself". There are others who feel that the poem is based on a real incident. In his early youth, Donne had tasted the follies and joys of London life. F.W. Payne remarks: "To me the poems themselves are evidence that they record real incidents. They contain things that surely would not find their way into a poem of pure invention." Look at the scene in the lady's bed-room. There are three characters the ghost, the scornful lady and her lover with 'worse arms'. The lady's nervous condition at her exposure by the ghost can be more easily imagined than described. The cynical and bitter mood of the poet finally mellows down into a realisation that repentance is an adequate punishment for hypocrisy.

      The poem consists, of seventeen lines of irregular length with a rhyme scheme. What distinguishes the lyric is its intensity of feeling and simplicity. It has no conceits and images for which Donne is known. This lyric is remarkable for its realism and originality.

Paraphrase:

      Line. 1-4 : (The poet addresses his beloved who has rejected him. He wants to take revenge on her for refusing to accept his love). O my murderess-beloved! When I am dead as a result of your scornful rejection of my, love, you will consider in my death a good riddance, as you will feel that you are free from my pleading and supplication. However, I shall visit your bed-room as a ghost and harass you.

      Line. 5-10 : My ghost will then realise that you were falsely pleading your virginity (as an excuse for my rejection) because you will be sleeping in the arms of another man much worse than myself. At that time the dim candle burning in your room will begin to flicker (the candle refers to the beloved's heart which shall be depressed for her sin and being discovered by the rejected lover's ghost). The person in whose arms you will be lying shall be tired of you, and however much you may try to shake or pinch him (on account of the fear of the ghost) he will pretend to be asleep fearing you may be demanding more sex from him. He will not respond to your love any more.

      Line. 11-17 : You will then tremble like the leaves of the aspen plant. You will feel neglected by your lover. Your body will perspire heavily as if bathed in your mercury - like sweat on account of fear. You will then look like a ghost - a worse ghost than mine. I will not tell you now what I would like to say then, because otherwise you may prepare yourself to get over those threats and fears. Since I do not entertain any hope of enjoying your love, I would like you to undergo a painful repentance (for your sexual laxity) than be bothered by my threats of revenge and so lead a peaceful life.

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