Selected Poems by John Donne

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Love’s Alchemy provides another lesson in that it reminds the reader of how banal love actually is in everyday life. All that’s needed is to ‘Endure the short scorn of a bridegroom’s play’ and love can be had by all, rich or poor; it’s ‘great moments,’ by and large, are such things as sorrow at an unwanted parting; a lover’s annoyance at having to get up from bed and leave his beloved as the sun has risen; our pleasure in watching a partner undress. These, of course, are Donne’s subject-matter and, because love should be painted on the grandest scale, he makes all of these trivial happening cosmic, because that is exactly how they feel to somebody who is in love. Perspectives shift in such a state – indeed they are sometimes lost entirely – and ordinary mortals can touch the infinite in ways that are ordinarily denied. A poem like The Ecstasy is not extraordinary because it describes love as a mingling of two souls divorced from their bodies, but because it takes the ordinary love of two ordinary people holding hands and gazing into one another’s eyes and states that such an experience is analogues to the visions and graces experienced by the greatest saints. In Donne, a lover can be ‘canonized for love,’ can be initiated into the most hidden mysteries, can feel so tall that, for a moment, he can tower even over the sun itself!


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John Donne