Donne’s Poetry

Main Ideas

Motifs

Main Ideas Motifs

Spheres

Donne’s fascination with spheres rests partly on the perfection of these shapes and partly on the near-infinite associations that can be drawn from them. Like other metaphysical poets, Donne used conceits to extend analogies and to make thematic connections between otherwise dissimilar objects. For instance, in “The Good-Morrow,” the speaker, through brilliant metaphorical leaps, uses the motif of spheres to move from a description of the world to a description of globes to a description of his beloved’s eyes to a description of their perfect love. Rather than simply praise his beloved, the speaker compares her to a faultless shape, the sphere, which contains neither corners nor edges. The comparison to a sphere also emphasizes the way in which his beloved’s face has become the world, as far as the speaker is concerned. In “A Valediction: Of Weeping,” the speaker uses the spherical shape of tears to draw out associations with pregnancy, globes, the world, and the moon. As the speaker cries, each tear contains a miniature reflection of the beloved, yet another instance in which the sphere demonstrates the idealized personality and physicality of the person being addressed.

Discovery and Conquest

Particularly in Donne’s love poetry, voyages of discovery and conquest illustrate the mystery and magnificence of the speakers’ love affairs. European explorers began arriving in the Americas in the fifteenth century, returning to England and the Continent with previously unimagined treasures and stories. By Donne’s lifetime, colonies had been established in North and South America, and the riches that flowed back to England dramatically transformed English society. In “The Good-Morrow” and “The Sun Rising,” the speakers express indifference toward recent voyages of discovery and conquest, preferring to seek adventure in bed with their beloveds. This comparison demonstrates the way in which the beloved’s body and personality prove endlessly fascinating to a person falling in love. The speaker of “Elegy 19. To His Mistress Going to Bed” calls his beloved’s body “my America! my new-found land” (27), thereby linking the conquest of exploration to the conquest of seduction. To convince his beloved to make love, he compares the sexual act to a voyage of discovery. The comparison also serves as the speaker’s attempt to convince his beloved of both the naturalness and the inevitability of sex. Like the Americas, the speaker explains, she too will eventually be discovered and conquered.

Reflections

Throughout his love poetry, Donne makes reference to the reflections that appear in eyes and tears. With this motif, Donne emphasizes the way in which beloveds and their perfect love might contain one another, forming complete, whole worlds. “A Valediction: Of Weeping” portrays the process of leave-taking occurring between the two lovers. As the speaker cries, he knows that the image of his beloved is reflected in his tears. And as the tear falls away, so too will the speaker move farther away from his beloved until they are separated at last. The reflections in their eyes indicate the strong bond between the lovers in “The Good-Morrow” and “The Ecstasy” (1633). The lovers in these poems look into one another’s eyes and see themselves contained there, whole and perfect and present. The act of staring into each other’s eyes leads to a profound mingling of souls in “The Ecstasy,” as if reflections alone provided the gateway into a person’s innermost being.

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