Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The dramatic situation Donne chooses here, that of young lovers separated by protective parents, is easy for most readers to identify with, as are the emotions of the male persona. The young lovers embody the urge to generation, fertility, and the hope of the future. Opposed to them is the old-fashioned, obsolete, repressive world of the parents, dedicated to maintaining order and controlling the rate of change. Since parents basically attempt to preserve the past and prevent change, they furiously work to keep things the way they are. Looking only ahead, the lovers in no way can see through their parents’ eyes. In fact, the parents become foreign, alien, even monstrous.

This accounts for the hostility of tone and the distorted characterization of the parents: the hydroptique father and immortal mother. Yet it is far short of being rancorous. In fact, the focus on witty phrasing and verbal dexterity mutes the hostility, diverting it toward playfulness. This competition between generations is far from final or deadly. Although it is waged with intensity and urgency on both sides, some of the apparent seriousness merely is assumed.

The recognition that humor tempers intensity is the central focus of the poem. Nothing is quite as it seems here. The contest is only semiserious. When the lover teases about the old lady’s refusal to die, or when he breaks off the poem at the end with the abrupt “What? Will hee die?,” he actually is not...

(The entire section is 414 words.)