Verse: John Donne, The Canonization

The Canonization is the first poem we’re discussing. Donne is a romantic individual associated with love songs (‘erotica’ it reads somewhere) besides his characteristic conceit. Now why’d someone throw metaphors at you that seem the remotest of imagination? Maybe they don’t feel about them that way. Or maybe they do. And in our present case, we are very much aware that Donne’s is a deliberate affair. A word on on the noun Imagination: due to Coleridge, imagination is a higher form and there’s difference between it and ‘fancy’. Should we take heed? Let’s shelve that for now.

This poem too, as others, contain images stark and strange: what with the title calling Christian saints to mind, and immortality and death, and even formalism? And then the first stanza tells you we’re far from the church (or maybe not, near it all the same). The subject wants to be isolated, with his love and it’s a very straightforward “leave me alone!” kind of plain message that he tries to drive home– as befits a metaphysical mind. Philosophers want to be left alone and isolationism is convenient for them to create around them an air of abstraction. It’s like, if you will, the final frontier of retreat, where two lovers dwell and there’s no scope for a third presence whatsoever: it’s like an artist to his work; like God to his creation. The phoenix’s image is a powerful device, an appeal to supernatural, what we can call ‘mystic’ or maybe even ‘mythical’. So, the phoenix, the creature that rises from its ashes, what does he have to do with the lovers? It’s explicit that the speaker believes it better than the rest: ‘has more wit by us’, but it’s also true that he calls it a riddle, and maybe he’s just being astute going that length as he states ‘Call us what you will’. That’s the emphasis the speaker gives his assertion of his love; it’s all-encompassing, irrefutable,  and non-negotiable. The speaker is adamant on his self-interest even if the world’s afire.

You could go on extending each line to an exposition; for the speaker appeals to all kinds of men and tradition that’d question them, their practice. But, let’s direct ourselves to detours. Why would we? Well, why would we not? Church is challenged here, (if that even is a detour), the palsy reminds you of more recent writings: paralysis and death are common woes in ‘Dubliners’. Church, again, has been in the eye since there’s been writing; it is an originator and it’s a continual subject of speculation and attacks. Should it be? That’s a different line, and besides, talking morals and ethics: the poem present here is a proponent of the futility of such practices. The fight here is institutions versus the individual, and while individuals stand out, to the extent that they affect even institutions, it’s worth noting that the masses are really disconnected. To support that, take it this way: a poet, much like our present man, goes on his own way, caring the least for the society, to make love to the object of his passion and the others, the commons, read him and read him even beyond his time. But do the commons follow? Can they, in their time, in their object of passion? Hardly. Such idealism then spreads itself in time and in space and all we have is an undying fatigued realistic effort to mend things, to make the ends meet. One man or a few, in a frenzy of desire and authority, make love to their multiple objects of passion: to words, to instruments of effecting masses; and have things around them as they want them to be– like the two lovers here in the poem, burning in passion, forgetful as the lotos-eaters– the rest, far off them in space and in time, suffer. They suffer these men’s love. Does that sound socialist or communist? With the author of the poem demands, it need not; if people just let other people alone, such questions wouldn’t even arise. But they don’t, and here we are in our century, thinking the same things over and over, now with all the technology we’ve compiled– metaphors that perhaps would sound even remoter and stained and sad. Love is nowadays dear, so according to Darwin’s logic, the objects of our love have changed, our tastes have changed. Yet Donne prevails in his erotic desire for love (regardless of the object).

ii. On May 4th, 2017

Donne in contemporary sun appears one of us, to align by the 20th century acceptance of him. He is secular, cynical, and graphic. For the present example, he sketches love in the last lines, that is, after the canonization: “Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove / Into the glasses of your eyes”. Patterns abound, he uses the word itself, resolving doubts about his ‘”Eternal Providence”: “…beg from above / A pattern of your love.” It’s the same exercise of ransacking for patterns to find ‘conceits’ that he built into his verse. And what’s more, the world should follow their pattern. A religion of sonnets that accommodate lovers? There, there’s this implicit acknowledgement that it won’t be admitted in the church whatsoever: “We can die by it, if not live by love, / … / And if no piece of chronicle we prove, / We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;”

Again, as Eliot says it, “Clevelandism is becoming popular”; consider the popular consumerist fiction today, why should fantasy dominate? For the present case, the poem is still consistent and pertinent in being providing directly from, and addressing directly to the society, so far as the self is to the society, because the present argument is centered on the self, which is ‘the two lovers’ here. Besides, any metaphors you go about finally return to the real world, to the universal aspects of things. While in fantasy, the only perceivable advantage is–other than the green one–safety of an imaginary universe. Even for allegory we have fine examples like Orwell’s work (if it’s a fairytale, it’s just that and not an epic fairytale in tomes, and prose isn’t the medium of epic anyway). Thus, on the one hand we’re a logical race always skeptic-scientific about perception: we’d disbelieve (and might disapprove) magic if we’d see it in the news –though that too may be fictional today– but we embrace it Donne-style when we encounter it in literature. Now ‘Fantasy’ actually misrepresents the work discussed; ‘speculative fiction’ is the word, yes. The right word.

Coming back to The Canonization, it’s a manly desire (womanly too, for to Donne they’re anyway one) to immortalize his love, and that kind of is needed more than ever today, because, as said, objects of passion have changed and ‘Clevelandism’ has reached a position where artifice scorns at all the greatness that’s past; even Donne appears natural by today’s standards. Inspiration is good, but to the point deformation? That’s not what Donne did, his work does show ingenuity.


For the text find somewhere like The Poetry Foundation or anywhere you can find Creative Commons content. Keep checking, this post will grow till you know it’s grown.

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