John Donne's Songs and Sonnets

by John Donne

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Setting and Character

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The love poems occasionally provide a specific setting, such as the field in which two lovers lie holding hands in “The Ecstasy,” and several times we imagine lovers in bed, as in “Break of Day” and “The Flea”; however, even though settings might be absent or vague, all of the poems have a distinct speaker and audience. Many begin with “I” and those that do not refer to “me.” The speaker is usually sufficiently vivid for us to infer he has worldly experience and a clear purpose; his audience is quite frequently a woman whom he is wooing. For example, the poem “The Good-Morrow” begins, “I wonder...what thou and I / Did till we loved.” In this poem, his purpose is to convince her that she is all he has ever dreamed of and hoped for, yet he also seeks a mutual sexual pleasure with her, indicated by the last word, “die,” which plays on a seventeenth-century pun that refers to sexual orgasm. Occasionally, however, the speaker merely argues about the idea of love to a general audience. Thus, in “Love’s Alchemy” he presents himself as a man who has “loved, and got, and told,” and as a result he can consider himself as an expert on the topic of sexual love. He ridicules people who say, “’Tis not the bodies marry, but the minds,” here deriding the idea of Platonic love and insisting that love necessarily involves sex.

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