Discuss the dichotomy of the body and soul in John Donne's poems.

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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.

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The relationship between body and soul in John Donne is complex. In all of his works, the account of the nature of body and soul is Christian, with the soul being immortal and the body mortal. Donne was strongly aware of the body as subject to corruption and decay after death. However, the body is not present simply as a source of Original Sin, but rather as both a path to sin and a starting point for human desire, which can be transmuted into spiritual longing.

Unlike many other poets of the period, John Donne does not always give a strongly dualistic account of body and soul in opposition, with the soul trapped in the body. Instead, in Donne, the soul has an inherent affection for the body. Sexual love, especially in Donne's earlier works, can often lead to some form of spiritual awakening, in a sort of argument reminiscent of Plato's Symposium

In his later poems, which are more directly concerned with theology, the sexual overlay still remains as a metaphor; for example, in "Batter my heart, three-person'd God" the notion of irresistible grace is figured as a form of rape.

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