Important Questions……..John Donne’s Imagery Or Conceits
Q: Discuss the main characteristics of John Donne’s imagery or conceits?
Q: “John Donne’s imagery has always impressed readers by its range and variety and its avoidance of the conventionality ornamental.” Discuss this statement?
Q: “In metaphysical peots, a conceit is not empty stroke-play, but a serious means of persuasion or illustration. Discuss with arguments?
Q: What is meant by a conceit? Write a note on the use of conceits in John Donne’s poetry?
John Donne is one of those great poets who have left deep marks on the history of English poetry. He is a pioneer of metaphysical poetry because he introduces new orientation and tradition in English literature. He paves a way for adapting new modes and trends of poetic style in literary circle. He creates an essence of originality, novelty and peculiarity in English versification. As Legouis remarks, “John Donne is perhaps the most singular of English poets.”
Poets create beautiful sound-effect by the magic of their words, used and arranged in measured, rhythmic and rhyming words. Very often they create beautiful sight-effects as well as sound-effect through the agency of words. In their rich and sensitive imagination, they conjure up vivid and very effective pictures of objects and situations which as a matter of fact, may or may not exist in the real life. Such use of words is called imagery. A conceit (far-fetched witty though which is the result of very complicated ratiocination) which literally means “a fanciful notion, far-fetched comparison, or other euphuism is in connection with poetry, used in the sense of witty thought, far-fetched, ingenious or even over-genious.” In the words of Helen Gardner, “In metaphysical poem, the conceits are instruments of definition in an argument or instrument to persuade. The poem has something to say which the conceit explicate or something to urge which the conceit helps to forward.”
In metaphysical poetry, conceit helps to bring together emotion, sense impression and thought and Joan Bennet has rightly pointed out that “metaphysical at its most complete is a focal point at which emotion, sense impression and thought are perceived as one.” Much Elizabethan verse, from Wyatt and Surrey to Shakespeare and Drummand is decorative and flowery in its quality. Its images adorn its metre is mellifluous. Image harmonize with image, and line swells almost predictably into line. The poetry of John Donne represents a sharp break with that written by his predecessors and most of his contemporaries. As Jane Bennet says, “J. Donne had a different conception of the function of imagery from that of the other poets. The purpose of an image in his poetry is to define the emotional experience by an intellectual parallel.”
Here we examine how John Donne uses conceits in his poetry to convey his feelings and thoughts to us by using his intellectual power. Because his images are the manifestations of the fantastic operations of wit to which feelings and passion are eventually subject. John Donne’s conceits indeed are original and startling, but ultimately just. However, fantastic they appear to be at first sight, they are in fact just. The poet often proves their truth. The ability to elaborate a conceit to its farthest possibility without losing the sense of its appropriateness speaks for a high intellectual caliber. As The Good Marrow is a brief and well-woven poem in which John Donne using his intelligence, develops the theme without digression that the poet and his beloved are passionately in love. What did the lovers do before they loved? Did they feel themselves on country pleasures or did they snort in the seven sleepers’ den? All the women whom the poet has loved before were merely anticipation of his present beloved. Each of lovers is a whole world to the other and their little room is a kind of everywhere. Not only is that, the lovers the best possible hemispheres who make up a complete world. Those lovers can never die because they love each other with an equal intensity.
WHERE CAN WE FIND TWO BETTER HEMISPHERES
WITHOUT SHARP NORTH, WITHOUT DECLINING WEST?
WHATEVER DYES, WAS NOT MIXT EQUALITY;
IF OUR TWO LOVERS BE ONE, THOU AND I
LOVE SO ALIKE, THAT NONE DOE SLACKEN, NONE CAN DIE.
In this poem, although there are a number of ideas, yet these are concentrated and connected only with one main idea in a very suitable manner that the poet and his beloved are passionately in love. As Helen Gardner says, “the first characteristic of metaphysical poetry is its concentration. The reader is held to an idea or a lien of argument. He is not invite to pause a passage, wander with it and muse upon and dream upon it.” In this poem, he draws upon several spheres of knowledge——-geography, medieval philosophy, sea-discoveries, etc. all to prove that the world of love is more important than geographical world. Here the conceits are used to illustrate his argument and to persuade. Step by step, point by point, the poet succeeds in establishing his point of view.
In addition to ingenious, fanciful, hyperbolic, fantastic and ridiculous conceits which are a striking feature of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry, we find plenty of paradoxical statements in almost all his poems as in The Sunne Rising, the poet argues that the poet and his beloved have no reason to feel afraid of the sun which has risen because love does not recognize any season or clime. The poet wants to prove that the sun has no power over the lovers. The poet can eclipse and cloud the beams of sun, while dazzling light of the beloved’s eyes can blind the sun. both the west and east Indies lie with the poet in the shape of his beloved. Then after terribly chiding the sun, John Donne intelligently convinces to warn the whole world by remaining stationary before the windows because he and his beloved constitutes the whole world and by warming their room, the sun will perform its assigned duty of warming the whole world.
SHE IS ALL STATES, AND ALL PRINCES, I
NOTHING ELSE IS;
In this poem, John Donne’s ratiocinative style, reasoning step by step towards his conclusion, which in this case is that love is self-sufficient and unaffected by any outside force, expose his intellectual power, with full concentration, conceits and paradoxes. R. G. Cox says, “No doubt there is a crowding of thoughts and images in John Donne’s mind which his powerful intellect and ratiocination can control and bring into another.”
John Donne deliberately rejected the conventional conceits and images such as flowers, sky, moon, river, and stream etc. he coined new images which were an outcome of popular belief of scientific discoveries. The conceits employed by John Donne are learned——-they display the poet’s thorough knowledge of a wide range of subjects such as science, chemistry, exploration, medieval philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, cartography, geography and several others. The conceits thus give the poetry an intellectual tone. However, the intellectual conceits are not in disharmony with the feeling in the poem’ they actually add weight and illustrate that feeling giving rise to the impression of what T .S. Eliot called “the unification of sensibility.”
There are fantastic comparisons in A Valediction Forbidding Mourning, here the soul of the beloved is like the fixed foot of compasses as by her inborn nature stays at home whereas the soul of lover is like other foot of compasses which moves beyond the centre to complete a circle of journey.
IF THEY BE TWO, THEY ARE TWO SO
AS STIFF TWIN COMPASSES ARE TWO,
THY SOUL THE FIX FOOT MAKES NO SHOW
TO MOVE, BUT (DOTH) IF THE OTHER DOE.
In this poem, he also compares his and his beloved’s separation with the expression of a piece of gold beaten to thinness for the sake of production of gold leaf. So this separation is rather an extension of love.
THOUGH I MUST GOE, ENDURE NOT YET
A BREACH BUT AN EXPANSION,
LIKE GOLD TO AYERY THINNES BEATE,
The comparisons extracting from the principles of geometry and chemistry are so valid in the argumentation of this poem, showing his intellect at his full zenith i.e. he thus wants to persuade his beloved not to mourn.
In A Valediction Weeping, the note of passion is intense, concentrated and bursts forth in such fanciful and intellectual conceits. This poem employs images from variety of sources. The lover’s tears are like precious coins because they bear the stamp of beloved (image drawn from mintage). Next, the beloved’s tears are compared to the moon which draws up seas to drown the up seas to drown the lover in her sphere (image drawn from geography).
WHEN A TEAR FALLS, THAT THOU FALL’ST WHICH IT BORE
O MORE THAN MOON DRAW UP SEAS TO DRAWN ME IN THE SPHERE;
WEEP ME NOT DEAD IN THINE ARMS;
SINCE THOU AND I SIGH ONE ANOTHER’S BREATH.
In this poem, the passion is conveyed in images which are erudite, logical and of an intellectual nature. As R.G. Cox says, “Donne’s imagery has always impressed readers by its range and variety and its audience of the conventionally ornamental.”
There is an exceedingly hyperbolic and complex conceit in The Relique, Donne imagines himself lying in a grave as a skeleton with the undeniable token of spiritual love in the shape of his beloved’s bright lock of hair, forming a bracelet about his wrist-bone and because of their great love, he and his beloved will be honored like saints.
ALL WOMEN SHALL ADORE US, AND SOME MEN
John Donne’s images stimulate one to thin. They bring one to an awareness of the new angles from which an experience can be viewed in The Anniversary. John Donne exposes his emotional experience with full intellect, lying on same string. This poem celebrates the first anniversary of Donne’s marriage with Anne More. In the start of the poem, the poet says in a very intellectual and philosophical tone that everything is drawing nearer to its destruction (by growing old that it was last year) only our mutual love knows no decay. Though it is growing old, yet it never loses its freshness or charm, being truly eternal and everlasting.
ALL OTHER THINGS, TO THEIR DESTRUCTION DRAW,
ONLY OUR LOVE HATH NO DECAY;
Furthermore, Donne says, he and his beloved are like kings and subjects of each other, neither needing to fear any treason.
HERE UPON EARTH, WE ARE KINGS, AND NONE BUT WE
CAN BE SUCH KINGS, NOR OF SUBJECTS BEE.
John Donne uses conceits not only in his love poems but also in his religious poems. In his holy sonnet, Batter My Heart, he compares himself to a usurped town. At the same time, there is an image drawn from the purification of metals by knocking, blowing and shining it. Later on, imagery usually associated with love is drawn upon to illustrate his spiritual prayer…he wants God to ravish him in order that he may be chaste.
BATTER MY HEART, THREE PERSON’D GOD; FOR, YOU
AS YET BUT KNOCKE, BREATH, SHINE AND SEEK TO MEND;
THAT I MAY RISE AND STAND OVERTHROW MEE, AND BEND
YOUR FORCE, TO BREAKE, BLOWE, BURN AND MAKE ME NEW.
So John Donne’s rich imagery and conceits indicate his agility and vigilance of fertile mind which have deep-rooted association with his feelings and experience. They indicate his sharp, all-inclusive and all comprehensive with. As Bennet aptly sums up, “Donne’s images are drawn from his own interests, so that he is always illustrating one facet of his experience by another. Everything that played an important part in his life or left its marks upon his mind, occurs in his poetry, not as subject-matter but as imagery. His subject-matter was confined almost entirely to various aspects of love and religion, but his imagery reveals the width of intellectual explorations.