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One approach you could take in a critical note on Donne as a poet of love is to detail the methods he uses in his love poetry.
For instance, in "Song," Donne's love poem is contrived of arguments--something usually reserved, at least in our day, for argument essays--showing why his lover should not worry when he is absent from her.
In stanza one, the speaker insists that he is not leaving because he is tired of her, or because he hopes to find someone better. He is leaving as a rehearsal for when he really will be away: when he dies:
But since that I
Must die at last, 'tis best
To use [condition] myself in jest,
Thus by feigned [imagined] deaths to die.
The implication is that the speaker's lover should not worry or be upset because he is not leaving for good, but only temporarily, and because this temporary absence will prepare her for his later, actual leaving.
Donne follows this opening stage of his argument in the second stanza by comparing his leaving with the sun when it leaves every night. Just as the sun returns, so will the speaker. The lover need not worry.
Different but related arguments are featured in stanzas three through five.
Another aspect of Donne's love poetry you could center on is his use of stretched metaphors or conceits.
For instance, in "Song," the overall conceit is the comparison of temporary absence with the permanent absence of death.
His stretched conceits are even more evident in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning."
The following conceits appear:
- Separation of death compared with separation when one lover leaves another (stanzas one & two). Let we two lovers not cry or sigh, but keep our separation to ourselves. The idea is that to speak loosely about their feelings is to lose them.
- Movement of the earth draws attention to itself, yet movement among the stars, which is movement of far more importance, goes unnoticed (stanzas three-five). Their love is like the movement of the stars. It doesn't need to draw attention to itself to be monumental. They don't need to cry or make a show of their separation.
- Their love does not suffer a breach, or break, but experiences an expansion: like gold that is beaten to airy thinness (stanza six).
- Their love is like two legs of a compass. One leg travels around, but is always connected to and anchored by the other. Two legs of a compass cannot be fully separated, just as the two lovers can never really be separated.
The most famous of the conceits is the final one. The metaphor is stretched in the sense that two things not usually thought to have any thing in common are compared--the legs of a compass are compared to two lovers. The metaphor is highly artificial and witty; artsy, if you will.
Donne's use of arguments in a love poem and his use of stretched metaphors or conceits are two possibilities that you could deal with in a critical note on Donne as a love poet.
Donne's greatness as a love poet arises from the fact that his poetry covers a wider range of emotion than that of any previous poet,and that it is not bookish but is rooted in his personal experiences.
Grierson differenciates three distinct strains in Donne's love poetry.First,there is the cynical strain and his attitude towards women and their love and constancy is one of contempt and rejection.Secondly,there is the strain of conjugal love to be noticed in the poems like A Valediction:forbidding mourning,addressed to his wife.Thirdly,there is the platonic strain of poems like The Cannonization in which love is treated as a holy passion not different from the love of a devotee for his Maker.In between the cynical realistic strain and the highest spiritual strain,there are a number of poems which show an endless variety of moods and tone.This makes Donne as a love poet singularly original,untraditional and true.
Donne never believes the contemporary view that marriage alone sanctifies the sexual act."Donne's love poetry is not about the difference between marriage and adultry,but about the difference between lust and love."The sexual act without love is merely lust whether within or outside marriage;with true love it is something pious also in the marriage outside.
To sum up,Donne as a poet of love is unconventional,realistic as well as philosophical.There are no descriptions of physical beauty in his love songs."His songs are the expression....of all the moods of a lover that experience and imagination have taught him to understand..."(Herbert Grierson).To him love for sensual pleasure is lust.But the same love becomes a holy passion when the souls of a husband and his better half,both were for each other's love.
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