The Canonization Themes

Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Canonization” argues for the superiority of love’s unifying and reconciling potential over the divisive and antagonistic impulses of the ordinary world. In pursuing personal ambitions in business or at court, people like the imagined outsider and courtiers, soldiers, and lawyers trade serenity for strife. The speaker argues that an ideal love, which is both physical and spiritual, can provide a paradigm for the confused world, and he asserts that this poem proves his point.

The reference to the king in the first stanza causes some scholars to associate the poem with the accession of James I in 1604. Only three years earlier, Donne had put a disastrous halt to his own courtly ambitions when he eloped with Ann More, the ward of his employer, Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Seal. Ann More’s father had Donne blackballed, in effect, and the couple experienced severe financial strain for several years. This poem might be seen, then, as an explanation or even a justification of his apparently impulsive behavior.

If his intended audience for the poem was King James himself, Donne’s appeal must have fallen on deaf ears, since another ten years were to pass before his fortunes improved. The marriage was apparently a happy one, however, and Ann Donne was to bear nine children before her death in 1617. John Donne did not remarry.