To His Mistress Going To Bed by John Donne

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Elegy : To His Mistress Going To Bed

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though they never fight;
Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th' eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you, that now tis your bed time.

Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh:
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th' hill's shadow steals.
Off with that wiry coronet and show
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread
In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes heaven's angels used to be
Received by men; thou angel bring'st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet's paradise; and though
I'll spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these angels from an evil sprite,
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.

Licence my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America, my new found land,
My kingdom safeliest when with one man manned,
My mine of precious stones, my empery,
How blessed am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds, is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

Full nakedness, all joys are due to thee.
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are like Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views,
That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.
Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made
For laymen, are all women thus arrayed;
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
Whom their imputed grace will dignify

Must see revealed. Then since I may know,
As liberally, as to a midwife, show
Thyself : cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
Here is no penance, much less innocence.
To teach thee, I am naked first, why then
What needst thou have more covering than a man.

Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy, Until I labour, I in labour lie. The foe oft-times having the foe in sight, Is tired with standing though they never fight; Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering, But a far fairer world encompassing. Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear, That th' eyes of busy fools may be stopped there. Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime Tells me from you, that now tis your bed time.
Elegy : To His Mistress Going To Bed

Critical Analysis

      To His Mistress Going To Bed is a poem by John Donne of the consummation of love in its physical aspect. Here we have no Platonic love or the relationship between physical love and spiritual love. It is mainly devoted to the pleasures of sex and the sensuous appeal of a woman's body. The poet nowhere describes the beauty of the ups or eyes or breasts. Woman is sex and it is the discovery of the beauty of the naked body which gives a sense of fulfilment to the lover. The situation is like a rare scene of courtship before the physical consummation of sex. The passion, however, does not get out of hand. It is controlled through images and symbols of love-relationship. Strangely enough, there is no description of the mistress or any part of her body. The poet's responses to her beauty show his great passion and hunger for physical union. The love of the body is strong and it can only lead to a real physical intimacy. Though the poem Cannot be regarded as a great love poem, it is full of sensuous images, flashes of wit and scholarly references.

Development of Thought:

      The scene is the bed-room. The poet expresses his urgent desire for sex. He is impatient and asks the beloved to take off her dress and her decorations. He uses martial images because he compares this situation to two enemies standing face to face but reluctant to fight. The girdle, the breast-plate, the busk, the coronet and the shoes are all impediments to the act of love which is to follow. Perhaps the lover wishes to remove all these things from the body so as to make her absolutely naked. This is a far fairer world than the one presented by her attire and paraphernalia. As the gown slips down, her beauty is like that of a flowery meadow over which the shadow of the hills no longer remains. The naked body is full of beautiful flowers. Similarly, her hair is a better crown than the wiry metalled coronet. In her open naked body, she is the lover' s beauty queen.

Love's Temple:

      The lady has only a thin white gown on her body. This makes the poet call her an angel with a white robe. But this angel excites love and not any other feeling. The bed is love's holy temple where they will solemnise the rites of true love. The poet is happy with his America, his kingdom, his land which he has found and conquered. He wants to discover its beauty and wealth fully, the beloved the "mine of precious stones". His land is great and vast and he must set his seal on it. Just as the souls enjoy their freedom when they leave the body, in the same way the body knows its full thrill and fulfilment when it is fully naked. The poet employs the images from the world of religion in order to show the dignity of physical love.

Dress - A Hurdle:

      Dress is an impediment to the full enjoyment of love. Foolish people are charmed by dress and sparkling jewels and ornaments. Just as Atlanta ran after the gold balls thrown by her lover Hippomenes and thereby lost the race and as a result married him, in the same way women lure the innocent with decorations and knick-knacks to divert their attention from the physical charm of their bodies. Woman's body is a book of mysteries. Ordinary men may be fascinated by the catchy pictures on the cover of a book or its excellent binding or get-up, but discerning and learned men will open the book and go through its contents. In the same way, a true lover will examine with curiosity the charm of each limb of his mistress. Finally, the poet overcomes the mistress's reluctance and shyness by becoming naked first, so that she may have no excuse for discarding her dress.

Critical Remarks:

      This is a poem of full-blooded sexual love. It contains four stanzas of different length in easy couplets. The images are borrowed from the army and armoury, from nature and from religion. The poet's comparing his beloved to an angel from Mahomet's paradise is quite appropriate. Similarly, the images from geography, the new discovered countries and uncharted regions fully exploit the mysteries of the female body. The reference to Atlanta's golden balls shows how men can be easily beguiled by unimportant trifles. The mystique which is woman's body can reveal its secrets only to those who are keen on deep and close study of love and beauty. All in all, the poem is a paean in praise of female beauty and sexual pleasure.

Paraphrase:

(The poem is addressed by Donne to one of his mistresses).

      Line. 1-10 : Oh Madam! come to my bed; all rest is a challenge to my physical powers. Unless I exercise my physical powers, I feel great pain within me. The enemy when face to face with the opponent is tried by mere standing, if there is no fight. Take off your girdle which brightens the heavenly zone and which contains a far more beautiful world. Unfasten that black and white breast-cover which you wear to side-track the eyes of busy and foolish lovers. Take off your lace corset and tell me that now is the time to go to bed.

      Line. 11-24 : Remove that fortunate inner bodice which I envy because it can be so near to your body and yet quiet and unexcited. As your gown falls down, it reveals the beautiful condition of your body like the beauty of the flowery meadows when the shadow cast by the hills disappears. Remove your wire-coronet and thereby disclose that hairy crown which grows on your head. Take off your shoes and then gently slip in this soft bed which is love's holy temple. Heavenly angels used to appear to men clothed in such white robes. You as an angel bring with you all the pleasures found in Mohomet's Paradise. lt is true that evil spirits also move in white dress, but we can distinguish an angel from an evil spirit, because the latter makes our hair stand straight, while the former excites the fleshly impulse of sex.

      Line. 25-32 : Permit my hands to wander over your body and allow them to touch you from the front, from the back, from above, from in-between and the lower portion of your body. You are my America - anewly discovered country, you are my newly found land. You are my kingdom and quite sate when governed by one man. You are my mine of precious stones; you are my empire. I regard myself blessed and lucky in discovering you. To accept the bonds and vows of love is real freedom. I shall put my seal on whatever my hands have discovered.

      Line. 33-42 : All joys shall be yours when you are fully naked. Just as the souls enjoy full freedom and happiness when they leave the bodies, in the same way naked bodies are free to enjoy the greatest pleasure. Gems which the ladies wear are like Atlanta's golden balls thrown before men to side track them. Just as a fool's eye follows a gem, so the earthly soul covets their gems and not their bodies. Women richly dressed are like pictures or like books with attractive get-up for average men. Women are like books on mysticism (or philosophy), we who profit by their grace must look within to discover their real beauty.

      Line. 43-48 : Show me your body as you would show it to a midwife so that may be quite familiar and intimate with it. Remove everything from your body, even the white linen (gown). There is no need for it either undergoing penance or for showing your innocence (as if you know nothing of sex). In order to teach you how to be naked, I am becoming naked first. If a man does not need any covering for his body, why should you cover your body any more.

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