Elegy 19 by John Donne: To His Mistress Going to Bed Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

“Elegy 19” reflects greatly on “The Sun Rising”.

They share similar imagery and are closely related in both their language, structure and progression. The way in which Donne structures the poem is alsocunning as the techniques he adopts are directly related to “The Sun Rising”.

It is a common occurrence for Donne to use cosmological imagery within his poetry to portray his emotions and using extremes to compare his mistress too. In addition, he continues to do so in “Elegy 19” and we recognise it also in “The Sun Rising”. Another reflection of these two poems.

He uses cosmological imagery quite frequently in this poem “Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering” Donne is comparing the woman’s girdle to something heavenly, when in actual fact a girdle wouldn’t have been anything more than a cushion used for support and shape. Flattery is used commonly within Donne’s poetry; he is rarely a reject of his lovers and uses flattery to seduce them.

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“In such white robes heaven’s angels used to be receiv’d by men: thou angel bring’st with thee”. Another example of Donne’s adulation through comparison to the heavens and placing his mistress above anything mortal. Within the poem we see how Donne transforms his love and admiration for the woman into something sordid and lust driven.

Additionally, from the start he shows a high level of respect and is honourable about the female form, yet as his seduction progresses he increasing lowers the tone.

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There is certainly a romantic aspect to the beginning of the poem, as Donne quite openly portrays emotions of adoration. “Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals. As when from flowery meads th’ hill’s shadow steals”. Yet this isn’t a simple example of his love to his mistress, it is a ploy to get her to sleep with him. Donne soon neglects these more romantic aspects of the poem and continues reoccurring with his bawdiness and a contradiction of his infatuation, reducing it to a mere sense of sexual desire.

Furthermore, within ‘The Sun Rising’ Donne refers to the sun to compare his love for his mistress, it begins with what seems like genuine passion and affection, yet this is diminished by the sexual undertone and turns the heart warming rendition into a suggestion of his sexual antics.
Moreover, referring back to ‘Elegy 19’ it is common of Donne to highly exaggerate something simple and transform it into something spectacular, even supernatural.

Whilst observing comparisons between ‘Elegy 19’ and ‘The Sun Rising’ it is to be notified how Donne incorporates ‘the bed’ into both. He elevates the bed into a supreme status. In the Sun rising he declares “Since here to us, and thou art everywhere; This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere”. Here Donne is implying sexual activity, yet he is also being passionate and romantic. However, only as a way to entice his mistress to bed.

By invoking the bed that Donne and his mistress share whilst being the centre of the sun’s orbit this obviously turns the situation into something sensual rather than sordid. However, Donne is also suggesting that the sexual activity that will undergo in the bed is the centre f the universe, the most important thing he can see. Therefore, undermining he’s passion for her and making the sex he will receive more important than the love shared between the two people.

Moreover, he raises the bed to godly status in ‘Elegy 19’. “Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread In love’s hallowed temple, this soft bed”. Donne compares the bed to a temple, a sacred place. By associating these two things he is anticipating the intercourse that will take place in the bed will be sacred as is anything within a temple. He uses the temple and combines secular and heavenly aspects as another way to seduce his mistress. The bed is a place where their love would be consummated and therefore she has nothing to feel guilty about, it is something that was meant to happen between the two lovers so instead of holding back she may as well enjoy herself.

Throughout the poem we are given the impression that Donne is seriously besotted with his mistress, he complements her clothing and admires her womanly form. “And to angel’s clothing in such white robes, heaven’s angels used to be received by men; thou, angel, bring’st with thee A heaven like Mahomet’s paradise” True, Donne does praise his mistress, yet he always refers back to his own need for sexual satisfaction. He is cunning he knows that he simply wants to fulfil his sexual desires and anticipates that he will get what he wants, yet he still feels that he needs to prove to not only his mistress but the readership also that he has her best interests at heart.

This is why he removes his own clothing to set a good example for her and to reassure her insecurities. This is an arguable move, is he genuine about making his mistress feel at ease? Or does he disrespect her intelligence to a degree that he considers she will believe this proposal and return he’s gesture by removing her clothes also.

“Donne’s love poems are not about love, they are about power”. When evaluating this statement and analysing Donne’s other poems I believe that this statement is true. He uses manipulation and persuasion to get what he wants. His overall objective being to obtain sexual gratification from the woman in the poem. Furthermore, he combines different forms of imagery to flatter and intimidate the woman so his lust and sexual desires are portrayed as love to her.

Throughout the poem Donne’s constantly alters his language and speech, from direct to indirect. He adapts his language and tone to suit both himself and the readership and gives the impression that love has an equal balance. Although true love and affection are important sexual gratification is an essential between two lovers who are passionate for one another.

Throughout his poetry however, whether done with intent or merely accident Donne always gives the impression that his motives are driven with a need for power more than his desire to be loved or to share his love with the woman within the text.

Furthermore, not only did he feel the need to obtain his own sexual gratification from her he is also a good example of a man’s need for their wives to be faithful to them. In the time that Donne wrote his most famous poetry it was a necessity for the males to ‘own’ their wives, for them to be their property and for the males to dominate there relationships. Therefore, whatever passion a man felt for a woman it was always overpowered for the males need to be in control all the time.

To conclude I believe that the critic was correct when claiming that Donne’s poems were more to do with power than love. If not Donne’s own opinions then they would have been opinions of the era. The aspects of which Donne peruses where not necessarily his own personal issues but issues that people were feeling all of the time around that period. Males being dominate over woman was an everyday occurrence. Therefore, he wasn’t going to argue against society. He wanted to please the readership, and he did so by reflecting on things he believed were true and that culture at that time did to.


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