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.
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.