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Elegy XVI: On His Mistress Analysis



Author: Poetry of John Donne Type: Poetry Views: 926

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By our first strange and fatal interview,

By all desires which thereof did ensue,

By our long starving hopes, by that remorse

Which my words' masculine persuasive force

Begot in thee, and by the memory

Of hurts, which spies and rivals threatened me,

I calmly beg: but by thy father's wrath,

By all pains, which want and divorcement hath,

I conjure thee, and all the oaths which I

And thou have sworn to seal joint constancy,

Here I unswear, and overswear them thus,

Thou shalt not love by ways so dangerous.

Temper, O fair Love, love's impetuous rage,

Be my true Mistress still, not my feigned Page;

I'll go, and, by thy kind leave, leave behind

Thee, only worthy to nurse in my mind

Thirst to come back; O if thou die before,

My soul from other lands to thee shall soar.

Thy (else Almighty) beauty cannot move

Rage from the Seas, nor thy love teach them love,

Nor tame wild Boreas' harshness; thou hast read

How roughly he in pieces shivered

Fair Orithea, wbom he swore he loved.

Fall ill or good, 'tis madness to have proved

Dangers unurged; feed on this flattery,

That absent Lovers one in th' other be.

Dissemble nothing, not a boy, nor change

Thy body's habit, nor mind's; be not strange

To thyself only; all will spy in thy face

A blushing womanly discovering grace;

Ricbly clothed Apes are called Apes, and as soon

Eclipsed as bright we call the Moon the Moon.

Men of France, changeable chameleons,

Spitals of diseases, shops of fashions,

Love's fuellers, and the rightest company

Of Players, which upon the world's stage be,

Will quickly know thee, and no less, alas!

Th' indifferent Italian, as we pass

His warm land, well content to think thee Page,

Will hunt thee with such lust, and hideous rage,

As Lot's fair guests were vexed. But none of these

Nor spongy hydroptic Dutch shall thee displease,

If thou stay here. O stay here, for, for thee

England is only a worthy gallery,

To walk in expectation, till from thence

Our greatest King call thee to his presence.

When I am gone, dream me some happiness,

Nor let thy looks our long-hid love confess,

Nor praise, nor dispraise me, nor bless nor curse

Openly love's force, nor in bed fright thy Nurse

With midnight's startings, crying out-oh, oh

Nurse, O my love is slain, I saw him go

O'er the white Alps alone; I saw him, I,

Assailed, fight, taken, stabbed, bleed, fall, and die.

Augur me better chance, except dread Jove

Think it enough for me t' have had thy love.






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

.: :.

Thanks for those good analysis\', I love reading John\'s poems, but haven\'t really truly understood their meaning. You have answered my many confused questions, thankyou. However one slight mistake, where you mentioned his secretly wedded wife Ann Donne, you said her father,Sir George More, did not approve, that is correct. But you mentioned him as being John\'s employer, but in fact this is not true it was Ann\'s uncle; Sir Thomas Egerton who was John\'s employer, John was one of sir Thomas\' secretaries at York House, until the discovery of their marriage.
I do not mean to be pedantic, just correcting a meet error :).

| Posted on 2011-02-27 | by a guest


.: :.

Thanks for those good analysis\', I love reading John\'s poems, but haven\'t really truly understood their meaning. You have answered my many confused questions, thankyou. However one slight mistake, where you mentioned his secretly wedded wife Ann Donne, you said her father,Sir George More, did not approve, that is correct. But you mentioned him as being John\'s employer, but in fact this is not true it was Ann\'s uncle; Sir Thomas Egerton who was John\'s employer, John was one of sir Thomas\' secretaries at York House, until the discovery of their marriage.
I do not mean to be pedantic, just correcting a meet error :).

| Posted on 2011-02-27 | by a guest


.: :.

great analysis. Try keeping it to just one poem though.

| Posted on 2010-03-08 | by a guest


.: :.

Donne's poetry displays the different stages and challenges of his life. One half of his poetry is centered on the part of his life he spent keeping his marriage a secret from society. The other half demonstrates him reflecting on his death. There is nothing hypocritical about a man who has both a spiritual life and a family life. Much of Donne's alleged hypocrisy is prompted from the use of the word 'mistress' in his poetry. In modern times, the title 'mistress' is synonymous with infidelity, but this was not always so. 'Mistress' often meant, specifically in poetry, a woman courted by a man. It was also used as the title of the female head of the household, the wife. These meanings are a better fit for Donne's poetry than the assumption that he was cheating on his wife, a theory for which there is no historical proof.

"By our first strange and fatal interview, by all desires which thereof did ensue." (ll. 1-2. Elegy 16) The language of these opening lines of "Elegy 16" suggest a passionate, secretive relationship; these lines are a perfect description of an affair. Desires ensuing after their first meeting seems indicative of a 'love at first sight' episode. An irrational, impulsive encounter that has little more behind it than lust. 'Strange and fatal' is how Donne describes it, an unorthodox situation that is potentially dangerous. Dangerous, perhaps, of discovery, especially if this were a situation of infidelity. These first lines, out of context, are suspicious of immoral activity. However further descriptions of Donne's lover bring a new meaning to light. "I and thou have sworn to seal joint constancy." (ll. 10. Elegy 16) Here Donne speaks of vows of fidelity, wedding vows. He is indicating that this woman is not his extramarital relationship but is his wife. "Be my true mistress still" (l. 14. Elegy 16) Here is where the dual meaning of the word 'mistress' become relevant. Donne's 'true mistress' is the mistress of his household. Also signified by his use of the word 'mistress' is the nature of his marriage to this woman. History suggests that the woman he speaks of in Elegy 16 is Anne Donne, whom he married in secret because the match was not approved of by Anne's father, John's employer.
"But come bad chance, and we join it to our strength.. When thou sigh'st.. when thou weepiest..Let not thy divining heart forethink me any ill, Destiny may take thy part." (ll. 21-22, 25, 27, 33-34. Song) The mistress of the poem is distressed and afraid. Whatever reason for his leaving her, she fears danger for him. He tells her not to even think that something bad will happen to him or destiny might fulfill her fears. This is not a man returning to the wife he is cheating on, or a mistress fearing his wife might discover their secret. She fears for his life. These two value the lives of each other beyond a passion-driven physical relationship.
"To use myself in jest thus by feigned deaths to die. Yesternight the sun went hence, and yet is here today… But think that we are but turned aside to sleep" (ll. 7-10, 37-38. Song) In trying to allay her fears of his going away, he compares the situation to going to sleep. In poetry, sleep and death are often used interchangeably. He tells his 'mistress' that every night they go to sleep next to each other and, in a sense, are dead to each other. They are completely unaware of each other for eight hours a night. What is hidden behind his chosen words is that he is in bed asleep next to this woman night after night. This is not a woman that he sleeps with and then returns to his wife. This is not sexual imagery but is marriage imagery. This poem also works with the theory that this 'mistress' is Anne. Donne would have had to take business trips across Europe as a part of his job. In that day, traveling across Europe would have been more dangerous with robbers and the political turmoil of the day. Being Catholic or Protestant in the wrong part of town could get one killed. Anne would have feared for him if he had to leave England.

'The Flea', an undeniable example of carnal desire, is even redeemable. The dominant character of 'The Flea', the suitor who is unabashedly trying to get a girl in bed with him, could be considered proof of Donne's overwhelming carnal nature. "This flea is you and I, and this our marriage bed, and marriage temple is." (ll. 12-13. The Flea) The suitor tries to charm the maiden by telling her that a flea represents their marriage. He manipulates the scriptural idea of 'the two becoming one'. He tells her that their 'marriage' has already been consummated because their bloods are mixed in this flea's belly.

"Mark but this flea, and mark in this, how little that which thou deny'st me is." (ll. 1-2. The Flea) Though meant to convince the girl, the suitor reveals himself in this line. The maiden means little to him. She denies him herself and he calls it a little matter. Donne knows this character he has created is a dog. He does so not as a self-portrait but to contrast the virtue of this woman. The true focus of the poem is the heroine. Donne constructs this poem to emphasize the virtue and wit of a woman rejecting sin by not mentioning her at all. The suitor switches tones between stanzas in response to the actions of the maiden that are not detailed by Donne. "Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare.. Cruel and sudden, hast thou since purple thy nail, in blood of innocence?" (ll. 10, 19-20. The Flea) In response to the suitor's first advances, the girl threatens to squish the flea and walk away. When he does not back down, she does exactly that. He then tries to appeal to her sense of righteousness by accusing her of murder and divorce. "Sacrilege, three sins in killing three" (l. 18. The Flea) Donne wrote the character of the suitor to be overly melodramatic, further proving the intent of this poem as a joke. Being an Anglican priest, being simply Christian who recognizes his own sinful nature, Donne would understand sin and grace. In that context, 'The Flea' should be a considered a conceit of sexual temptation. If it had been a truly carnal poem, Donne would have written the maiden as giving in to her suitor.

"Christ's Cross, and Adam's tree, stood in one place; Look Lord, and find both Adams met in me; as the first Adam's sweat surrounds my face, may the last Adam's blood my soul embrace." (ll. 22-25, Hymn to God) Here on his death bed, Donne reflects on his own hypocrisy, on his temptations and sins, whether sexual or not. He says he was born with the fruit of Adam's tree in him. He has a sinful nature. He has preached against sin yet goes about his life committing what he condemns. He is a hypocrite. Donne does not try to hide this or deny it. He openly confesses it so that 'Christ's Cross' can overcome 'Adam's tree'. "Since I am coming to that holy room.. I shall be made thy music; as I come I tune the instrument here at the door." (ll. 1, 3-4. Hymn to God) He is preparing himself to die, to enter the kingdom of God. Here he repents his youthful indiscretions. Even if the majority of his sensual poetry was not about his wife, Anne, if they were proof of him being a womanizer, this repentance would absolve him.
The variety of subject matter in Donne's poetry lead most to believe he was a pervert hiding behind priesthood. This comes from a misunderstanding of his meaning behind the word mistress. The woman Donne often wrote about was his wife whom he kept hidden for the beginning of their marriage. She would have been considered his mistress because no one knew of their marriage. Even the few sensual poems from his early years before his marriage to Anne does not discredit his later devotion to the church. Of course he was a hypocrite, all sinners are. His carnal poetry is his recognition of his sinful nature, and his spiritual poetry is his embracing of God's grace. Donne's poetry emphasizes the fact a person is not carnal or spiritu

| Posted on 2010-03-01 | by a guest




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