The Bold Metaphysical Poetry of John Donne
In the seventeenth century, John Donne's writing was considered extreme. His style became known as metaphysical, a name given to such poets by critics. The term metaphysical is a word used to define something that is based on human reasoning. The Metaphysicals combined mind and intellect with emotion and nature, and they were accused of writing revolutionary poems just to display their learning. Poets who came before the metaphysical writers based their poetry on sweet, smooth musical verse. However, metaphysical poetry wanted no part of the old ways of writing. Thus, metaphysical poetry can be described as bold and daring. It can also be described as sharp and unique. Although this new poetry was criticized greatly, it has become well known in literature.
John Donne is probably the most famous metaphysical poet. One of his most famous poems is "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning." In this poem, he combines metaphors, imagery, and emotion to convey the intensity of the poem's meaning. Figurative language is used in the poem to illustrate to his addressee (his wife) preceding an impending lengthy separation that although their separation will be difficult, their sacred love will remain strong. The poem has been suggested to have been written with the intent to explain to his addressee why their separation was not a cause for great sorrow. The poet was probably leaving for France in 1611 on a European tour with his friend Sir Robert Drury. Ann was sick and pregnant and protested being left behind (Cavanaugh).
Donne uses two metaphors to explain just how he and his wife remain united when they are apart. In lines 13-16, Donne describes "dull sublunary lover's love." The poet says that mortal love changes because it is physical. Physical love is only present when the lovers are together. These relationships deteriorate when their bodies become separated from one another. In lines 17-20, Donne tells his wife that because their love is "so much refined," it will withstand the test of distance. He continues to explain to his wife that their love is permanent. He uses the first of two metaphors in lines 21-24; Donne compares their spiritual love to "gold to airy thinness beat." Here he compares their relationship to a thinly pressed sheet of gold. The "airy thinness" emphasizes the stretching of the lover's souls (Cavanaugh). They will remain as one, regardless of the distance between them. The gold used by the poet symbolizes a strong and sturdy material that will not crack simply because of distance. Donne and his wife share a spiritual oneness, and because of their unique relationship, their love is "undaunted by distance" (Louthan 49).
In trying to convey his message to his wife, Donne also compares their relationship to a geometric compass (25-28). Donne uses the compass to say to his wife that if they are two people, they are two souls joined at the top to make one. He continues to tell...