JOHN DONNE'S LOVER'S INFINITENESS
About the Poet: John Donne (1573-1631) was both a poet and a preacher. In his early youth he write secular poems which are witty, erudite, tender and cynical. They also reveal a profound insight into human nature. In his later years, he took to holy orders and became famous for his eloquent preaching. In his Divine Poems, he expresses his deep concern with theology. His poems are remarkable for their fusion of intellect and passion. He draws his images from his vast learning and his comparisons are ingenious and witty often drawn from philosophy, theology, geography, law, medicine etc. His poetry, popularly known as Metaphysical poetry, expresses a complex thought or emotion through images, known as metaphysical conceits, which at first seems far fetched and paradoxical. Donne's love poems were written before he was twenty five but they were published posthumously.
Metaphysical Poetry -- Some Characteristics
Even though Donne belongs to late 16th and early 17th Century, his love lyrics are unlike the Elizabethan love lyrics of Shakespeare, Spenser and Sidney, which employed courtly form of address and expressed the values of courtly world. Donne employs a simple style and a colloquial diction and presents love in a context other than that of the court. Donne and his contemporaries -- Marvell, Crashaw, Vaughan and Herbert -- are known as metaphysical poets. The term 'metaphysical' in a general sense is applied to anything abstruse or abstract or philosophical, but when applied to the metaphysical school of poetry, it signifies in essence the employment of learning as the stuff of poetry.
Donne presses into the service of both his love poetry and religious poetry diverse experiences, thoughts and imagery from various fields such as law, alchemy, philosophy, astronomy etc. Hence, metaphysical imagery, unlike pastoral or mythical as in Milton or natural imagery of Shakespeare, is full of learned images, seemingly farfetched but apt.
Another feature of metaphysical poetry is its blending of passion and thought. There has always been the misconception that passion and reason are irreconcilable opposites. The Elizabethan passionate lyrics were expression of pure feelings. But you will notice that Donne's poetry is at once passionate and cerebral. The best definition of a metaphysical poet is that he thinks with his heart and feels with his mind. This unique blend of passion and thought accounts for the presence of wit, a characteristic feature of metaphysical poetry.
Thus metaphysical poetry is characterised by its intellectual content, passionate feeling, learned but startling conciets and it uses a direct form of address, spoken voice and a dramatic tone.
Introduction: Lover's Infiniteness is one of the well known poems of John Donne. Grierson comments that the title is a strange one, in fact it should be Love's Infiniteness. However, the title seems fit to the actual mood of the poem. The poet is capable of giving more and more love each day and the beloved must reciprocate. However, this would only be possible if the lover's were themselves infinite.
Summary: At the beginning the poet describes all that he has done to gain his lady's love. He says that he has done everything possible. He says that in spite of all his efforts if her love towards him still remains partial then he can never have it fully. This is because he has spent all his treasures of sighs, tears, oaths and letters with which he can win the lady. He says that it is possible that she might have once given him all her love but since then new love might have been created in her heart. Other men who had a great stock of tears, oaths and sighs might have out bidden him or might do so in future. If it is so, it is a cause of fresh anxiety for him. The poet asserts that the heart of the beloved was his and hence whatever grows there was his and this would be so in future also.
The poet further says that the condition mentioned above is, however, not correct. He declares that he is capable of giving more and more love each day. He declares that his lady love, too, ought to be able to give fresh rewards. Hence she cannot give her heart everyday. If she does so, it proves that she has never given her heart at all. This may seem paradoxical but the facts about love are always so. Even though the lover loses his heart yet his heart stays with him. The beloved saves her heart in losing it. He says that he will not change hearts, rather their two hearts will become one. The lovers will be infinite and they will ever be fresh.
Explanation, Stanza 1 (lines1-11): In the opening stanza Donne describes everything that he has done to win the love of his lady. He says that he has done all that was possible for him to win her heart. He has sighed, shed tears, taken oaths and written love letters. He has done all these actions to the maximum of his capacity. He calls these things treasures used to purchase the heart of the beloved. He says that he has used all his treasure and has nothing left. Therefore, he cannot do anything else. If, in spite of his best efforts, he has failed to win his lady's entire love, he can never buy it fully. He says that if his lady love has given him only her partial love and not entire love, he cannot have it all. If she has given her partial love to someone else, then he can never have her entire love.
Explanation, Stanza 11 (lines 12-22): Donne says that it is possible that his beloved may have given all her at that time. But, after that, other men, by their tears, sighs, oaths and letters might have created new love in her heart or might do so in future. They can do so because they have their entire stock of sighs, tears etc. The poet says that the newly created love is the cause of fresh anxiety for him because it was not there in the beginning. It was later produced in the heart of the lady love. He says that her heart was entirely his at the beginning. Using an image from agriculture he says that whatever grows there belongs to him and therefore he will have that. The poet uses an image from agriculture. He likens the heart to a ground. Once a person becomes an owner of a piece of land, he has all that grows in that land. In the same way the poet says that he will have all emotions of love that are produced in the heart of his beloved after once possessing her heart.
Explanation, Stanza 111 (lines 23-33): The poet says that he would not like to have the love of his beloved for that would stop further growth. He that has all cannot have any more. He says that his love grows to new heights everyday. He is capable of giving more and more love each day. As such, his lady love ought to be able to give him fresh rewards. He says to his beloved that she cannot give him her heart everyday and if she can do so that will mean she has in fact never given her heart to him. It is because if there is true love in her heart for him she must give rise to new love in her heart and therefore must always remain in possession of the heart. The paradoxical facts about love are that though we loose our heart in love yet the heart stays with us. In the case of true love, both the lovers must remain in possession of their hearts so that there may be new growth in the hearts. Thus true lovers save their hearts in losing them. The poet says that they will not change heart in love, rather they will join the two hearts into one.