Victoria Marasigan on John Donne's "The Canonization"

Published by admin_main on Mon 11 Oct, 2010

John Donne's "The Canonization"

8. How does the poem illustrate the idea that metaphysical poetry is characterized as much by logical precision as by a union of thought and feeling? (See T. S. Eliot's reference in "The Metaphysical Poets" to the "dissociation of sensibility" that he says set in after Donne's time.)

T.S. Eliot once said in his essay "Tradition and the Individual Talent," "Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things." Having been substantially influenced by Donne himself, here, Eliot describes poetry not as a means for one to brashly release all of one's feelings or as a means of conveying any conception of self, but rather as a means of breaking away from such notions, largely by engaging more in the logical aspect of the art.

As the pioneer of metaphysical poetry, John Donne exemplifies Eliot's sentiments in his poem "The Canonization." Metaphysical poetry characteristically relies on conceits, or single dominant extended metaphors, in order to logically portray abstract concepts in rather novel ways, as opposed to the more traditionally poignant methods that came before the genre (Harmon 317). Driven by the conceit of the ideal of canonization, Donne's poem expresses the intensity of the speaker's love, and at the same time, offers a balance between the elements of passion and reason.

Like saints are canonized for the sake of Christ, the speaker and his lover are figuratively canonized for one another. As the speaker opens, "For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love," which initially ascribes a sense of tenacity to his love (Abrams 1267). He proceeds to assert that other quite trivial things, such as his "palsy" and "gout" should be scrutinized, rather than his romantic affairs, implicitly questioning what exactly deems a saint worthy of the heights of canonization. In such, the speaker draws a parallel between how both the lives of potential saints and lovers are deeply investigated, definitively establishing a sort of pattern in which he provides rational justifications for the intensity of his passions, "So {they} will let {him} love." as he states in line 9 (Abrams 1267).

As further support for his love, he asks in line 10, "Alas, als, who's injured by my love?" and then asks such questions as, "What merchant's ships have my sighs drowned? Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?/ When did my colds a forward spring remove?/ When did the heats which my veins fill/ Add one man to the plaguy bill?" (Abrams 1268). In asking what harm his love possibly brought or could bring upon the lives of others, the speaker rationally acknowledges that, since their love is so benign, it should be as liberal as it wishes to be.

In the third stanza, the speaker then draws an even stronger connection to the ideal of the canonization conceit. He says in line 22 that "And we in us find the eagle and the dove/ The phoenix riddle hath more wit/ By us: we two being one, are it." (Abrams 1268). By making such allusions to the symbolic balance of the eagle's strength and vision, the doves's meekness and mercy, and the phoenix's power to rise again from the ashes, the speaker is thus able to compare the admirable and eternal aspects of a canonized saint to his love, reinforcing the conceit.

As a whole, regarding the poem's form, this fusion between logic and emotionality is exemplified. The structure of its five proportionally balanced 9 line stanzas are indicative of the poem's more logical elements, while their staggered indentation and varied meter reflect the volatility of the emotional elements, as all of which serve to connote a sense of turbulence that so exists in the conflict that surrounds the speaker's love.

Essentially, Donne's works had preceded what Eliot coined, the "dissociation of sensibility," or the disjunction between thought and feeling (Harmon 158). Donne exemplified "direct sensuous apprehension of thought," wherein a thought was an experience, intrinsically, and thus affected one's sensuous perception, keenly creating harmony between thought and feeling, and thus Donne still stands as one of the most revolutionary poets of his time.

11. As for the term "canonization," what does it mean? By what process is someone canonized? What is the balance or relationship in this poem between spirituality and erotic love?

In the context of Donne's poem, "Canonization" refers to the sense in which the lovers are canonized, or elevated to the eternal state of a divine agent, by the power of their love. As saints are canonized for Christ's sake, by their devotion to their God, the lovers are canonized for each other, by their devotion to one another amidst all opposition and hardship they face from forces of the world.

The process by which someone is canonized entails investigation of the potential individual's life and proof that they are worthy of such a laudable position. Donne's poem plays on these requisites especially in the opening stanza when he wittily addresses in line 5, "Take you a course, get you a place,/ Or the king's real, or his stamped face/ Contemplate; what you will, approve,/ So you will let me love." (Abrams 1267). Such a break in the rationality of the canonization process only serves to defend his passions.

Throughout the canonization, the distinction between spirituality and erotic love is somewhat blurred. There is no definite line between these two, because in a sense, Donne equates the elevation of the feelings one experiences in spirituality to those involved in erotic love. Donne's sentiments expressed in "The Canonization" nevertheless exemplify the divine nature of spirituality and romance.

Works Cited

Abrams, M. H. et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. B. New York: Norton, 2006. 167-168. Print.

Harmon, William, and Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. 7th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1996. 158, 317. Print.