Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
In this poem, as in most of his love poetry, Jonson reacts against the idealization of love, an idealization manifest in the imitation of Petrarchan conventions throughout Renaissance literature. This poem highlights the realistic by juxtaposing it with the ideal, an ideal that is maintained by the poet’s persona even as it is contradicted by his own words.
The qualification process takes several forms. First there is the juxtaposition of long and short lines. In the first stanza especially, the long lines tend to be metaphorical and ideal, while the short lines, which usually start with a qualifying term such as “and,” are more direct and concrete. The poem oscillates, then, between the ideal, or imagined, and the real.
This dialectic tension is manifested in the greater scale of the poem by the contrast between the first and second octet. The first octet depicts a scene set in the present. The poet is with his lover, and he begs a pledge that is both physical and spiritual. It is an ideal, if unconsummated, moment of love. The second octet, however, is set in the past. The poet is physically separated from his love, and his love token is rejected by her. The events that preceded the opening octet then were less than hopeful, but the poet persists in his idealization despite the rejection. The poem itself becomes an emblem of this fruitless drive toward the ideal; with its perfect iambs, it encapsulates and elevates what may be a failed...
(The entire section is 410 words.)
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Jonson borrowed the conventions of courtly love for the poem but manipulated them to create his unique voice. Traditionally, the lover in these poems is stricken by his lady's beauty, which causes him to idealize her. Ever obedient to her wishes, the humble lover strives to be worthy of her. His feelings of love ennoble him and lead him on the path to moral excellence.
Jonson expresses the cult of the beloved in his poem through his vision of the lady whose kisses are sweeter than the nectar of the gods and whose breath can grant immortality. Yet this speaker does not humble himself to his mistress. He has a calm assurance not found in conventional courtly love poems. In the first stanza, he subtly acknowledges that his lady might be reluctant to express her love for him when he suggests that she leave a kiss in the cup. Traditional lovers would prostrate themselves at their lady's feet, but Jonson's speaker calmly provides an alternative to drinking to him with her eyes.
In the second stanza the speaker alludes to the lady's rejection of his tokens of love when he notes that she sent the rosy wreath back to him. Traditionally, the ladies in courtly love lyrics appear immune to their lovers' terms of endearment. Jonson uses the traditional hyperbolic Petrarchan conceit—an elaborate, especially clever metaphor used to idolize a lady while lamenting her cruelty or indifference—in an innovative way. (Petrarch...
(The entire section is 487 words.)