The Ecstasy Analysis
by John Donne

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The Ecstasy Analysis

"The Ecstasy" is a metaphysical poem written by famed English poet John Donne. It is commonly referred to as "The Extasie," as this is the poem's original title. It consists of 76 lines, which are sometimes organized into 19 stanzas. Each line is in iambic tetrameter, and each stanza follows a basic abab rhyme scheme.

"The Ecstasy" is considered to be one of Donne's most popular love poems; however, there are some critics, poets, and writers who feel that the poem is a bit too explicit. (C. S. Lewis notably thought that the poem's argument that the body can express the soul's pure and divine love through sex was "singularly unpleasant.") Nonetheless, the majority of analysts agree that the poem is one of Donne's most influential and meaningful, as well as one of the most complex poems in his literary opus. According to some, Donne wrote the poem to showcase his endless devotion to his wife, whom he loved dearly.

The poem is essentially about the connection and relationship between body and soul. Donne agrees with Plato's philosophy on love and soulmates, and believes that the purest form of love is born when the souls of two lovers connect spiritually. As a Christian, he also agrees with the Christian teaching that the state of ecstasy that lovers feel is a way to connect and communicate with God and divine forces. 

However, unlike Plato and the Church, Donne argues that the most authentic way for souls to achieve pure spiritual love and connection is to connect physically—or, in other words, sexually. Thus, Donne is one of the first poets of his time to present the act and the concept of sexual pleasure in a more modern context.

Donne doesn't explicitly say that sex is the only way to achieve true love, but he argues that physical connection between bodies is as important and necessary as spiritual connection between souls. To strengthen his point, Donne uses numerous metaphors of connection and imbrication, all of which conform to two central ideas: first, that the body is an essential means of allowing souls to communicate ("Love's mysteries in souls do grow, / But yet the body is his book"), and second, that attempting to sever this fundamental connection between body and soul is akin to destroying the "subtle knot which makes us man."

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Although “The Ecstasy” was initially printed without stanza breaks, a number of manuscripts suggest that John Donne conceived of this poem as containing nineteen separate quatrains of iambic tetrameter that trace the movement of lovers’ souls from their bodies and the souls’ union in that incorporeal state. “The Ecstasy” opens with the lovers sitting in an erotic pastoral landscape. The violets suggest springtime, the season of love. Though the lover and his lass are “one another’s best,” they have not yet consummated their relationship. Their only union thus far is the physical joining of palms, which are sweaty, and the spiritual linking of eyebeams. During the Renaissance, it was thought that love was engendered by beams shot from the eyes of the beloved; these beams then entered the eyes of the lover and traveled to the heart, where they inflamed the blood, causing such symptoms of affection as perspiration and blushing.

Reinforcing this theme of nonsexual union are references to horticulture and mirrors. One may propagate plants asexually through grafting, and one may reproduce oneself by looking into a mirror. In this poem, the eye is both the transmitter and the reflector of light, acting as a glass wherein each lover sees his or her own image.

The lovers’ souls now leave their bodies, reducing the lovers to lifeless figures one finds on tombs. They therefore no longer sit but lie. The souls may initially seek conquest—hence the military allusions—but quickly turn to peaceful parleying, perhaps because they recognize their equality and therefore the impossibility of the triumph of one over the other. Before presenting to the reader these two souls standing apart from...

(The entire section is 1,349 words.)