John Donne's Songs and Sonnets by John Donne

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Compare and contrast the speakers' attitudes towards love in John Donne's poems "Love's Alchemy" and "The Sun Rising."

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Many of the poems in John Donne’s Songs and Sonets [sic] collection deal with varying attitudes toward love.  Certainly this is true of both “The Sun Rising” and “Love’s Alchemy.” The attitude toward love expressed in “The Sun Rising” seems idealistic and celebratory, whereas the attitude toward love expressed in “Love’s Alchemy” seems harshly cynical and sarcastic.

In “The Sun Rising,” the male speaker begins by criticizing the sun for interfering with his time in bed with his female beloved:

Busy old fool, unruly sun,

Why dost thou thus

Through windows and through curtains call on us? (1-3)

The speaker tells the sun to go bother others, since

Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,

Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time. (9-10)

Throughout the rest of the work, the speaker extols the mutual affection he shares with his beloved, including their satisfying sexual relationship.

In “Love’s Alchemy,” by contrast, the speaker is deeply skeptical about the advantages and happiness love can allegedly produce.  He seems to emphasize disproportionately the sexual aspects of love and seems disappointed in the results – an emphasis that leads one to wonder whether he has truly loved, in the deepest senses of the word, at all.  In any case, he asserts that anyone who has claimed to have had a sublime experience of love is a liar, and he ends the poem by cynically warning,

Hope not for mind [that is, intelligence] in women; at their best

Sweetness and wit, they are but mummy, possessed. (23-24)

In other words, he claims that women are not particularly bright and that they are not especially satisfying in bed, either. It is possible to argue, however, that the male speaker of the poem is being mocked by Donne – that his sarcasm and cynicism boomerang, and that the poem paints a far less attractive picture of the speaker himself than of the women the speaker indicts.



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