a) In What Respects is Twicknam Garden a Metaphysical Poem?
b) How Does Donne Use Imagery Related to Nature?
c) Comment on Donne’s Different Attitudes to Love in One or Two Other Poems
a) The term metaphysical poetry was first used to group Donne’s poetry, and the poetry of his contemporaries, together because of their similar characteristics. Metaphysical poetry seeks to communicate difficult ideas as concisely as possible to the reader. Donne’s poem “Twicknam Garden” can be regarded as metaphysical poetry because it contains many difficult ideas expressed concisely. For example the lines “The spider love, which transubstantiates all, and can convert manna to gall” compares love to a spider, which were thought at the time of Donne’s writing to be poisonous.
The lexeme “transubstantiates” refers to the change from bread and wine to the blood and body of Christ. Manna simply means soul or spirit and gall, anger. Translated into modern English, the lines mean that love, poisonous like a spider, changes something positive and spiritual into something negative and bitter. The religious reference simply elevates the poem, giving it deeper meaning. Such a complex idea expressed in few lines is typical of metaphysical poetry.
Metaphysical poetry is also characterised by a line of argument being pursued throughout the poem. This is exemplified in “Twicknam Garden” as Donne maintains that love is painful throughout the poem. In the opening lines, he describes the painful effects of love “Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears”. The lines in the middle of the poem “let me some senseless piece of this place be” express that love is so painful for Donne that he would rather be an emotionless object than feel his pain. The final lines in the poem also express the pain Donne feels because of his unrequited love: “who’s therefore true because her truth kills me” refers to the fact that fidelity of a woman to a lover other than him, is painful and metaphorically “kills” Donne. Donne’s line of reasoning can be observed throughout the poem and is a standard characteristic of metaphysical poetry.
Donne’s use of rhythm in “Twicknam Garden” is also a classic feature of metaphysical poetry. The poem has consistent rhythm and rhyme scheme “And that this place may thoroughly be thought/ True paradise I have the serpent brought”, and also ellipsis, for example the archaic contracted form “‘Twere”, another common feature of metaphysical poetry.
Metaphysical poetry also contains many allusions to make the poetry demanding for readers. One such example in “Twicknam Garden” is the reference to the Garden of Gethsemane in the lines “These trees to laugh, and mock me to my face”. Donne compares Twicknam Garden to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was mocked by soldiers arresting him, in a similar way that the trees mock Donne’s pain at being afflicted by unrequited love. Such a comparison is rather tenuous and stretches metaphor to its limit. Conceits such as this however, are commonplace in metaphysical poetry
The theme of unrequited love around which the poem centres is a common theme for metaphysical poets and Donne explores this theme thoroughly in “Twicknam Garden”. Donne describes love as a “spider”, meaning poisonous, and as a “serpent” because like the serpent in the Garden of Eden, the pain of unrequited love spoils the perfection of Twicknam Garden. Donne also describes the effects of unrequited love thoroughly: “weeping”, “kills me” “surrounded with tears”. This typical imagery for love poems is unusual for Donne but commonly found in metaphysical poetry.
b) As the setting for the poem is a garden, there is plenty of natural imagery to be found in Donne’s “Twicknam Garden”. Donne begins by stating the purpose for which he came to the garden, to cure his pain of unrequited love. Donne uses a metaphor comparing nature to a healing balm “Hither I come to seek the spring, and at mine eyes, and at mine ears, receive such balms as else cure everything.” Donne maintains that the balming effects that should be brought on by the natural beauty in the garden, are spoilt because he has brought with him the poisonous “spider love”.
Donne uses a paradox in that, the natural beauty that was supposed to soothe his pain, makes it worse because it contrasts with his misery. Donne complains that the natural beauty of the garden mocks him. He wishes for night to come so that he may not be able to see the beauty of nature. Donne also wishes that winter would come to freeze the trees which laugh at him and which cause him so much pain “‘Twere wholesomer for me, that winter did benight the glory of this place, and that the grave frost did forbid these trees to laugh, and mock me to my face”.
Donne then uses natural imagery in response to this: “Make me a mandrake, so I may groan here, or a stone fountain weeping out the year”. At the time of Donne’s writing, mandrake roots were believed to have human properties and scream when lifted out of the ground. Donne asks to be made into a mandrake root so that he may “groan” like a mandrake at his unrequited love. He then asks to be made a fountain, to that he may weeps tears, like a water fountain, at his unrequited love. Donne asks to be made part of the garden in order to be without feeling “some senseless piece of this place be”.
Donne also uses natural images at the beginning of the poem to create an abrupt opening. “Blasted with sighs, and surrounded with tears” carry connotations of the elements wind and water, because surrounded in this context means flooded.
Donne uses natural imagery in order to demonstrate to the reader his pain in being a spurned lover. The main ideas behind the poem is that he is in so much emotional pain that even the natural beauty of Twicknam Garden cannot console him.
c) “Love’s Alchymie” has a wholly negative attitude towards love as it is a poem that brings together several negative emotions pain, disillusionment and anger. The opening image is a crude sexual reference, also demonstrated in the alliteration used, which creates a harsh tone “Some that have deeper digg’d loves Myne that I”. Women in the poem are perceived as receptacles “deeper digg’d”, “lov’d and got” which is onomatopoeic because the sexual image combined with the violent sounding alliteration is gives the impression of an assault on the woman.
The perception of women as receptacles is also reinforced by Donne’s imperative “Hope not for mind in women; at their best sweetness and wit, they are but Mummy posses’t .” The lexeme “Mummy” means simply pieces of dead flesh but “posses’t” has two meanings; sexual possession and the possession of women by evil spirits. Donne suggests that when a woman appears sweet and clever, it is in fact the appearance given by an evil spirit that has possessed her, giving the appearance of life to a dead flesh.
The idyllic concept of love in paradoxically contrasted with Donne’s idea of the reality of love “So lovers dream a rich and long delight, but get a winter seeming summer’s night.” In these lines Donne argues that love is as cold and barren as a winter’s night instead of the beautiful ideal that they wish for. It is an epigrammatic couplet, which summarises the theme of the entire poem, that love is essentially a cheat.
Contrasts between the popular idea of love and the reality are also reflected in Donne’s musical image “In that dayes rude hoarse minstralsey, the spheares”. The day referred to is the wedding day, which for Donne is a humiliation as he describes it as “short scorn of a Bridegroomes play”. The image of music means that the unpleasant sound of wedding music, is perceived by a lover as being heavenly music, as it was thought by Elizabethans that the “spheares”, stars, played divine music to wonderful for people to hear.
The idea that love is an illusion is reiterated all through the poem as he compares a lover to an alchemist, “no chymiqe yet th’Elixar got”, because just as no alchemist found the elixir of life, the would-be lover will never find love, as all lovers do, is to turn base lust into love, just as alchemists try to turn base metal into gold, “but glorifies his pregnant pot”. The image of the alchemist is also used to show that lovers may find lust during their quest for love and be encouraged by it, just as alchemists were encouraged by discovering something which smelled sweet or had medicinal properties “if by way to him befall some odoriferous thing, or medicenall.”
Donne uses a rhetorical question in order to challenge the belief of the reality of love “Our ease, our honour and our day, shall we for this vaine Bubles shadow pay”. The “vaine Buble” is love, which is described as a shadow because it is it is feeble and false. The second rhetorical question challenges the idea that love is special “Ends love in this, that my man, can be as happy as I can; if he can endure the short scorne of a Bridegroomes play?” Donne’s argument is that if he, and his servant, can both experience so-called love and get married, then there can be nothing special about love as it is commonplace.
The poem that differs in attitude most clearly from “Love’s Alchymie” is “The Good Morrow”. It is entirely different in that it is celebration of the reality of love. It is an aubade and is although there is no dialogue from Donne’s lover in the poem, there is no doubt of her presence because of the frequent use of personal pronouns “we” and references to shared experiences.
The tone of the poem is joyful and teasing, established by references to immature sexual experiences “suck’d on countrey pleasures childishly”. These highlight that the lovers have moved from juvenile pleasures to real, mature love. This idea is demonstrated in the archaic cultural reference to the legend of the seven Christian boys, who were walled up in a cave to escape persecution, only to awaken to find Christianity the established religion “Or snorted we in the seven sleepers den?”. Donne’s analogy is to show that the lovers have awakened, like the boys, literally, but also spiritually. The literal awakening symbolises the awakening of their souls to love so that it is a “good morrow” for the lovers in every possible way: “And now good morrow to our waking soules.”
Donne acknowledges that both he, and his lover, have a past but it affectionately dismissive by using language to create a connotation of clumsiness “snorted”, “If any beauty it did see, which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dream of thee”. The sexual image is dismissed as Donne makes clear that his lover is superior to any of the other women he has known.
The passion Donne has for his lover is also reflected in his declaration that all he needs is her. He rejects the outside world’s importance because for him, his lover is all that is important. “Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone, let Maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne, let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.” At the time Donne was living, new continents were being discovered and charted. In this phrase, Donne sets aside all of this because “For love, all love of other sights controules”, true love removes the desire to see other people and places, their world is now their bedroom “And makes one little room, an everywhere”. The lovers’ world is now each other, and the exploration of their love is as important to them as the exploration of the New World is to travellers. The lexical repetition of “world” demonstrates how important this idea is for Donne and the repetition of the imperative “Let” reveals his fervour.
The metaphor, and rhetorical, question “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares, and true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest, where can we find two better hemispheares without sharpe North, without declining West?” means that Donne’s lover’s eye reflecting him, and his eyes reflecting her, suggest that they are like the two hemispheres but without the coldness of the North, or the Western sunset which declines into darkness. The concluding lines also emphasise the strength of their love “What ever dyes was not mixed equally; if our two loves be one, or, thou and I love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die” refers to the Elizabethan belief that death and decay come from the lack of perfect balance of elements. Donne’s final point is that their love will be everlasting because it is perfectly matched and balanced in each other, since their love is reciprocated, it is immortal.
The two poems are completely different in that “Love’s Alchymie” denies the existence of love because it is simply glorified lust, “Oh, ’tis imposture all”, whereas “The Good Morrow” stresses of difference between lust and love “If any beauty it did see, which I desir’d, and got, t’was but a dream of thee”. Both recognise the potential pain behind love “So lovers dream a rich and long delight, but get a winter seeming summer’s night” (Love’s Alchymie), “watch not one another out of feare” (The Good Morrow), however “The Good Morrow” praises love whereas “Love’s Alchymie” condemns it as an illusion.
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