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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem is a triumph in the “complex stanza” form, which derives from the classical ode and which requires that the poet contrive a fresh rhyme scheme (abbaccca in the present case) and use a variable line length as well. Donne employs a free iambic foot and a meter that varies from pentameter (ten syllables per line) in the first, third, fourth, and seventh lines to trimeter (six syllables) in the last line of each stanza. The remaining lines are in tetrameter (eight syllables). Donne frames each stanza by closing off the first and ninth lines with the word “love,” which accordingly echoes throughout the poem.

Within the formal structure, Donne uses frequent balance and antithesis (as in line 2, in which “my palsy” is balanced with “my gout”). Occasionally this binary pattern, which operates throughout the poem, leads to paradox, for the speaker argues that the apparent dangers of passionate love actually sustain life in the best sense. The paradoxical pairing of the lover’s “colds” (chills) and “heats” (fevers) in the second stanza are conventional and even somewhat playful, but the pairing of dying and rising later in the poem is more profound. Antitheses abound in the poem: chronicles/sonnets, well-wrought urn/half-acre tombs, peace/rage. These tend to counter the more obviously balanced pairs in the first stanza: “With wealth your state”/ “your mind with arts,” a course/a place (in court, presumably), His...

(The entire section is 434 words.)