A Pattern of Love’s Canonization

March 26, 2019 by Essay Writer

In “The Canonization,” John Donne seems to set his love apart from politics, wealth, the court life, and earthly life in general in order to align it with sanctity. He also utilizes his wit to mock commonly accepted poetic conventions, only to replace them with his own. He creates a pattern of placing love in context of birth, death, resurrection, and homage, which leads to the speaker exploring the possibility of a fantastic, metaphorical canonization into the sainthood of lovers. “The Canonization” consists of five stanzas with nine lines apiece. Each stanza serves to gradually heighten the position of the speaker’s love until it reaches a canonized bliss. The rhyme scheme is abbacccd, every stanza ending with the word, “love.” This is a deliberate demonstration of how the love transcends each previous position and is transformed every time it is mentioned. As a metaphysical poet, Donne uses peculiar, extravagant metaphors to display his intensity and wit, such as “We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms” (32). In the beginning stanza, the speaker is addressing an anonymous cynic of love, and particularly of the speaker’s love affair. It seems that the addressee is chiding how intensely the speaker has fallen. The lover urges the skeptic to find other thoughts to occupy his mind, even if it be his physical faults: “…my palsy, or my gout,/My five grey hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout” (2-3). He then decides it is irrelevant what the addressee contemplates (the king, the arts, wealth, etc.), as long as he permits him to love without complaint. The contrast of the political and propriety-obsessed courtier, the interlocutor, serves as a valuable contrast with these unworldly and pious lovers. It is also likely that Donne is using the presence of the interlocutor as a sounding board for the sublime potential of his love, considering that the interlocutor seems to disappear after the first stanza. Donne uses the second stanza to humorously manipulate and exaggerate the hyperbolic qualities of Petrarchan poetry. To parallel the common Petrarchan conventions, “seas of tears” and “my sighs are storms,” Donne inquires, “What merchant’s ships have my sighs drown’d?/Who says my tears have overflow’d this ground?” (11-12). To dismiss the common Petrarchan burning/freezing metaphors, Donne provokes, “When did my colds a forward spring remove?/When did the heats which my veins fill/Add one more to the plaguey bill?” (13-15). He then claims his love to be harmless and isolated, neither affecting nor subject to the natural world. Humanity as well seems to move forward inexorably, unaffected by his love: “Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still/Litigious men, which quarrels move,/Though she and I do love” (16-18). Much like a saint renounces the world for a heavenly call, Donne renounces humanity and the natural world for a transcendent love. In the second stanza’s playful parodying, there is also the implication that perhaps Petrarchan conventions have been exhausted and are now generic. After he belittles these conventions, Donne uses the next stanza to create his own fresh, imaginative metaphors for love. This stanza parallels the immensity of his love with the progression of birth, death and resurrection—that it will fulfill all of these purposes and beyond. In birth and creation, he states, “…we are made such by love” (19). In death he and his lover become insects drawn to and incinerated by the flame of love: “Call her one, me another fly” (20). He and his lover then become this flame, as two candles zealously burning themselves to their end, “We are tapers too, and at our own cost die” (21). Donne’s resurrection metaphors take a bizarre twist on gender. He uses three birds, the masculine eagle, the feminine dove, and the gender neutral Phoenix, to convey how he and his lover, separated in life by sex, merge in resurrection as the same creature, “…we two being one are it./So to one neutral thing both sexes fit” (24-25). Although the female lover has no agency or voice in this poem, Donne seem to place them on an equal plane with this metaphor, creating a neutral sex in which, “We die and rise the same, and prove/Mysterious by this love” (26-27). The poetry and values of the time included the ideas that women are lesser versions of men, eventually shifting to men and women having separate natures. Therefore, this metaphor of the sexes melding into sameness is unique and radically different from Donne’s usual depictions of women devoid of agency and equality. Despite this impressive gift of equality, however, Donne once again fails to give his lover a voice. Her heart and personality is not engaged. Much like the interlocutor of the first stanza, she serves as a reflection of Donne’s wit. As the poem progresses, Donne’s metaphorical assertions escalate until they reach their pinnacle—sainthood. The fourth stanza imagines that if the lovers’ devotion is far too huge for life, only in death can its seeming limitlessness be satiated. But Donne continues to climb, for it is possible that this love is “unfit” for the morbid confines of “tombs and hearse” (29). The culmination of their love’s expression will be through poetry written posthumously: “Our legend…will be fit for verse” (30). The poem becomes a full circle as it dreams of itself. The “pretty rooms” built via poesy will popularize the lovers, and the world which once scorned them will now hail them. The speaker’s love expands until the only possible encompassment of it will be verse in praise of these lovers, which will inadvertently lead to their induction into a fictional sainthood of love: “And by these hymns all shall approve/Us canoniz’d for love” (36). The second stanza of this piece tries to convey the ineffectuality of the speaker’s love as a defense against those whom claim it to be a disruption. However, Donne seems to shed that argument in only 15 lines or so, for the penultimate stanza speculates that they will be canonized through verse. In addition, the last stanza claims that future lovers will one day invoke them for help, seeing them as ubiquitous and omniscient, “You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;/Who did the whole world’s soul contract…” (39-40). The speaker’s vision is that of wise, saintly lovers, who are able to simultaneously view and reflect the world and are therefore able to give adequate, informed help: “…and drove into the glasses of your eyes/(So made such mirrors and such spies,/That they did all to you epitomize)” (40-43). In the first stanza, the lover seems to renounce the world and its frivolous pursuits, such as politics, wars and quarrels. This rejection of worldly preoccupations exemplifies his love as unworldly. However, once the lovers become saints, he turns back to the public sphere. He moves from referring to his love as private and meek to monumental and exemplified, “Countries, towns, courts: beg from above/A pattern of your love!” (45). The juxtaposition of love and religion in “The Canonization,” a courtly love poem, along with many of Donne’s other love poetry, is a subtle lead into Donne’s later religious poetry, which also combines tinges of romantic love with religion to create an imitable take on holiness. In this particular poem, Donne has created a new form for sainthood, a position originally associated with chastity, restraint, and pious isolation. In the beginning of the poem, Donne proclaims the holiness of love by distinguishing it from the corruptibility of politics and wealth. Presenting love in such a holy manner lends it a sense of eternity. This love cannot be extinguished because it is as sacred and timeless as a saint’s love for God. By the end, the canonized lover has equated his love with sanctity, which is created by its intensity. His unbridled, bursting love is piety’s replacement, a symbol of immense devotion and fervor, which is cleansed by its own passion.

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