John Donne's Songs and Sonnets by John Donne

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The Canonization

For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love;
Or chide my palsy, or my gout;
My five gray hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout;
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve;
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe His Honour, or His Grace;
Or the King’s real, or his stamp’d face
Contemplate; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.
Alas! alas! who’s injur’d by my love?
What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?
Who says my tears have overflow’d his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.
Call us what you will, we are made such by love;
Call her one, me another fly,
We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find th’ eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us; we two being one, are it;
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.
We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love;
And thus invoke us, You, whom reverend love
Made one another’s hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes;
So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize—
Countries, towns, courts beg from above
A pattern of your love!

In this poem, Donne displays the complexity and variety of emotions involved in sexual love, building on the idea that sexual love makes possible a transcendence of something merely physical to something holy. In asserting this, however, the poem also mocks those who diminish sex as trivial or immoral. It is a form of a dramatic monologue, with a speaker addressing an unspecified person (probably a man) who has apparently been nagging him that his amorous commitment to a woman is excessive, impractical, or perhaps plain stupid. As readers, we listen in on his response.

The five stanzas contain nine lines each, with “love” as the final word of the first and last lines of each stanza, resulting in a total of ten repetitions of the word. The rhyme scheme is complicated: abbacccaa; addaeeeaa; afagggaa; ahhaiiiaa; ajjakkkaa. The intricate pattern results in two words in the fourth and eighth line of each stanza rhyming with “love,” so that in all, twenty words in the poem are “love” or rhyme with “love,” creating a compelling argument on the topic. The meter is less regular, but the last line of every stanza repeats an iambic trimeter rhythm, which winds up the stanza conclusively, thus giving more emphasis to the argument of the poem.

The argument shifts with each stanza. The first opens with a playful impatience. “For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love,” says the speaker, implying to the person asking these bothersome questions that he should simply mind his own business: “Take you a course, get you a place, / Observe His Honor or His Grace.” Then the tone shifts in the second stanza, as the speaker uses (and parodies) the conventions of Petrarchan love poetry through hyperboles of emotion, each shaped in the form of a question. “Alas! alas! who’s injur’d by my love? / What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?” the speaker rhetorically asks. Has his passion killed anyone? Has his love changed anything at all? No, in fact, it has not, he implies. Wars continue and lawyers still bring suits to court—the world goes on as usual, says he, “Though she and I do love.” Stanza three opens with a tone that challenges the interlocutor—“Call us what you will”—as if the speaker could not really care less what this man who questions...

(The entire section is 3,096 words.)