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The Role Of Difficulty In John Donne's Love Poems.

2909 words - 12 pages

Jonson said that Donne 'for not being understood would perish.' Discuss the role of difficulty in Donne's love poems.In assessing the difficulties in reading any of Donne's love poetry it is important to first establish what is meant by the word difficult. Donne's poetry offers different levels of interpretation. Some seemingly simple phrases can have underlying sub-levels of meaning. Another difficulty is his use of imagery. Some of the imagery seems as though it does not fit within the realms of his poetry. It takes a close reading of these images to establish exactly why Donne uses them. In this aspect of his writing he was dramatically different from his contemporaries and they found this difference hard to grasp. Jonson's comment that Donne would perish because he was so hard to understand explains how Donne's peers viewed his poetry. There is even a suggestion that King James found Donne's poetry incomprehensive as he is quoted as stating that 'Dr. Donns verses were like ye piece of God they passed all understanding. ' It is hard to tell whether this is criticism or praise but it does show that Donne was regarded as obscure by his contemporaries.The words which he uses and the analogies that are made can be so complex that simply reading the plain text with no elucidation would be impossible for a reader unaware of Donne's style. This is true for 'Loves Growth,' where he blends the natural world and the seasons with astronomical allusions such as 'Stars by the sun are not enlarg'd but shown' (II. 4). The first difficulty is working out exactly what such allusions mean. A knowledge of the theories pertaining to the stars and sun in the days before Galileo's telescope is needed to understand the concept which he uses as a symbol for love. Only through the elucidation of this text can it be discovered that a popular belief in Donne's day was that the stars were illuminated by the sun, in the same way as the planets. It is only then that one can start to question how this analogy relates to the overall meaning of the poem. Donne also alludes to the Ptolemaic theory that the sun revolves around the earth and then blends this image with one of circles produced when water is stirred to convey to his lover, as I interpret it, that she is at the centre of his world.The way in which earthly images are merged with theories about astronomy give to the reader a very complex image of the love Donne feels. In this way Donne shows the difficulty in defining love which relates directly to his own difficulty in understanding it. It seems that each spring he realises how wrong he was the previous winter in feeling that his love was 'infinite' (I. 6). The mixture of heaven and earth (20 - 24) show that he does not seem to know which one of these holds the essence of his love. The love he feels is described simultaneously by one of earth's elements and the earth itself in the centre of the universe. The beauty in these lines comes with the understanding of its...

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