In Donne's work as a whole we see a split between, on the one hand, what C.S. Lewis called "the dazzling sublimity of his religious poems" and, on the other, a reveling in sexual themes which some might say approaches the obscene. Donne was seemingly a man at war with himself, or at least, that was the persona he presented. He had a constant sense of his own sinfulness and the danger he felt his soul was in because of it, yet celebrated the very physical pleasures which he regarded as sinful according to his spiritual or religious beliefs.
"The Ecstasy," though it does not refer directly to those beliefs, probably presents the dichotomy between the spiritual and the physical more fully than any of his other poems. The speaker begins by suggesting that the union of a man and a woman is a totally spiritual thing, and that physical or even verbal contact is unnecessary:
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.
But as the poem progresses, the speaker indicates that the bodily realm, a separate and even opposing force, is needed to facilitate this idealized intermingling of the two souls:
But oh alas, so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They're ours, though they're not we, we are
Th' intelligences, they the spheres.
This sense of the body as a facilitator of the spiritual union of a man and a woman occurs throughout Donne's work. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," Donne employs a typically complex metaphor to describe the togetherness of souls in physical terms:
Our two souls, therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness near.
Yet as much as Donne strives to connect body and soul, or the physical and the spiritual, his verse reveals a tension, an opposition between the two. There is a constant struggle to reconcile these opposites, and that is one of the elements giving Donne's poetry its extraordinary power.