The Canonization By John Donne
Introduction: In ‘The Canonization’ John Donne, in the person of the speaker, speculates upon the prospect of his being ‘canonized’. He is using the term in the religious sense, of course, but mischievously – by implying that he and his lover will be elevated to the level of saints because they love as they do he is being playful, witty, and just a shade blasphemous. From the beginning the tone is provocative:
For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
Stanza Wise Summary of the Poem
‘Canonization’ is a famous poem by John Donne where he aspires to make his love for his beloved divine and immortal so as to be declared as saints in the religion of love. The term ‘canonization’ means the formal process through which one is declared a saint. Now let us look at the stanza-wise analysis of this poem.
This poem, like any other metaphysical poem, has a dramatic opening. The speaker is found to command another companion, besides his beloved, to stop bothering them. The speaker argues that his love has not affected his companion’s life adversely and so he should be allowed to love his beloved without any hindrance from him. The speaker pleads his companion to remain silent while he involves in an emotional dialogue with his beloved. He offers his companions to make fun of (or ‘chide’) his palsy or his gout-two ailments occurring during old age. He also suggests him that he might as well make fun of his grey hair or his misfortune, while upgrading his own position with wealth, and refine his mind by involving in different arts. He suggests his companion to pursue an academic career by seeking different disciplines and getting a course or pay homage to the king, either his self or his replica stamped on his currency. In the last line of this stanza, the speaker says that he might do whatever he pleases to do and leave him and his beloved on their own.
In the second stanza, the speaker engages in a series of silent contemplations as to what could have been affected by their love. He wonders as to who could have been harmed by their love. He begins with a series of questions trying to come to a solution. He asks whether his sigh or tears that he had shed silently in love had drowned any mercantile ship and caused someone’s loss. He asks whether his tears deluged anybody’s cultivable land. He questions whether his colds, caused due to weeping in love, dared to remove the season of spring from the year. He enquires whether the heat of passion that fills his veins ever caused the epidemic of plague to break out. It was believed that the Great Plague of London or the bubonic plague was caused because of the considerably warm weather that year. It caused the rats aboard a ship to come out and litter the streets of London.
They carried with them the germ of plague and spread it across the land. London was declared under quarantine for this reason. The speaker feels that the soldiers are interested in wars and so are lawyers, in quarrelsome men because they see their profit there. But the speaker and his beloved are interested only in love. Thus, Donne brings in matters of mercantile, agriculture, climate, diseases, and occupation of different kinds only to explain the intensity of his love. Such analogies are fine examples of the metaphysical conceit.
In the third stanza, the speaker discusses the strangeness of the nature of their love. The speaker suddenly becomes careless and announces that he is ready to be called by any name by others because he and his beloved are made thus by love. He suggests himself to be called a fly and his beloved, another. They circle around with the insect-like attitude to perish in the candle flame. He calls himself and his beloved the candle too, that melt with the heat of their love. He finds an eagle and a dove in them, both at the same time. The eagle represents strength and masculinity, while the dove is symbolic of feminine grace and meekness. And finally, he announces that they resemble the mysterious phoenix, whose is itself a mystery and it is believed to rise from its ashes after every 2000 years. But the speaker feels that their love is more mysterious than the riddles asked by the mythical phoenix. And like the phoenix, they die and rise again, and become strange and mysterious because of the love present between them.
In the fourth stanza, the speaker discerns the possibilities of making their love immortal. He says that if he and his beloved cannot live their life in love, they can at least die. And if no proper burial to given to their bodies, followed by tombs and hearse (a song of lament sung at someone’s death) then they would satisfy themselves with verses or poetry. If their love is not proved strong enough to be placed in history (chronicle) then they will find a place for their love in sonnet or fourteen-lined poems, and thus make their love immortal. Just as an urn can contain the ashes of the dead, instead of a half-acre land, so also will they find a place in hymns and everybody will come together to announce that they have been canonized for their love. Now, as told before, canonization is the formal process through which one attains sainthood. Thus, the speaker attributes a sense of sacredness and religiosity by calling themselves saints in love.
The last stanza sums up all the apprehension of the speaker discussed in the previous stanzas. The speaker announces in a positive tone that they would be remembered for their love by posterity. People shall invoke them for their exemplary love. They would sing praises for the speaker and his beloved that their love was each other’s hermitage-such was the spirituality in their love. People would regret that their love has none of the qualities of the love of the speaker and his beloved. They would recall the peaceful nature of the speaker’s love and would regret at their own love which has turned horrid. Their love was so grand that it made the soul and spirit of the world reduce into each other’s eyes (the speaker’s and the beloved’s) and like mirrors, they reflected each other’s love. The greatness of their love exemplified them as saints and everybody began to epitomise them. ‘Countries, towns, courts’ and places of interest and importance-now seek a design, a pattern of their love.
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John Donne’s poetry concentrates not merely on love but is also concerned with religion and mortality. His poetry is a record of the developments that characterise Elizabethan England. The prescribed poem, “The Good Morrow”, refers to navigation and cartography, two popular occupations of that time. It was also the period that centered debates regarding a heliocentric universe. Most of his poems like “The Sun Rising” including the one in question raise issues about the globe and its paraphernalia. However, the primary focus and concern of a John Donne poem is almost always something other than a discussion of the knowledge system or social issues alluded to. The vocabulary of science or geography or metaphysics may be used, for instance, in bolstering an argument aimed at seducing a woman.
Originally, a sonnet consists of fourteen lines, but John Donne deviated from the Italian Petrarchan tradition and composed a sonnet of twenty-one lines. Donne attributed any poem with the theme of love as a sonnet. His poem is divided into three stanzas and each stanza deals with a different dimension of love.
The first stanza emphasises the importance of the union of the two lovers by referring to the time spent before falling in love as wasted time. The opening lines set the tone of a pastoral, rural landscape. The spatial dimension referred to here is more about the ‘outside’ world (‘country pleasures’) and their childlike innocence. One also sees here an allusion to the legend of the ‘Seven Sleepers’.
The second stanza is an extension of the image of the outside world through discoveries and cartography. It talks about unknown hemispheres, unfamiliar seas and new worlds. The last two lines express how the two lovers find total satisfaction in ‘possessing’ each other.
The third stanza marks a shift from the outside and one is led more into the inside of the two subjects present in the poem. The speaker here expresses the significance of the eye which is a microcosm of the vast macrocosm (the universe). These lines try to rekindle the Renaissance zeal of exploring new lands. The reference to ‘mixing’ could be read in terms of ‘alchemy’ which often involved mixing of different substances in required amounts. Some often quoted poems of John Donne are, “Canonization”, “The Sun Rising”, “The Flea”, “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, “Go and Catch a Falling Star” and “Death Be Not Proud”.
You have just finished reading Donne’s poems “The Good Morrow” and “Canonization”. “Good Morrow” can be read poem as a record of the Renaissance period that presents before our eyes a large canvas showing developments in various fields. The references to various systems of knowledge and experience add an intellectual dimension to the poem, but these references are not purely academic or intellectual. They only help the poet to develop his argument, his assertion of love for his beloved. It communicates the intensity of the love, which cannot be limited in any way and paints a picture of the rural, distant and almost dreamlike setting where two souls open up to each other.