The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The forty-five lines of John Donne’s “The Canonization” are divided into five nine-line stanzas, a form that suggests a five-act play. The title reflects the speaker’s conviction that in opposing the claims of the world (business, courtly ambitions), he and his beloved have become love’s martyrs, and therefore saints.

The first-person speaker appears to be addressing an outsider who is unsympathetic to his romantic involvement and who has said as much prior to the first line. The poem, then, is a type of dramatic monologue, in which the speaker defends and later celebrates his love against the outsider’s objection. In the first stanza, he commands the outsider to hold his tongue and tells him to scold him about being too old for love if he wishes, but not about being in love. He suggests that the outsider pursue his own ambitions or do whatever he likes, so long as he leaves him alone to love.

In the second stanza, the speaker adopts a defensive tone, arguing that no one is “injured” by his love, as the outsider may have charged. Donne employs several conventional Petrarchan metaphors (poetic clichés by that time), insisting that his lover’s sighs have not sunk any merchant ships, nor has his heated passion caused an early spring to be delayed. He concludes that argumentative soldiers and lawyers can still bicker even though he finds contentment in love.

In the third stanza, the speaker reacts to apparent...

(The entire section is 487 words.)