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To His Mistress Going to Bed Analysis

Author: Poetry of John Donne Type: Poetry Views: 3117

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Come, Madam, come, all rest my powers defy,

Until I labour, I in labour lie.

The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,

Is tired with standing though they never fight.

Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering,

But a far fairer world encompassing.

Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,

That th' eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.

Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime

Tells me from you, that now 'tis your bed time.

Off with that happy busk, which I envy,

That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.

Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,

As when from flowery meads th' hill's shadow steals.

Off with that wiry coronet and show

The hairy diadem which on you doth grow;

Now off with those shoes, and then safely tread

In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.

In such white robes heaven's angels used to be

Received by men; thou angel bring'st with thee

A heaven like Mahomet's paradise; and though

Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know

By this these angels from an evil sprite,

Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.

License my roving hands, and let them go

Before, behind, between, above, below.

O my America, my new found land,

My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,

My mine of precious stones, my empery,

How blessed am I in this discovering thee!

To enter in these bonds, is to be free;

Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.

Full nakedness, all joys are due to thee

As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,

To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use

Are like Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views,

That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem,

His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them.

Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made

For laymen, are all women thus arrayed;

Themselves are mystic books, which only we

Whom their imputed grace will dignify

Must see revealed. Then since I may know,

As liberally, as to a midwife, show

Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,

Here is no penance, much less innocence.

To teach thee, I am naked first, why then

What needst thou have more covering than a man.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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above lays a work of art;
Below dim critiques .

| Posted on 2015-10-24 | by a guest

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through your constructive for-and-against-arguments, you have helped me understand the poem. at least i will have something to say during the lecture's group presentations. ashanteni sana.

| Posted on 2014-02-13 | by a guest

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I would suggest that the lines about showing herself as liberally as to a midwife have nothing to do with her infancy as described by Guest on 2011/5/12 but refer to how a woman giving birth has her genitals completely exposed to the midwife.

| Posted on 2012-05-31 | by a guest

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While primarily in iambic pentameter, the first line has a sense of urgency and irregularity - \"Come, madam, come\"
l.2 implies that until he has sex, he will be in a state of agony and discontent
l. 5, 7, 9, 11, 13 (somewhat), 15, and 17 are interesting. While on the one hand they beseech her to undress, yet they are phrased as commands - \"Unlace yourself\", \"Off with that\", etc. So does she have authority?
Furthermore, one must wonder why he envies that \"happy busk\". Is it because of its proximity to her? Is it a phallic reference? Hmm.
The \'upright\' flesh on l.24 can be interpreted as his erection (oh baby) and, with a bit of a stress, the \'standing\' on l.4 and 12 can be viewed as that as well
On l.25 he is begging her to \"license my roving hands\", yet that too is presented as an order. Similar to l. 1, this has an irregular rhythm which emphasizes Donne\'s urgency and also highlights the shift in the poem
Now she is America. That they haven\'t had sex before is obvious - \"new-found-land\", \"safeliest when with one man manned\", etc.
Yet even all her beauty is not allowed to be her own - \"How blest am I in this discovering thee!\"
And in l. 32 he\'s basically planting a flag in dat ass
Also present is Donne\'s conflation of spiritual and physical love - \"As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be\" - a common theme in his work.
I could go on forever but I won\'t. Obviously there are multiple interpretations to every poem. Hope this provides a good starting off point for any one new to Donne :)

| Posted on 2012-05-21 | by a guest

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Donne\'s candid acknowledgement of his attitude towards sensual beauty in a woman enables the complex ironies of his witty eloquence to dramatise the approach to that decisive moment where he almost successfully coerces her to disrobe herself, in order that he may gaze upon her naked loveliness.

| Posted on 2012-03-11 | by a guest

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If you have any knowledge of Donne\'s work at all, you would know that this poem fits in with those written as \'Metaphysical Poetry\' (others include \'The Extasie\' or \'The Flea) and most definitely not about conquering land. What is written from supposedly \'official sources\' does not make it true. Anyway, this poem is essentially a male living in a patriarchal society (men are dominant) in a bid to allure his \'mistress\' into bed. The argument now is who really has the power in this relationship; the poem is a BLAZON, which is a form of poetry that catalogues a female\'s body, and Donne\'s is clearly the only voice we hear. Religious imagery is hyperbolic as we are given a sense of urgency in undressing this woman. However, her clothes are seemingly expensive; does Donne have ulterior motives aside from his burning sexual desire? Also, we must realise that Donne is already naked, and therefore now the power lies with the women in whether she is to \'license\' Donne\'s \'roving hands\' or not.
This is really just a chip on the surface.

| Posted on 2011-10-25 | by a guest

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Here are a few interpitations or what i call \"tanslations\" of the poem. I do not believe he is talking either of his wife or Elizabeth. His purely lustful sextual tone is neither how a man would look at a woman when he takes away her political wealth and status; it is the way a man looks at objects. He also says to her while entreating her to undress, \"cast all, yea, this white linen hence/Here is no penance, much less innocence.\" He tells her to take off her white garments which one would where in either penence or if they were a virgin. He says that she is neither of these.
Also, the title is called \"to his Mistress going to Bed\" This is a pretty clear indicator that the woman is not the queen or his wife.
Here are a few unrelated translation notes: When Donne tells her to, \" As liberally, as to a midwife,show/ Thyself\". In other words, to be as naked as she was when she was a babe delivered by the midwife.

| Posted on 2011-05-12 | by a guest

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I think that there is a high possibility that the poem was written about the queen, Elizabeth. Although such a racy poem written about the Queen would have frowned upon, the Inns of Court circles which Donne was part of frequently made such witty poems to be circulated discreetly and to their own amusement. I believe this to be so because of the reference to Atalanta (Virgin warrior from mythology who devised a competitive race to choose from her suitors) as well as the power Elizabeth had to finance expeditions to discover the New World. Donne\'s peers at the Inns of Court (many of which were Catholic) may have felt intimidated by a female having such a power over men, not only sexually (in her choice to not remove her clothes... Donne\'s pleas are not stated to have been successful) but also in matters of governance and religion. The part about chasing gems rather than the woman herself seems to be about the Queen\'s unfortunate inability to be separated from her elevated status in matters of love. Basically, to court and \'undress\' the queen is to appeal to her as a woman, without her status, and the ability to do that should win sufficient favor to be given patronage for a trip to America. It is also interesting to note that portraits of Elizabeth at the time that the Elegy could have been written almost directly match the description given of the clothes. In particular the appearance of the \'feathery diadem\' in the post-armada series of portraits, for which the original pattern was by George Gower, show such a diadem. This feathery diadem also appears in contemporaneous allegorical depictions of America, as one of her attributes. Hope this doesn\'t seem to nuts.

| Posted on 2011-03-29 | by a guest

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Hey, ermm well basically we rock and basically donne is talking about exploring the female body and likening it with the exploration of AMERICA WO ENG LIT ROCK! TEXT BACK

| Posted on 2011-03-14 | by a guest

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everyone insulting the people posting on this and not giving an actual analysis but are apparently \"more intellectual and know more on the subject\" are bigger retards than the retards posting obvious stuff about this poem.

| Posted on 2010-12-13 | by a guest

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This poem is entirely about a woman, specifically her body. Donne makes reference to the discovery of America only comparing it to him discovering her body. Whether it is about Elizabeth Drury or his new wife I don\'t know, but it is definetely about her body, and even obectivising her by listing all the classicallhy feminine clothing and comparing her to a land, that has a owner.

| Posted on 2010-10-06 | by a guest

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Wow...this is directed to the self proclaimed genius. Before you go around throwing stones at houses….maybe you should consider NOT living in a glass home! English should always be capitalized: ) It is a proper noun. Good luck with your English classes!

| Posted on 2010-09-14 | by a guest

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The woman who Donne is speaking of, is a prostitute, not someone he loved. He would have more than likely written this poem to pass around his male friends. They\'re many sexual innuendos, \"I in labour lie\": Labour suggests at hard work, the sexual interractions between the two. Also suggests at agony, Untill he has sex with her he is in agony. It has an element of fantasy as he is aked and he\'s telling the woman to take her clothes off. The \"Still can be, and still can stand\" line is a play on words referring to the rigidity of the corset, and of his erection.
By Jessica Louise Moore.

| Posted on 2010-09-12 | by a guest

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People, seriously, this poem was written ages ago, we can't possibly understand completely what it was about. There is no point arguing about it, it won't get us anywhere.
We should take into account Donne's context, the growing interest in geography, cosmology and religious transformations. Only he knew what it was truly about and he's not giving any answers. We can speculate until the cows come home on what this work is about but I don't think we can ever come to a definite conclusion.

| Posted on 2010-06-12 | by a guest

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Donne conveys sex as a religious experience, "angel" , "heaven" , "temple". Religious metaphors give a hyperbolic intensity to his imagery. We see how highly he praises sexual pleasure, "O my America, my newfound land". The images are of physical and material wealth and anyone who was reading this poem alone would think that Donne is limited to the sexual level. This is not a love poem, he doesn't say he loves the woman or that sex is part of a deeper relationship. The mood is of lust, the tone is hyperbolic and it is written in iambic pentameter - decasyllabic. It is an elegy although a misnomer as they are usually about death.

| Posted on 2010-06-07 | by a guest

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People, this poem was written so long time ago... People were so different from now, thing were so more difficult and forbiden sometimes. We cannot discuss about what he ment with his words if we do not know the history of his life or what he was feeling by that moment.

| Posted on 2010-04-08 | by a guest

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I think he is comparing his first night with his wife with the discovery of America.

| Posted on 2010-04-08 | by a guest

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We believe that the poet is really talking about a woman who he is in love with. He uses the comparision with America because as well as America was discovered during this period he wants to discover themselves together in their first night.

| Posted on 2010-04-08 | by a guest

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'o my America, my new found land' Virgin territory,therefore like America, he is going to explore his new found land eg the mistresses body.

| Posted on 2010-03-24 | by a guest

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You cannot even supply us with what we are looking for. Too bad!!!

| Posted on 2010-01-07 | by a guest

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I came on this website researching for an analysis for my English Lit A-Level and I found a load of idiots arguing and "spekin lyk dis lyk stoopid priks!" Few of you have said anything mildly interesting or helpful about this poem or John Donne that is not common sense so from now on please keep your opinions to yourself if you are clueless or can't spell in english! Leave this type of thing to people who know what they are talking about!

| Posted on 2009-11-25 | by a guest

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Anyone who has read John Donne and his poetry will know that he uses conceits which are extended metaphors. In the 17th Century we discovered many things, so it is known as the century of discovery. In this time we founded America and Australia. America is used as a conceit, saying that he is exploring something new that he has never discovered before and this is her beauty and body underneath her clothes suggesting that he has never seen her underlying beauty. It can be taken in many ways, it depends on what the poem means to you as an inidividual so don't argue just enjoy his poems.

| Posted on 2009-11-11 | by a guest

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i believe anyone who has read up on john donne will know this poem was written before he met his wife, when he was more in his "man about town" phase. it was written about elizabeth drury who some have reported to be a prostitue at the time ( this is possible as in the 1700s reports put the number of prostitutes in london in the 60,000s, or as many as one in five women.)
the exploration of her body is twinned with the exploration of a new land as this was a prominent talking point of the day. however the link can only be made one way her, anyone who suggests donne would cover up the newsworthy idea of exploring the americas with the taboo metaphor of sex has been seriously misled. donne was one of the raunchiest poets of that time period. and he remains so today, he is talking about taboo subjects, anyone who cannot see that is obviously not understanding his work.

| Posted on 2009-10-19 | by a guest

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I just find it incredibly perplexing how on earth someone can analyse a John Donne and still persist in spiikin lyk dis coz ima so cuul butt still intellctool..

| Posted on 2009-10-02 | by a guest

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Sorry if this has already been said, but this poem was an elegy to Elizabeth Drury, Donne's mistress.
The American metaphor is just a metaphor, as Donne is comparing the discovery of America to the exploration of a woman's body.
Sorry guys, it's basically about sex, nothing innocent in this poem - it was deemed too indecent to print when he wrote it.

| Posted on 2009-09-17 | by a guest

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Sorry if this has already been said, but this poem was an elegy to Elizabeth Drury, Donne's mistress.
The American metaphor is just a metaphor, as Donne is comparing the discovery of America to the exploration of a woman's body.
Sorry guys, it's basically about sex, nothing innocent in this poem - it was deemed too indecent to print when he wrote it.

| Posted on 2009-09-17 | by a guest

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Personally I think it is just as the title suggests " To his mistress going to bed'. In many of Donne's works he is the speaker, and he is usually addressing his wife or mistress in his elegies. (Sunne Rising The Flea etc.)
He is merely employing his lust for discovery combined with his knowledge of geography to establish a conceit which further persuades the reader and the woman he is addressing to 'set my (his) seal.'

| Posted on 2009-09-14 | by a guest

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Not a ver bright year 11 then are you?
It is not about the discovery of America. Its drawing parrallels between exploring someone's body and a new land. You are thick.

| Posted on 2009-09-07 | by a guest

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Donne is a metaphysical(goes beyond philosophical self) poet and d poem is about male authority over his wife during renaissance period, poem is funny(poet uses wit & humour in issuing an invitation 2 sex) and d poet uses 'conceit'(bringing 2 dissimilar things 2gether) in dis poem wen he says "oh my America", poem is a fusion of secular and sacred, body is anti religion therefore it is not mentioned! we can compare dis poem 2 bhakti & sufi poems like meera etc.. poem is unconventional(unlike sidney who write conventional poems), d poet asks her wife 2 hurry up! fusion of religion, love, spiritual ecstasy & anguism lies in dis poem..

| Posted on 2009-07-19 | by a guest

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its sexual but in dows days peepz wer not ment to be rytin sexual tings so ovo he had to cover it up duhhhh comment sense

| Posted on 2009-06-25 | by a guest

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You people are retarded. The poem is a metaphor for the new America to be discovered. Donne fuses imagery of sexual exploration with the global colonialism of the 17th century.

| Posted on 2009-06-08 | by a guest

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Hello. I think you need to stop arguing about whether he is talking about a woman or a land. Does it matter? Poetry is supposed to mean different things for different people. What I want to know, is does anyone think that the man is exploiting the woman/land?
Is Donne challenging or reinforcing the way this woman/new country is being treated?
But if this poem is about a land, why does he talk about the woman's body so much? And the fact that it is a religious experience? Hmmm

| Posted on 2009-06-01 | by a guest

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Anyone who has read much of Donne's work at all will know that this poem is talking about a woman. In all likelihood his young bride ("to teach thee") on their wedding night ("my new found land" (ie) their first time). The reference to America is just one of many metaphors, and not meant to be taken literally. A great proportion of his poems discuss the nature of love and this would not be the only one to mention sex directly. For example, 'The Exctasie' is basically all about a mutual orgasm.
"The hairy diadem which on you doth grow."
C'mon, stop being such prudes.

| Posted on 2009-05-28 | by a guest

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Renaissance poetry of this time was often outrageously sexualised, but not actually sexual. Reference Donne's contemporary Rochester, whose poems are so grotesque they manage to desensitise and outrage the reader,rather than turning them on.
My point is that sex as a topic was used generally to comment on far wider social contexts, "nakedness" if interchanged with "honesty" or "truthfulness" has a far greater emphasis and meaning than the attempt to shag a mistress. Note too, the lack of direct speech towards the so called mistress, that concept could be anything.

| Posted on 2009-02-17 | by a guest

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Actually, according to the Heath Anthology of American Literature, the mistress in this poem is America, and this poem is a metaphor for coming to the new land.

| Posted on 2009-01-29 | by a guest

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The word 'mistress' does not mean exactly what it does to us now here. It can also very well mean wife.

| Posted on 2008-12-11 | by a guest

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look, people, its a poem that was written way before our great great great grandmother's time..only he knows what he means, dont argue about it...

| Posted on 2008-12-10 | by a guest

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Donne often drew comparisions between sleep and death, therefore, I think that this poem is just another poem that Donne wrote because of his obsession with death especially after his wife died.

| Posted on 2008-12-03 | by a guest

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This poem is metaphysical in that it emphasizes and exaggerattes something...in this case Donne's mistress. He has an aching desire for her and expresses this intent need for her throughout the poem whilst trying to seduce and convince her to allow him to have his 'wicked way' with her.

| Posted on 2008-11-27 | by a guest

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This is about the discovering of America. This is not about a woman at all, let alone about a wife. He has hope for the new world, just as a typical male would be hopeful in this stance.

| Posted on 2008-11-07 | by a guest

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