Since the publication of his `Songs and Sonets' in 1663, the intellectual wittiness of John Donne's love poetry has caused much speculation about the views of the poet himself. Donne took the traditional form and imagery of love poetry in his own day and forced it to "emerge reinvigorated and radically transformed by his hand, demanding from the reader an unprecedented level of mental alertness and engagement" Just as Donne threw himself eagerly into capturing the mood of the moment in his works, so he succeeds in sweeping the reader away in the intense emotions of his poetry.
Several critics have believed Donne's `Songs and Sonets' can be divided into two groups; an earlier group of cynical and promiscuous poems, and a later group of more idealistic poems (supposedly written after Donne's marriage) However, even categorizing the poems in this way cannot banish the sense of variety between the attitudes to love found in the poems. For Donne, it would appear that love is not a singular and distinct emotion, but (to use his own words) is "mixt of all stuffes, paining soule or sense" (`Love's Growth') Rather than speak of love as a separate entity, Donne portrays it as deeply ingrained in the other feelings and activities that he describes.
For this reason, it is difficult to decipher which attitude expressed in his poetry is actually Donne's view on love. In `The Flea', it would appear that sexual gratification is the solitary objective of the poem, whereas in poems such as `The Canonisation' love is elevated to a level where it refuses to abate even to the loss of the physical body. Similarly, many of the poems contain a sense of urgency about love, whilst others depict love as utterly unyielding to the passage of time.
`The Good Morrow' and `The Sunne Rising' are two examples of poems in which Donne's lovers attempt to defy time. `The Sunne Rising' is a celebration of the two lovers' immunity from time, and their ability to become all-sufficient to each other by denying the significance of the outside world: "She is all states, and all princes, I,/ Nothing else is." The idea of lovers being able to create their own world, with no need of external influences, turns up repeatedly in Donne's work, perhaps because Donne himself was an exile from the public world. His secret marriage to Ann More when she was only seventeen years old meant that his employment as secretary to her uncle, the Lord Keeper of England, was terminated, and he was unlikely to find work for another patron. Donne and his wife moved away from London, and for a time were content simply to be together in their love. Their situation is reflected in Donne's suggestion in `The Sunne Rising' that love not only obliterates the wider world, but contains the whole world also: "shine here to us and thou art everywhere." Again, in `The Good Morrow', Donne declares, "For love, all love of other sights controules,/ And makes one little room, an everywhere."
Yet, while Donne so...