The Canonization

by John Donne

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Elaborate on the blending of erotic love and spiritual love in Donne's “The Canonization.”

In “The Canonization,” Donne blends erotic love and spiritual love by insisting that he and his lover will die by love if they cannot live by it. In saying this, Donne is effectively spiritualizing a love that is primarily physical, elevating it to a higher level.

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The very first line of Donne's “The Canonization” would appear to indicate that there's nothing particularly spiritual about the love between the speaker and his beloved:

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love.

There's something almost blasphemous in this invocation of the Almighty as the speaker tells his listener to be quiet and let him love. One gets the impression that the person to whom these rather abrupt remarks are addressed is somewhat skeptical of the love between the speaker and his beloved and requires some convincing to believe that this is anything other than an intensely erotic, physical relationship.

To that end, the speaker uses fanciful rhetoric to drive home the point that there's nothing wrong with his love. No one has been injured by his love, no ships drowned by his sighs, no land flooded by his tears.

However, the abiding impression one gets from the speaker's use of rhetoric is that he protests too much. The speaker seems to realize this himself, which is why he goes on to stress the spiritual dimension of his love, insisting that if he and his beloved are not able to live by it, then they can die by it instead. These are strong words, indeed, certainly far too strong for a merely physical relationship. After all, who would be prepared to die for that?

Once the lovers have passed away, their heavenly love, now suitably canonized by hymns and poems, will transcend its physical manifestations and provide an ideal for those left behind on earth to follow. The story of their love will act as an inspiration for those who wish to emulate their example and one day join them in entering the community of saints of love.

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