John Donne's Love's Alchemy
In 'Love's Alchemy,'; John Donne sets up an analogy between the Platonists, who try, endlessly, to discover spiritual love, and the alchemists, who in Donne’s time, tried to extract gold from baser metals. This analogy allows Donne to express his beliefs that such spiritual love does not exist and those who are searching for it are only wasting their time. Donne cleverly uses language that both allows the reader to see the connections between the alchemists and the Platonists and that allows for a more sexual interpretation of the piece.
The poem opens with two lines that lay the groundwork for the analogy and that have a sexual implication. The word “digged'; and the image of “love’s mine';, obviously allow for the comparison between the Platonist’s and the alchemists. Donne explains that some have experienced more love than he has, and, in having done so, have penetrated “deeper'; into “love’s hidden mystery,'; that is, they have reached a point beyond sensual love where they have found it’s true “centric'; or essential happiness. This would be analogous to alchemists, who, after many attempts, have been able to extract gold from other metals. Due to the diction that Donne uses and the manner in which he expresses himself in these two lines, it is possible to extract their sexual meaning that serves to ridicule the claims and means of the Platonists as well as the alchemists. The words “digged love’s mine'; can be interpreted as the sexual act. And when combined with line 2, we can interpret these two lines as saying that true happiness lies in sexual pleasure. It seems as if Donne is implying that the Platonist’s claims that they are striving to attain spiritual love is all a hoax because all they are truly after is more sexual pleasure.
Donne’s belief of the Platonist’s and alchemist’s fraudulence and deceit is further expressed in lines 3-6 along with further sexual implications. The explicit sexual “get'; and “got'; convey his experiences with physical love, but he is upset that he has not found that so-called “spiritual love,'; even though he has followed a number of steps in a specific sequence, like an alchemist with a formula would do. He has (1) loved (2) got and (3) told (here meaning kept count). And since nothing that he has done or will do in his search has worked or will ever work, he concludes that everything Platonists claim is falsified.
The conceit of Platonists being like alchemists is made more explicit in the second half of the stanza. Donne says that just as no alchemist ever discovered the “Elixir'; so too does the Platonist never find that ideal and pure love that he claims to exist. He further explains that the alchemists and Platonists both...