'Explore the Nature of Love in The Extasie': John Donne Poetry Analysis

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Explore the Nature of Love in The Extasie: John Donne Poetry Analysis

In his poem, The Extasie, John Donne describes his own attainment of a state of ecstasy (literally meaning, to stand outside of oneself), through his physical and spiritual proximity to his lover. In his earliest work (for example Elegie: To his Mistris Going to Bed, and The Flea) - which could be loosely termed his 'lust poetry' - Donne's focus tends to be on (or at least around) the sexual act and the beauty of the human (and more particularly the feminine) form, whilst in his later work (such as his Holy Sonnets) he explores religion and death, this poem falls into the transitory phase of what could be termed Donne's 'love poetry' (for example, The Good Morrow). Characteristically then, the main focus of The Extasie is his love for a specific woman (as opposed to women in general, or rather, any random woman - as is the case in his lust poems), and how this love is so transcendent that it leads to a platonic extasie.

In the first stanza, the tranquillity of the setting is established, with the imagery of 'a pillow on a bed', a 'reclining head', suggesting relaxation, and the line 'Sat we two, one anothers best', suggesting serenity and the intimacy of the lovers. This continues into the subsequent stanza with the elegant, and yet deeply intense image of 'Our eye-beames twisted, and did thred Our eyes, upon one double string', which apart from highlighting the apparent totality of their absorption in one another, also alludes the contemporaneous belief that sight constituted 'eye-beames' being emitted from one's eyes and illuminating your surroundings. In the 4th stanza, Donne starts to bring in more explicitly the spiritual union that begins to manifest out of the physical intimacy. Initially it may seem as if he is attempting to upset the otherwise peaceful setting, by introducing elements of conflict into in the line, 'As 'twixt two equall Armies, Fate Suspends uncertaine victorie'. However, if you take into account the fact that the use of epic military metaphors in relation to love is a common poetic motif (and was even more so in Donne's time), it becomes clear that this is not the case, and that the intended effect is more to highlight the fact that the lovers are 'eqaull' in the relationship, and to link this simile to their souls hanging in the air, 'twixt her, and mee'.

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Moreover, the idea that their souls 'Were gone out', to 'advance their state', is suggestive of Donne's neo-platonic philosophy, and the idea of two souls, blending together to form an indivisible and perfect hybrid - as can be seen in the line, 'he knew not which soul spake, Because both meant, both spake the same', demonstrating the complete intellectual union between the two. The line '(all which before was poore, and scant,) Redoubles still, and multiplies', goes on to suggest the idea that the souls reinforce each other's weaknesses, whilst the line, 'That abler soule, which thence doth flow, Defects ...

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