Love and Divine Poems: Short Questions & Answers

1: What is Metaphysical Poetry?

Highly intellectualized poetry written chiefly in 17th-century England is less concerned with expressing feeling than with analyzing it, Metaphysical poetry is marked by bold and ingenious conceits (e.g., metaphors drawing sometimes forced parallels between apparently dissimilar ideas or things), complex and subtle thought, frequent use of paradox, and a dramatic directness of language, the rhythm of which derives from living speech.

2: Who were other leading Metaphysical poets than Donne?

John Donne was the leading Metaphysical poet; others include George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, and Abraham Cowley.

3: Describe Donne as a metaphysical poet.

Donne’s poems reveal the same characteristics that typified the work of the metaphysical poets: dazzling wordplay, often explicitly sexual; paradox; subtle argumentation; surprising contrasts; intricate psychological analysis; and striking imagery selected from nontraditional areas such as law, physiology, scholastic philosophy, and mathematics. Any of his poems can be cited as an example.

4: Write a short note on Donne’s style.

John Donne was famous for his metaphysical poetry in the 17th century. His work suggests a healthy appetite for life and its pleasures, while also expressing deep emotion. He did this through the use of conceits, wit, and intellect — as seen in the poems "The Sun Rising” and "Batter My Heart”.

5: What is metaphysical conceit?

The metaphysical conceit is an extended metaphor that combines two vastly different ideas into a single idea, often using imagery.

6: Name some of the poems of Donne in which he has used metaphysical conceits.

Donne is considered a master of metaphysical conceits; an example of this is his equation of lovers with saints in "The Canonization”. Unlike the conceits found in other Elizabethan poetry, metaphysical conceits go to a greater depth in comparing two completely unlike objects. Another most famous of Donne’s conceits is found in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” where he compares two lovers who are separated to the two legs of a compass.

7: What do you know about Donne’s changing attitude towards love?

Donne’s Songs and Sonnets express a wide variety of emotions as if Donne himself were trying to define his experience of love through his poetry. Love can be an experience of the body, the soul, or both; it can be a religious experience, and it can give rise to emotions ranging from ecstasy to despair.

8: Describe Donne’s changing attitude towards love in any three of his poems.

In The Extasie Donne conveys a very different and complex attitude to erotic pleasure, when it is just one part of the experience of love. But the union of two souls in this poem shows that love is a religious experience. The Sunne Rising expresses the reckless pride and satisfaction felt by the lover in bed with his mistress. In Twicknam Garden Donne expresses extremes of disillusionment.

9: Compare Donne’s poems "A Valediction: of Weeping”, and "A Valediction: forbidding mourning”.

A ‘valediction’ means a parting, leave-staking, and saying goodbye. In both ‘A Valediction: of Weeping’ and ‘A Valediction: forbidding mourning’ Donne is taking leave of a lover, but while having many similarities characteristic of Metaphysical poetry, the two poems convey very different moods. ‘A Valediction: of Weeping’ is a passionate plea, while ‘A Valediction: forbidding mourning is gentle confident persuasion.

10: What kind of parting does the poet plead in ‘A Valediction: forbidding mourning’?

In ‘A Valediction: forbidding mourning’ the poet is pleading for an unemotional parting, this time not because he feels the emotion is too much for him, but because their love is spiritual and above the level of emotion. He argues that as their love is of the spirit it can never be broken. Their souls are always united, and that is all that is important.

11: How the love of the poet and his beloved is different from other people in ‘A Valediction: forbidding mourning’?

The emotions of other people are like floods and tempests, which were thought to have repercussions on human life, but their love is above that and portends no evil, like the movement of heavenly bodies in space. The physical love of the ‘layetie’ (common people) is far below their heavenly uniting of spirits. The poet goes on to argue that their spirits cannot be separated but only extended, as gold is extended when beaten into gold leaf.

12: What Donne has said about death in "Death be not Proud”

Death which is personified in order to take away some of the mystery of death and give it a more natural state is nothing more than a nap. It is simply a really long rest before the afterlife.

One short sleep before we wake eternally

And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

13:  Describe the use of personification in "Death be not Proud”.

In his sonnet "Death, be not proud”, John Donne chooses to use personification. He personifies death in order to emphasize the idea that Christians have victory over death, and the promise of eternal life, where death is no more. Donne’s personification in his sonnet is very important. By personifying Death, he is able to directly address it and speaks his mind in a way normally restricted to person-to-person communication.

 14: Describe the symbol of the besieged town in Donne’s sonnet Batter my heart.

The besieged town is the dominant symbol in the poem, and it’s a confusing one. The speaker likens himself to a town that has been taken over, but he wants God to attack the town in order to capture it.

15: What do you know about Donne’s poem "A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day”?

The poem "A Nocturnal upon S. Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day”, concerns the poet’s despair at the death of a loved one. In this poem Donne expresses a feeling of utter negation and hopelessness, saying:

"I am every dead thing…re-begot

Of absence, darkness, death.”

Q 16: What do you know about Donne’s sonnet “A Hymn to God the Father”?

“A Hymn to God the Father” is a peaceful poem, with a free-flowing regular rhythm that reflects the easy acceptance of God’s will and which, as a hymn, would make it easy for the congregation to sing.

17: What kind of rhythm and words have been used in “A Hymn to God the Father”?

The rhythm is repeated throughout the three verses. Words and phrases are also repeated, emphasizing the singleness of purpose behind the words. Despite the personal reference in the pun on ‘Donne’, and despite also being written as a first-person address.

18: How “A Hymn to God the Father” is different from ‘Batter my Heart’?

The poem ‘A Hymn to God the Father, by Donne is not so personal as the divine poem ‘Batter my Heart.

19: Describe Donne’s attitude towards women.

Like love itself, the women to whom Donne’s verses are addressed are usually praised in hyperbolic terms. In The Sunne Rising her eyes shine brighter than the sun. And in The Dreame she is praised as a being above the level of angels. This reverence for woman sometimes leads Donne close to adopting the traditional attitude of the courtly lover, who suffers through being in love with a woman, usually already married, who scorns him. An example of this kind of love is suggested by the references to the symptoms of love in The Canonization. And sometimes he adopted a very cynical attitude towards women, the finest example of which is "Go and Catch a Falling Star”

20: Analyze briefly Donne’s song: "Goe, and Catche a Falling Starre ".

Donne starts off the poem by stating impossible feats, such as to catch a falling star, and to get a child with a mandrake root. The mandrake root is a type of European herb that resembles a man. And using the fact that men cannot bear a child, brings into the reality of impossibility. Using the same concept of the first few stanzas, he compares the impossibility of the feats to finding a woman is that is fair, single, and a virgin. He ends the poem, saying that by the time he’d sent the love letter, she would already be with another man, or two.

21: Give a short critical view of Donne’s poem The Good Morrow.

Few come close to such a thorough expression of love as John Donne. In his poem, ‘The Good Morrow,’ Donne fully employs numerous devices of poetry to relay his speaker’s endearing message to his lover. He uses elements of structure, figurative language, point-of-view, and tone to creatively support his speaker in the endeavor. The poem progresses from a symbolic infant stage in the first stanza to the morning of the present in the second, and finally in the last stanza, to an immortal outlook of their relationship in the future.

22: Describe Donne’s philosophy of love in The Sun Rising.

In The Sun Rising, John Donne’s rhetoric claims a place for him at the center of the world, ordering around the sun itself, and insisting that nothing matters apart from his love. The poem strikes us as powerful poetry because it is an expression of the exhilaration of love, and a projection of intense internal feelings onto the external world. The poem retains its power because so many people can recognize the experience of feeling that only they and their lover matter in the whole world.

23: How would you describe Donne’s treatment of love in “Air and Angels”?

In “Air and Angels’ love is something that transcends the flesh and the human body is merely a vessel for this potent emotion. Love in this poem is not represented as a feeling that is strictly based on outside or shallow perceptions of beauty but rather, it is projected onto the object of affection in a pure and spiritual sense.

 24: Do you think that the speaker in “Air and Angels” has acquired the power of love?

Through using specific images and compounding themes and meaning throughout the poem "Air and Angels” by John Donne, the reader gets the sense that even though the speaker seems to have a notion of the power of love, he is not quite able to grasp it or give it the form and shape he seems to desire.

25: Describe Donne’s treatment of women in his poem Twicknam Garden.

In his poem Twicknam Garden John Donne cynically says that all women are false; they cannot remain faithful to a single lover. But he shows a ray of optimism when he says that only his beloved is true, since she is faithful to a single lover. He greatly admires her for this particular quality, which is, undoubtedly, a rare virtue in womanhood.

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26: What is the mandrake root?

The mandrake is poisonous, having emetic and narcotic properties, and was formerly used medicinally. The forked root is thought to resemble the human form, and was fabled to utter a deadly shriek when plucked up from the ground. The notion indicated in the narrative of Genesis that the fruit when eaten by women promotes conception, is said to still survive in Palestine. John Donne has used the metaphor of mandrake root in "Goe, and Catche a Falling Starre” and "Twicknam Garden”.

27: What are metaphors for death in Donne’s holy sonnet "This is my Playes Last Scene”?

Donne is imagining himself at his death, described in a series of metaphors, ‘playes last scene’, ‘pilgrimages last mile’ and ‘my race quickly runne’, and several others. Donne likes to pile up words or images for dramatic effect. Death is seen like some monster, a very different image than in the sonnet ‘Death be not Proud’ and more akin to ‘Oh my blacke Soule!’, where the pilgrim image is again used.

28: What do you know about original sin?

Adam and Eve are portrayed in the Bible as the first human beings. They are shown to disobeying God and, as a result, are expelled from the Garden of Eden in the Fall. This first or ‘original’ sin was believed to have tainted their descendants, predisposing all human beings to disobey God’s commandments and making it difficult for them to have a close relationship with him.

29: What is the original sin referred to by Donne "A Hymn to God the Father”?

The first sin mentioned is what is known as the original sin. This original sin is referred to by Donne as ‘it was done before, and its continuance in himself by ‘I do run still’. He deplores it but cannot help it. The last two lines of the stanza act as a refrain. When God has done (forgiving), there will be more sins in the future to forgive, so God has not in fact done/finished (forgiving). Nor has he Donne (in the sense of possessing Donne’s full allegiance), because Donne is still prone to disobey God as a result of his fallen nature and its bias to sin.

30: Which poems have been dedicated by Donne to his wife?

John Donne has dedicated these important poems and songs to his wife Anne Moore: A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, A Valediction: Of Weeping, The Anniversarie, Sweetest Love, I Do Not Goe, and The Sunne Rising.

31: Explain how the sleep metaphor supports a central idea of the poem "Death, be not proud.”

The sleep metaphor is intended to help the reader understand that the finality of death is, according to the speaker, illusory. Further, by equating death with sleep, the speaker attempts to diminish death by referencing other causes of sleep, thereby putting death on the same footing as things such as poppies and charms.

32: Discuss John Donne as a religious poet.

As a poet, Donne focused on conflict and doubt. He questioned the assumptions and beliefs of the Roman Catholic Church. Even after converting, his mind was not at peace because he could not rectify his inner conflicts. He often prayed to God for mercy so that he would be able to build faith with a strong foundation. In his A Hymn to God the Father, he arrives at a firm faith.

33: Discuss the body-soul dichotomy in the poems of John Donne.

The relationship between body and soul in John Donne is complex. In all of his works, the account of the nature of body and soul is Christian, with the soul being immortal and the body mortal. Donne was strongly aware of the body as subject to corruption and decay after death. However, the body is not present simply as a source of Original Sin, but rather as both a path to sin and a starting point for human desire, which can be transmuted into spiritual longing.

34: Why is the poem "Dream” by John Donne a metaphysical poem?

Metaphysical poetry can be a tough read.  It is characterized by frequent paradoxes and complicated thought processes.  Metaphysical poets often use strange imagery as well. Taking those above elements and applying them to "The Dream” allows a reader some insight as to why it is metaphysical poetry.  The narrator of the poem constantly flip-flops between describing what he/she is seeing and experiencing and what may or may not be a dream.

35: How would you characterize God in John Donne’s poetry?

Much of Donne’s work portrays the relationship of humans to God via erotic metaphors, with faith and love described in terms of metaphors of sexual yearning, as in the poem "Show me dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear” where the speaker asks "let mine amorous soul court thy mild Dove …”

36: What is important about the use of imagery in the poems of John Donne?

There are two notable points to consider about Donne’s use of imagery. First, he broke the rules of classical imagery usage. This means that Donne did not avail himself of the imagery readily at hand in Classical allusion. Second, Donne did use imagery that was fresh and new based as it was upon the new revelations of the sciences.

37: Briefly describe the last lines of “Goe and catch ….”

The cynicism and sardonic bitterness in these last lines that suggest that a "true” woman would betray two or three men in the time it would take to visit her strongly suggests that this is a poem written after the end of a bad relationship that makes the speaker believe that "Nowhere/Lives a woman true, and fair.”

38: Who did coin the phrase "metaphysical” in reference to John Donne’s poetry?

It was Samuel Johnson who coined the phrase "metaphysical” in reference to John Donne’s poetry.  Dryden used the word "metaphysics” to describe, what he thought, was Donne’s over-intellectual verse.  Dryden criticized Donne’s use of philosophy and reason regarding matters of the heart.

39: Discuss the use of metaphysical conceit in "The Flea”?

In "The Flea” John Donne’s speaker uses the metaphysical conceit of a flea’s blood-sucking to convince a possible lover to join him in the physical (sexual) union.  It’s a kind of pick-up line using very clever and elaborate analogies.

40: Describe "Sun Rising” in terms of its form.

In terms of form, this poem is highly exaggerated (hyperbolic). It is rich in metaphor and simile, and it accentuates the main ideas of romance, passion, and love by comparing all three to the heat, brightness, and pull of the son as a massive star. It is one of the most famous poems of John Donne, and certainly one of the richest in language.

41: Give an example of conceit from Donne’s poem Expiration.

So, so, break off this last lamenting kiss,

Which sucks two souls, and vapors both away,

This conceit means that two people most likely lovers are being separated. The word vapor in the 17th century meant something like a ghost.

42: What is the theme of Expiration?

When people are away from people who are very important to them, they may become so sad that they would rather be dead. Dead emotionally and physically viz; they are double dead.

43: With what name the poet calls the sun?

Lying in bed with his lover, the speaker chides the rising sun, calling it a “busy old fool,” and asking why it must bother them through windows and curtains.

44: Why does the poet admonish the sun?

Love is not subject to season or to time, he says, and he admonishes the sun—the “Saucy pedantic wretch”—to go and bother late schoolboys and sour apprentices, to tell the court-huntsmen that the King will ride, and to call the country Ants to their harvesting.

45: Where does the speaker capture his essence in “The Sun Rising”?

The speaker captures the essence of his feeling in the final stanza, when, after taking pity on the sun and deciding to ease the burdens of his old age, he declares “Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere.”

46: What does the speaker explain to his beloved in “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning”?

The speaker explains that he is forced to spend time apart from his lover, but before he leaves, he tells her that their farewell should not be the occasion for mourning and sorrow.

47: Why should the lovers in “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning” leave silently?

They should leave without “tear-floods” and “sigh-tempests,” for to publicly announce their feelings in such a way would profane their love.

48: What is the form of “A Valediction: forbidding Mourning”?

The nine stanzas of this Valediction are quite simple compared to many of Donne’s poems. Here, each four-line stanza is quite unadorned, with an ABAB rhyme scheme and an iambic tetrameter meter.

49: Write about Donne’s spiritual love.

Donne’s spiritual love is balanced, symmetrical, intellectual, serious, and beautiful in its polished simplicity.

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