The Will : poem by John Donne || Analysis

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The Will

Before I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe,
Great Love, some legacies; here I bequeath
Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see,
If they be blind, then Love, I give them thee;
My tongue to fame; to ambassadors mine ears,
To women or the sea, my tears.
Thou, Love, hast taught me heretofore
By making me serve her who had twenty more,
That I should give to none, but such as had too much before.

My constancy I to the planets give;
My truth to them, who at the Court do live;
Mine ingenuity and openness,
To Jesuits; to buffoons my pensiveness;
My silence to any, who abroad hath been;
My money to a Capuchin.
Thou Love taught'st me, by appointing me
To love there, where no love received can be,
Only to give to such as have an incapacity.

My faith I give to Roman Catholics;
All my good works unto the schismatics
Of Amsterdam; my best civility
And courtship, to an university;
My modesty I give to soldiers bare;
My patience let gamesters share.
Thou Love taught'st me, by making me
Love her that holds my love disparity,
Only to give to those that count my gifts indignity.

I give my reputation to those
Which were my friends; mine industry to foes
To schoolmen I bequeath my doubtfulness;
My sickness to physicians, or excess;
To Nature, all that I in rhyme have writ;
And to my company my wit.
Thou Love, by making me adore
Her, who begot this love in me before,
Taught'st me to make, as though I gave, when I did but restore.

To him for whom the passing bell next tolls,
I give my physic books; my written rolls
Of moral counsels, I to Bedlam give;
My brazen medals, unto them which live
In want of bread; to them which pass among
All foreigners, mine English tongue.
Thou, Love, by making me love one
Who thinks her friendship a fit portion
For younger lovers, dost my gifts thus disproportion.
Therefore I'll give no more; but I'll undo
The world by dying; because love dies too.
Then all your beauties will be no more worth
Than gold in mines, where none doth draw it forth;
And all your gracess no more use shall have
Than a sundial in a grave.
Thou Love taught'st me, by making me
Love her, who doth neglect both me and thee,
To invent, and practise this one way, to annihilate all three

Before I sigh my last gasp, let me breathe, Great Love, some legacies; here I bequeath Mine eyes to Argus, if mine eyes can see, If they be blind, then Love, I give them thee; My tongue to fame; to ambassadors mine ears, To women or the sea, my tears. Thou, Love, hast taught me heretofore By making me serve her who had twenty more, That I should give to none, but such as had too much before.
The Will

Critical Analysis

      The Will by John Donne is a love-poem containing a good deal of irony because the lady whom the poet loves does not value his affection. In disgust and just to spite her, the poet wishes to die and makes a will leaving nothing to her and bequeathing his possessions either to those who have already too much of them, or to those who do not need them or who are not capable of using them or receiving: them, or who receive the things that belong to them. So all these gifts which are misplaced, unwanted or useless to those whom they are given are made as a reaction t he rejection of the lover by his mistress: who encourages young lovers in preference to him. Ultimately the poet wishes to commit suicide in order to destroy the lady, himself and the god of Love.

Development of Thought:

      Before the poet breathes his last, he would like to make some legacies out of great love for the would be legatees. He first makes his gifts to those who already have such things and do not need them. He bequeathes his eyes to Argus - a giant who has a hundred eyes. Similarly, he gifts his tears to women who shed too many tears. This is because he loves a lady who has already twenty lovers.

      Secondly, the poet bequeathes his things to those who are incapable of using them. He gives his truth to lawyers, silence to travellers given to talking, melancholy to clowns; this is because he has offered his love to a lady who is incapable of responding to his love.

Unwanted Gifts:

      Moreover, John Donne makes legacies to those who will not appreciate them or will be indifferent to them, for example, he will give his faith to Roman Catholics who have already adequate faith, patience to hunters and politeness to a university. His beloved cannot appreciate his gift of love.

      Donne makes gifts to them as a natter of restitution and restoration. He gives his reputation to friends, wit to his companions, poetry to Nature. He has restored his love to his lady but she has taken someone else.

      The poet makes gifts to those who will find them useless and worthless. He gives his books of medicine to a dying person, his metal medals to starving people. This is because the lady whom he loves finds his passion useless.

      Finally, the poet, through sheer cynicism wishes to destroy himself and thereby the whole world will die for him. With his suicide, his love will die. There will be nobody left to appreciate the beauty and grace of the lady he loves. By his suicide he will destroy the lady himself and the god of Love, This is perhaps the only way he can avenge the lady who has slighted him.

Critical Remarks:

      The Will is a poem of six stanzas of nine lines each. The sixth line is rather short. The poem has been written in a mood of despair. The poet's frustration at the lack of response by the lady he loves and her encouragement of other suitors drives him to desperation and a death wish. The poet's intentions need not be taken seriously. The poem is only the record of a passing mood. The very fact that the poet does not give anything to his lady (not even his second bed which Shakespeare bequeathed to his lady) reflects his fury and sense of revenge.

      Moreover, his resentment against the god of Love can be justified be cause god made him love a lady who cannot respond to his love. Therefore, he wishes to destroy the god of Love along with the lady. The poem displays the scholarship and argumentation of the poet. The references to Argus, Capuchin, Schismatics of Amsterdam and the schoolmen show the classical learning of the poet. Above all, the poem is the echo of a metaphysical mood.

Paraphrase:

      Stanza 1 : Before I (the poet) breathe my last breath, let me make a will and mention some legacies out of great love. I bequeath my eyes to Argus (a mythological giant with 100 eyes) if my eyes can see after death; otherwise they go to the god of Love who is blind. I give my tongue to the goddess of Fame and my ears to ambassadors. I give my tears to women (who easily need them) or to the sea (which is already full of water). Love has taught me to give things to those who are already full of them, as I love a lady who has already twenty lovers.

      Stanza 2 : I give my constancy (faithfulness) to the planets which are always on the move, my truth to the courtiers who live: on falsehood, my skill and frankness to the Jesuits, my melancholy to the clowns (who do not need it), my silence to the travellers who are talkative and my money to a Capuchin friar under a vow of poverty. This is what love has taught me to give my love to a lady who does not want it and who is incapable of responding to it.

      Stanza 3. I give my faith to the Roman Catholics, my good works to the philosophers of Amsterdam, my politeness and chivalry to a university, my modesty to the fighting soldiers, my patience to the hunters. Love has taught me to give my love to the ladies who are indifferent to me and cannot appreciate my gift of love.

      Stanza 4. I give reputation to my friends, my hard work to my enemies, my scepticism to the scholars, my sickness to the physicians, my poetry to Nature and my wit to my companions. In fact, I am giving away to them the things that belonged to them. Love has taught me to make love to the lady who thinks I offered my love to her though in fact I only responded to her love. (The poet only restored to the lady the love that belonged to her. It is surange that now she has gone to some other man).

      Stanza 5. I give my books on medicine to the person who is about to die, my recorded notes of moral advice to mad men, my brass medals to those who are too poor to buy bread, my English language to those who know all foreign languages. (The poet is bequeathing all his possessions to those who do not need them). Love has taught me to love a lady who underestimates my love and therefore rewards young lovers with her love.

      Stanza 6 : I will give no more; I will rather destroy the world by my dying, because my love will die too with me. It is in the fitness of things that when love dies, the world should also die. Then all your beauties will be as fruitless and worthless as the gold that remains buried in the mines because none can get it. All your graces will be as useless as a sundial in a grave. For this is what the god of love has taught me; I have to love a lady who neglects me and ignores the god of love. By committing suicide, I shall destroy all the three - the lady, the god of love, and myself.

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