John Donne was a poet of metaphysical poetry. Donne’s poems start off in his youth with his poems about love and move on to his later years with his poems focusing more on religion and death. He used love, religion, and death as prominent subjects in many of his poems. To discuss these subjects, Donne used devices such as puns, conceits, imagery and themes such as resentment and reflection. “The Sun Rising” is one of Donne’s love poems written in the early years of his life.
The speaker is criticizing and insulting the sun for disturbing and parting his lover in the bedroom by shining its light on them. He tells the sun to go disturb other people and to leave them alone. The speaker goes on to praise his lover and how their love overpowers everything. Donne uses conceits, tone shifts, and the theme of resentment to describe his subject of love in this poem. The dominant conceit in the poem is when the speaker compares the sun to a “Busy old fool” (line 1).
The speaker characterizes the sun as an old person delving into the lives of young people; however, the sun’s main job is to signify a new day, to get people out of bed to continue with their daily life, and to keep people warm. The speaker is arguing with the sun which continues into the second stanza where he declares that he is stronger and in control of the sun because he could “eclipse and cloud” (line 13) the sun by blinking and closing his eyes.
Eric Otto states that “Donne’s lovers seem to transcend the limits of the physical world by disregarding external influences” (Otto). The speaker in the poem compares his lover to aspects beyond the realm of the physical world. He compares his lover’s eyes to the sun and how her eyes outshine the sun which is physically impossible. The two lovers disregard everyone else and think that their existence is the only one that matters.
The second conceit used in the poem is in the third stanza where the speaker compares his lover to “all states” (line 21) and himself to “all princes” (line 21). The speaker’s words hold a narcissistic tone to them since according to him his lover is the world and he is the ruler of the world. He only knows his lover and is closed off to others. He puts their relationship on a pedestal as he continues to praise his lover and her astounding beauty. These two conceits help develop the subject of love and how strong and influential love is. The two lovers’ love is pure and strong. The tone shifts in the poem from annoyance to arrogance around the beginning of the third stanza. He invites the sun into the room so that it can shine its rays because the room will be the center sphere of the solar system as the sun will be revolving around it. At this point the speaker is more egotistical compared to the beginning of the poem where he is more angered and irritated by the sun.
The arrogant tone in the third stanza intertwines with the second conceit in which the speaker is boastful with what he has to say about his lover and himself. The theme of resentment is prevalent in this poem as well. The speaker is very outspoken in the beginning with his resentment of the sun. This carries on throughout the poem, yet he seems to have come in terms with his resentment towards the end where he puts his pride in front and resents the sun less than from the beginning of the poem. “The Apparition” is another one of Donne’s love poems written in his youth. The speaker is hateful and vindictive as he seeks revenge from his ex-lover because she broke his heart and left for someone inferior to him. When the speaker dies from his ex-lover’s disdain he decides to come back and haunt her in her sleep while she is in bed with her new lover.
The ex-lover tries to wake her new lover, but he won’t wake up as he thinks she is asking for more sex. She becomes scared, but the speaker won’t tell her what he will say to her because he wants her to “painfully repent” (line 16). Donne uses imagery and the themes of realization, resentment, and revenge to describe his subject of love in this poem. His subject of love in this poem has a cynical and sinister view to it compared to those of his other poems. The overall tone of the poem is hateful and it’s definitive. The tone doesn’t seem to change much throughout which shows that his mind is set and will not change, and he won’t let go of his act of revenge and hate for the woman. Tension and resentment seem to be growing within the first thirteen lines until the last 4 lines where it switches to being more reflective rather than hostile.
The speaker realizes that instead of being outright honest and upfront with his scorn for her, he would rather wait until later, leaving her miserable and in pain wanting to repent her sins. The Critic, Perrine, thinks that this whole act is “a last desperate effort to obtain his lady’s favor” (Perrine, 3). However, I disagree with his analysis of this poem. I think that the speaker is in fact seeking revenge from the woman and not trying to win her back. He treats her in such a despicable manner to where she most probably won’t return to him and forgive him. Overall, the whole poem is about a man who maliciously tries to get revenge on his ex-lover. “A Hymn to God the Father” is one of Donne’s religious poems written after his near-death experience with spotted fever. In the poem the speaker is seeking forgiveness from God as he is struggling with the sins he has committed and made others commit as well.
The speaker is passionate and mindful as he wants God to forgive his sins. Donne uses puns, conceits, and the theme of reflection to convey his subjects of religion and death in this poem. The main conceit used in this poem is the one between sin and death. Throughout the poem Donne forms a connection between sin and death saying that they are indeed equal. In stanza two, Donne asks God to forgive his sin of “which I have won Others to sin, and made my sin their door” (line 7/8). Donne stresses the fact that his sins were a door to death for many other people because his sins prepared the way for other people to sin. In the first stanza, Donne uses a biblical allusion to refer to the first sin of humanity, Adam and Eve, when he says, “though it were done before” (line 2). He knows that the sin of Adam and Eve has been repeated by many other people, but he still can’t be forgiven for it even if he accepts his guilt.
Donne closes the stanza using a pun on his own name, “thou hast done” (line 5). Donne’s pun refers to himself as a repentant and the fact that God isn’t done forgiving his sins since he still has many more sins to forgive. The second stanza delves into a specific sin he has committed. The sin of allowing others to sin is compared to a “door” (line 8) which is constantly revolving as many other people are sinning as a result of him sinning. The last stanza talks about a specific sin of his which is the sin of fear. Donne is afraid that he will commit the ultimate sin of fear in which he will doubt God. The theme of reflection is prevalent in this poem. Donne seems to realize he would be going to hell soon if he didn’t repent his sins. He reflects on his sins and seems to be very sorry for his sins. Throughout the poem, Donne portrays himself as a person seeking salvation right before he dies so he doesn’t go to hell; however, Challis seems to argue that “Donne portrays himself as a secular lover of God”.
I disagree with her criticism in some part because this poem was written during a time when Donne was sick. Donne could have thought that he was going to die soon and as a result he got close to God, so he could repent his sins to go to heaven. Donne is in a last-minute attempt trying to salvage his after-life by portraying his ‘fake love’ towards God. Donne’s love toward God wasn’t real and genuine; instead it was counterfeit. The poem serves as a universal belief for all Christians around the world who can relate to the struggle of sinning and repenting. John Donne’s subjects such as love, religion, and death all intertwine and connect in some way in all off his poems. Donne uses a variety of techniques such as puns, conceits, imagery, and variety of themes to achieve and fully describe these subjects within his poems.