Poetry is not simply a metric composition. It also explains certain aspects of human life with abiding fascination. To critically examine the preceding hypothesis, metaphysical poetry is brought under discussion as a representative specimen, produced during the 17th century in England, an age characterised by unprecedented developments in different domains of life that resulted in a conflict between tradition and modernity. Donne is by far the most notable poet to express these changes and advancements in his work. The majority of his representative poems are written in a seductive mode and employ a variety of techniques such as the use of conceit. The use of conceit is such that though the subject matter of his poem might be sensuous, it is represented through the reference of images that are generally not associated with pleasure. Sensuality and spirituality are fused in an argumentative mode of persuasion leading to a definite conclusion. In his Canonization, considered one of his best works, Donne delivers a moral by denouncing the generation’s obsession with materialism. The title of the poem serves a twofold purpose: although the speaker claims that his love would elevate him to sainthood, the poem itself functions as a canonization of the lovers. In this sense, love is asceticism, which is a major conceit in the poem. The poem contains two paradoxical ways of looking at things. There is an element of parody as well as philosophy. At a time when material pursuits dominated European civilization, the poem underlines the significance and value of the pursuit of pleasure.
The beginning of the poem is an outcry and rage against those who don’t understand the essentialities of love.
“For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love” (1)
In The Sun Rising, there is a very successful fusion of brevity, wit, sensuousness and passion. Donne is very frank, candid and bold in expression of his love. He calls the sun unruly because it shines through the curtains early morning and disturbs the poet and his lover. The main conceit of the poem is the personification of the sun as an elderly man, a “busy old fool” whose job is to get everyone out of bed and on their way to work.
“Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?” (2)
The sun, the ruler of time and space is greeted with impudence and told to mind his own business. According to the poet, love is not limited by time and space.
“Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months which are the rags of time” (3)
In Donne’s poems, there are instances where he’s critical of man’s engagement in discoveries and inventions being done by the scientists of that age. For example, in The Sun Rising, he’s criticizing the theory of Copernicus. In The Good Morrow, he speaks about the discoveries of cities and states by people, calling the small room of the lover and his beloved better and peaceful. His poems draw an important argument that the demand for human pleasure and the demand of the human mind cannot run parallel. This disjointedness of emotion is depicted because Donne is writing these poems at a time when capitalism was emerging in Europe because of Industrialization and he believed that man will create material wealth in this world for his comfort but in the pursuit of the material world man will lose his instinct of pursuit of pleasure. Therefore, He draws the people’s attention toward spiritual love which he considers to be more vital than any other kind of love.
In his poem To His Coy Mistress, Andrew Marvell employs the technique of seduction and draws the reader’s attention toward nature by emphasising the ‘vegetable love’, in an era which is only in love with materialism.
“My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires and more slow;”
Vaster than the empire is a satire on the discoveries and inventions being done by the people. He says his love is better than all those empires that are being discovered.
Through the poem, the poet is also highlighting the transience of human life, which is quite in contrast with the lifestyle of people during those days. All they were concerned about was their present life, running after the pleasures of the world, ignoring nature and the natural. The poem urges the people to make most of the time they have in hand and make love.
“Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime.
We would sit down, and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love’s day.”
The last two lines of the poem say
“Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.”
This can be interpreted as a satire on the theory of Copernicus where he says the sun is in the middle of the universe and the earth revolves around it. Here instead, the poet makes the sun run around the universe.
The regret of the man getting renunciation from the world of natural pleasure was not very prominent in the time of Donne but does become a reality just after150 years of his death, when Wordsworth, another representative poet laments this loss through his poems Lines Written in Early Spring and The World is Too Much With us. Romanticism was a reaction against Classicism beyond art and literature. In Wordsworth’s poetries again, one can notice a breakaway from traditionalism and an emphasis on the natural. He views poetry as the medium of interaction between himself and society. “What is a Poet? He is a man speaking to men” (4)
In his poetries, Wordsworth rejected the use of poetic diction a move he might have taken to avoid the formal style and passion of other poetries which were mainly produced for being read in leisure times.
“To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man” (5)
The poet is lamenting the relationship of man with man. While the periwinkle grows and the flowers enjoy the air, the birds hop around and play and the twigs spread out to catch the gentle breeze, humans are somewhere fighting and killing each other. Man’s race for materialistic comforts has made him cruel and insensitive towards other human beings and nature. There is an element of nostalgia for the times when the man was close to nature and was sensitive about the feelings of other human beings. The poet wonders when nature has created such heavenly things why are humans not sharing the same joy as the others and lacking the harmony every other creation enjoys.
Similarly, In The World is Too Much with Us, the poet laments the deteriorating relationship between humanity and the environment blaming the industrial society for replacing that connection with material pursuits.
“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!” (6)
The poet shows how man is living for the materialistic pleasures of money, possessions, and power. Human beings are too much concerned about these worldly pleasures and ignore the spiritual pleasure that nature provides. Here the poet has talked about ‘Nature’, but it can also be interpreted as the ‘natural’ pleasure which Donne had talked about in his poems. Man has given his heart away to materialistic pursuits which he could have connected with another human being and made a small room for his peaceful world instead of running after money and possessions to achieve comfort and pleasure.
Both Donne and Wordsworth show how real harsh lyrics can be by reflecting the stark reality of their society in their poetries, thus providing a purpose beyond pleasurable reading.
- Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “The Canonization”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 16 Aug. 2017, https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Canonization. Accessed 17 April 2022.
- “The Sun Rising by John Donne – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/poem/sun-rising. Accessed 17 April 2022.
- “Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/. Accessed 17 April 2022
- Preface to Lyrical Ballads, https://web.english.upenn.edu/~jenglish/Courses/Spring2001/040/preface1802.html. Accessed 17 April 2022.
- “Lines Written in Early Spring by William Wordsworth – Poems | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org, Academy of American Poets, https://poets.org/poem/lines-written-early-spring. Accessed 17 April 2022.
- Gardner, Rachel, and “‘The World Is Too Much with Us’ by William Wordsworth.” Poetry and Translation, https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/complit203/2017/03/03/alejandro/. Accessed 17 April 2022