How can John Donne, as a love poet, be seen as both a rebel and a conformist? Do any of his poems, in particular, reveal this combination of traits?

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John Donne, in his love poetry, can be seen as both a conformist and a rebel in several senses. A particularly interesting example of both tendencies occurs in his famous poem “Elegy 19. To His Mistress Going to Bed.”

In this poem, a male speaker apparently lies naked in bed and tries to convince a woman, whom he desires sexually, to join him. This poem would have seemed shocking to many readers of Donne’s era, and it still has the power to shock today.

One aspect of the poem that makes it somewhat shocking is its relative sexual explicitness. For example, three times in a few lines, the speaker jokes about male erections (4, 12, 24). Other language in the poem is, if anything, even more overtly suggestive sexually, such as the speaker’s exclamation, “License my roving hands, and let them go / Before, behind, between, above, below” (25-26). Another sexual joke appears in the reference to “whole joys” in line 35. Finally, the speaker’s reference to his own nakedness (47) comes as one last surprise. Many readers would have seen (and still do see) this poem as an example of Donne’s daring, of his rebellious nonconformity to the generally decorous standards of much love poetry of his day. If Donne can be classified as a “rebel” in his love poetry, poems such as “Elegy 19” seem to offer convincing evidence to support that label.

On the other hand, it is possible to argue that even such a poem as “Elegy 19” is fundamentally conformist. It is possible to argue that even this apparently shocking...

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