Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 7

Lucero Calleo British Literature to 1800 Professor Fulton December 15, 2009 The Union of Two Souls in John

Donnes Poem The Ecstasy In the poem The Ecstasy, John Donne explores the meaning of true love by illustrating the spiritual union and the metaphysical experience surrounding love. In addition, he approves of sex and treats it as a beautiful, unifying act, though he does not consider it as important as the union of the souls. While some may interpret this poem to be seductive in nature, Donne does not actually describe the physical actions that characterize sex that could stimulate sexual desire; he merely expresses its beauty and significance. Although sex plays an important role in any relationship, Donne feels that the true power and significance of true love lies in the union of souls. Donne spends the first three stanzas introducing both experiences of love: physical sex, which he introduces metaphorically, and the metaphysical experience when two lovers souls first begin to unite. He begins the poem by mentioning a pregnant bank that swell[s] up, or a river that is overflowing; however, his choice of words here, pregnant, already tells the reader that this poem will concern sexuality to some degree. However, in the third stanza, the reflections that the two lovers see in each others eyes are the only propagation that he speaks of early on in the poem. Donne writes: And pictures in our eyes to get/Was all our propagation (9-12). Because Donne writes that the pictures were all their propagation, he draws the reader away from thoughts of physical sex and places the emphasis on the metaphysics of the poem without completely abandoning the theme of sex and reproduction which appears later on. He does not refer to propagation in the literal sense but in a more metaphysical sense, as though the reflections are the offspring of their spiritual union. In addition, Donne chooses to use the violet as his symbolic flower.

Calleo 2 He writes: A pregnant bank swelled up to rest/The violets reclining head (2-3). The river here rests the violets reclining head, which suggests that perhaps the flower is dying and is thus bent over. Violets propagate almost as fast as weeds, have heart-shaped leaves, and were considered symbols of fertility and love by the Ancient Greeks (The Flower Expert). The metaphor of the pregnant overflowing river also represents fertility, and because it helps the violet in a sense, Donne seems to show the helpfulness of sex, since it is the means in which one becomes fertile. In the second stanza, Donne describes the connection of the two souls with their eyes. These eyes do not look at the body but rather their eye-beams twisted, and did thread/Our eyes upon one double string (7-8). Donne does not use the eyes to show how one lover looks at the others body out of lust; rather, he describes the metaphysical and spiritual experience the lovers go through when they look into each others eyes. They feel a connection and this is where the union of their souls begins. Thus, without going into much detail, Donne introduces his poem with his two main themes: the unity of souls and sex. Donne first writes about the actual ecstasy, that is, the movement of the soul outside of the body, in the fourth stanza. He chooses to right about the ecstasy and the interaction between the two souls first in order to emphasize its importance over the bodily interaction. He writes: Our souls (which to advance their state/Were gone out) hung twist her and me (15-16). The phrase in parentheses to advance their state suggests that the union of the lovers souls and the metaphysical experience are far more significant than the physical experience since they advance the state of the lovers. In the fifth stanza, Donne writes: And whilst our souls negotiate there,/We like sepulchral statues lay (17-18). In this statement, the verb negotiate suggests that the souls are discussing their love and possibly sex, which Donne includes to demonstrate the interaction between souls. He describes the bodies that the souls have left as sepulchral statues, a simile that illustrates the silent

Calleo 3 and somber state of the bodies without their souls. Donne has not forgotten about the bodies and reminds the reader about them because even though the bodies are currently doing nothing, they are still important. In the next two stanzas, Donne describes the union by illustrating the lovers understanding of one another without the use of words. The lovers said nothing all the day in line 20, perhaps because they do not need to; in their union, they both understand the souls language (22). Donne then writes that looking upon them would be a purifying experience. He states: He (though he knew not which soul spake,/Because both meant, both spake the same)/Might thence a new concoction take,/And part far purer than he came (25-28). In this passage, Donne describes the purifying experience of any onlooker and again comments on the lovers unity by saying that both souls meant, both spake the same. They have become one so they have the same voice and the same thoughts, which furthers the idea from lines 20 and 22. In the next stanza, Donne states: We see by this it was not sex;/We see we saw not what did move (31-32). In these lines, Donne directly tells the reader that the lovers motives are not sex or lust and emphasizes this statement by saying that the lovers do not look at what did move, that is, their bodies moving, or the physical action that sex involves. The reader can agree with Donne that physical action cannot motivate them since Donne has already said in line 18 that the bodies are lying as still as sepulchral statues, so there is no physical movement. Thus, from the 4th stanza to the 8th, Donne describes the actual ecstasy and illustrates a metaphysical experience that assures the reader is separate from sex and has its own significance. After describing the ecstasy, Donne continues to describe the results of the soul-to-soul interaction and the unity of the two souls. He writes: But as all several souls contain/Mixture of things, they know not what,/Love these mixed souls doth mix again,/And makes both one, each this and thatWhen love with one another so/Interinanimates two souls,/That abler soul, which thence

Calleo 4 doth flow,/Defects of loneliness controls (33-36, 41-44). Here he describes the mixing of the two separate souls and how their separate mixtures become one mixture; the two souls become one soul. In this new soul, all the flaws that each separate soul had are corrected. Donne also brings back the violet metaphor and describes the transplant of a violet and how it becomes a new violet but without the poor and scant properties of the old one (39). This metaphor parallels the creation of the new soul by illustrating the transformation of the one violet when it finds a new home, similar to the two lovers finding each other and becoming something new and better. Thus, Donne describes the advancement of the souls that he mentions in line 15 and thereby shows the power and strength in the bond between the two souls once they are united. He does not refer to the body at all during this portion of the poem and focuses more on the metaphysical experience to emphasize its importance over the physical experience. Only after illustrating the metaphysical experience of the lovers when their souls are united does Donne begin to assert the importance of the bodies as well. He writes: But O alas, so long, so far/Our bodies why do we forbear? (49-50). In these two lines, Donne seems to express sorrow at the thought of the body being useless, which is particularly evident in the interjection alas in line 49. These lines introduce the reader to a new theme in the poem: the significance of the bodies in the experience of true love. Donne explicates: We owe them thanks because they thus/Did us to us at first convey,/Yielded their forces, sense, to us,/Nor are dross to us, but allay (53-56). In this stanza, Donne explains that the souls meet each other through the bodies and that the two lovers could not have met or fallen in love had not the bodies yielded their forces, sense to them. In other words, the two lovers originally communicate and perceive each other in their bodily forms. From this first meeting they realize that they love each other and can thus proceed to advance their state and unite. Also, bodies do not make people impure but rather strengthen them, the same way alloy

Calleo 5 strengthens metal. Donne could be implying that sex makes the love and feelings of the couple stronger. In the 15th stanza, Donne discusses both the body and soul. He says that heaven works on man by imprinting the air and thereby allowing the souls to leave their bodies. But, he writes: [The soul] to the body first repair (60). In this line and in the stanza, Donne illustrates the importance of the body; the soul must have a vessel to inhabit. Thus, in the middle of the poem, Donne begins to express the importance of the bodies without delving into the importance of sex just yet, but he sets up his arguments for sex in the last parts of the poem. Once Donne expresses the importance of the body, he begins to discuss its true significance in sex and in true love. In the 16th stanza, he writes: As our blood labors to beget/Spirits as like souls as it can,/Because such fingers need to knit/That subtle knot which makes us man (61-64). In these lines, Donne expresses the importance of procreation which can only be accomplished through sex. The spirits he refers to are like the offspring of the two lovers souls, but the new soul that they beget must also have a body to inhabit. This body is made through conception, again showing the importance of sex. In the next stanza, Donne writes: So must pure lovers souls descend/T affections, and to faculties/Which sense may reach and apprehend;/Else a great prince in prison lies (65-68). In this stanza, the affections and faculties that Donne refers to are the feelings and natural instincts of the body: the bodys natural desire for sex. If a soul does not fulfill its bodily desires, it becomes imprisoned like a great prince, an appropriate simile since Donne has so far been illustrating the greatness of the souls and of their metaphysical interaction. Sex then is love revealed as Donne describes it in line 70. However, even though the body is also an important part of love, Donne re-emphasizes the importance of the souls. He writes: Loves mysteries in souls do grow (71). The mysteries that Donne mentions here refer to the beautiful metaphysical experience that he describes earlier in the poem; true love grows in the soul and not in the body. But after that

Calleo 6 line, he writes: But yet the body is his book (72). Here he also expresses the importance of the body and of sex. Even though the body is just the book of the soul, it still plays a significant role in any relationship, including deep, metaphysical ones. Donne concludes the poem by focusing more on the significance and beauty of the united souls rather than of the bodies. He writes: And if some lover, such as we,/Have heard this dialogue of one,/Let him still mark us; he shall see/Small change when we are to bodies gone (73-76). In these lines, Donne expresses that if any lover were to behold this intimate relationship between the two lovers and the deep, metaphysical experience they undergo, the sexual experience that they share would not make the onlooker feel that they are any more or less united because they are already wholly one. Sex does not actually make the lovers more united but is rather the result of a spiritual union; it does not strengthen their bond but rather strengthens their emotions. By ending on this note, Donne emphasizes the importance of the souls union over sex. John Donnes poem The Ecstasy encompasses both the spiritual and bodily experiences that result from true love. Donne expresses the importance of sex and the fulfillment of bodily desires, but his intent is not to make his work a seduction poem. Rather, his main goal is to illustrate the metaphysical experience that two lovers share and the union of their souls, which are ultimately the true wonders and beauties of true love.

Calleo 7 Works Cited Donne, John. "The Ecstasy." The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Volume B The Sixteenth Century/The Early Seventeenth Century. Ed. Greenblatt Stephen. New York: W. W. Norton, 2005. 1276-278. Oxford English Dictionary: The definitive record of the English language. Web. 16 Dec. 2009. <http://dictionary.oed.com/>. "Violets | The Flower Expert - Flowers Encyclopedia." Flowers | The Flower Expert - Flowers Encyclopedia. Web. 17 Dec. 2009. <http://www.theflowerexpert.com/content/mostpopularflowers/morepopularflowers/violets>.