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A Critcal Look at John Donne's "The Canonization" John Donne is one of the seventeenth centuries most read and

criticized poets. His poem The Canonization is the focus of this essay. It is likely Donnes best-known poem, though this poem among others have been highly influential. It is this piece that influenced critic Cleanth Brooks revolutionary New Criticism piece, The Well-Wrought Urn, which is, in fact, a line out of this piece. The intent of this essay is primarily to explicate Donnes poem The Canonization (as I understand it) however I also intend to introduce how feminist and gender studies critics have recently begun to reinterpret how Donne portrays women in his work. They claim that Donne, throughout his poetry, especially in his pieces Elegies and Songs and Sonnets, continuously and purposefully intertwines the genders of his male and female speakers. In doing so, they claim his view on women and gender roles is one of sympathy, acceptance, curiosity, and (even) one that rejects the gender expectations of the time. They also claim that Donne, at times, places himself or at least his speakers in the role of the women in his poetry. In particular, I will be using their recent re-evaluation of Donnes work to help explain the poems third stanza. However, before we begin to look at the poem, I feel some context is required. I will begin by providing a brief account of Donnes life. Donne was born in London to a prosperous Roman Catholic family in 1572. His father died four years later in 1576 leaving Donnes mother with three children to raise. Donnes education began with Jesuits, at the age of eleven he was admitted to Oxfords Hart Hall, he then studied at the University of Cambridge. He spent three years studying at each school but he never obtained a degree because as an adamant Catholic he refused to sign the Oath of Supremacy which was required of every British university graduate. In 1591 he was admitted to Thaives Inn and in 1592 to Lincolns Inn to study law. He published his first book of poetry entitled Satires in 1593. In 1598 Donne was appointed to be Sir John Egertons private secretary. Three years later, in 1601, Donne married Anne More, the seventeen year old niece of Lady Egerton. He lost his promising position because of this and spent the next twelve years struggling to support his growing family. In 1609, he finally managed to reconcile with his wifes father. After this he began working as a lawyer. Eventually he was able to make it back into favor with the monarchy. This landed him several prestigious positions in the monarchys ranks. In 1617, after birthing their twelfth child, a stillborn, Donnes wife Anne died. Seven of the twelve children had survived mothers death. Donne spent the rest of his life writing poetry in order to support his children. He died on March 31, 1631 in London. 1 The poem begins with the emphatic statement For Gods sake hold your tongue, and let me love.2 This sets the tone for the rest of the poem and introduces to the poems subject matter: love. Although it is not entirely clear who Donnes intended audience is we can assume both by the speakers tone how he addresses his audience that the poems speaker, a male, is speaking with a friend or acquaintance. The speaker suggests to his friend that if he feels he must bother him his leave his relationship alone and find something else about him to pick on. He even provides him with a few examples my palsy, or my gout, my five gray hairs, or my ruind fortune float. 3 He continues on stating to his friend that he should be more concerned with his own life. He suggests furthering his education, finding religion, entertaining himself with the affairs of the kingdom or money. 4 He tells his friend find anything that interests you to distract you from my love life so that he might love in peace. The speaker begins the second stanza with an emphatic cry of alas! alas! 5 He then proceeds to ask his friend: whos injured by my love? 6 The speaker then goes on to tell his friend, by

asking rhetorical questions, about several things that still go on and will never be affected by his love. He claims that his sighs have never drowned a merchants ship nor has his tears overflowd anyones ground. 7 The speaker also claims that his colds, his chill if you will, has never prevented spring from arriving. 8 He adds that the heats which (his) veins fill have never added another death to the plaugy bill. 9 He furthers his point by adding that soldiers (still) find wars and lawyers still charge guilty men and women with crimes even though he is in love. 10 Of all the stanzas in the poem the third has to be the most esoteric. The speaker begins the stanza by stating Calls what you will, we are made such by love. 11 While this line is easy enough to decipher, it meaning simply it does not matter what you call us because we are who we are because we love one another, the rest of the stanza is not so easy. In order to help explicate this stanza I will be calling upon a recent feminist account of Donnes work. John Donnes poetry has always intrigued feminist critics. Their main concern lies within the question: How does Donne present women in his work? It has generally been agreed upon that Donne patronizes women and portrays them as significantly less important than their male counterparts. Illona Bell in her piece The Lady in Songs and Sonnets claims that Donnes work is self absorbed. 12 Janel Mueller in her piece Women among the Metaphysicals: A Case, Mostly, of Being Donne for claims that in Donnes work women remain highly subjectivised presences in this highly subjetivised poetry. 13 However, in recent years feminist and gender studies critics in particular have been assessing Donnes work in a different way. They claim that Donne, throughout his poetry, especially in his pieces Elegies and Songs and Sonnets, he continuously and purposefully intertwines the genders of his male and female speakers. In doing so, they claim his view on women and gender roles are very different than previously assumed. "In Donne(s work) the female other begins to contribute crucially to male selfhood when a speaker registers the onset of desire. This cognizance of specifically sexual attraction impresses a man with his own lack, as well as, his longing to conjoin to himself to all that a given woman has and is." 14 Susannah Mintz in her piece Forget the Hee and Shee: Gender and Play in John Donne adds that "... Donne frequently depicts self-other dynamics in ways that extend beyond the familiar accounts of his encounters with women (e.g., pleading or arguing with them, curiosity and fear about their difference from--or similarity to-- him, worry that he will never fully know them) toward a more radical gesture of testing the boundaries of gendered identity. Overlapping realms of self and other, male and female, appear throughout Songs and Sonnets, in ways that suggest less a rhetorical (and ultimately aggressive) exchange of positions than an eager dissolution of outline...". 15For feminist critics this means that Donne not only sympathizes and accepts women as equals, he inserts his character, and ultimately himself in the role of women. However, they also claim that Donne often mixes the genders blurring the lines between man and woman. ...Donne liberates his speakers from anxieties about gender by exploiting the very notions that tend to produce anxiety in the first place, maximizing rather than reductively denying the ambiguity of gendered identity. 16 Whether or not this was Donnes intent no one is really certain. Feminist and gender studies critics are taking this idea to be a big leap forward in feminist theory. If we use this recent interpretation of Donnes work to help us explain the third stanza of The Canonization it takes on a whole new level of meaning. The second line of the stanza is as well easily deciphered with the speaker claiming that that the spoken to can call his lover one and himself another fly meaning that we do not care what it is you call us because we are who we

are. 17 The third line of the stanza is where this stanza begins becoming less understandable. The speaker claims that he and his partner are tapers too, and at our own cost die. 18 It can be assumed that tapers refers to candles but what does it mean? So he and his lovers are candles that die at their own cost? What is that cost though? Is it their own lives because they as candles will eventually burn out? Another interesting point about this line is that the speaker begins to blur the roles between himself and his lover. While in real life they are a man and a woman, two very different things they are both represented by candles. The fourth line claims that the speaker and his lover find th eagle and the dove in themselves. 19 The eagle and the dove are two very different birds that have very different meanings when interpreted non-literally. The eagle is a representation of masculinity and freedom while the dove is a biblical bird, often seen as feminine but as well it is a global symbol of peace. The speaker, by changing his and his lovers form from inanimate objects, to animals which we recognize as having sexes, brings them closer to being equal and ultimately the same. The speaker furthers this in the next line by claiming that because of himself and his partner the phoenix riddle hath more wit. 20 He then goes on to claim that they are one being and that they are they themselves are the phoenix riddle. 21 At this point the speaker and his lover are one being, a gender neutral being, who are completely equal in their standing. 22 They are one, thus they are the same. This means that man and woman are the same. The speaker claims that his and his partner die and rise the same as the phoenix did. 23 Meaning that they too are immortal, meaning that their love is immortal and as well that because they are in love they understand the mystery of love. 24 The fourth stanza begins with the speaker claiming that he and his lover can die by (love) and that they can likely live by love as well. 25 He goes on to note that if their love is unfit for (a) tomb or hearse it will (at least) be fit for poetry. 26 Later in the stanza the speaker notes that in the end a well-wrought urn is just as worthy of a burial as half-acre tombs. 27 The speaker claims that if no piece of chronicle we prove meaning quite simply if their love poem is not popular he and his lover can at least build in sonnets pretty rooms. 28 In the last two lines of the stanza the speaker claims that it will be because of their loves sonnets that (and by these hymns) all shall approve that their love will forever canonized. 29 The somewhat narcissistic end to this stanza sets us up perfectly for the poems final stanza. In the fifth and final stanza of the poem the speaker tries on what it would feel like if he and his lover were the saints of love. Donne does this by having the speaker speak from the point of view his adoring fans. In his mind he and his lover have become the saints of love. They are the epitome of love. Lovers from around the world countries, towns, (and) court beg for a pattern of (their) love as theirs is the perfect model. 30 In conclusion, it is my belief that through my explication of Donnes The Canonization I have learned that although this poem has been critically assessed time and time again there is always something new to discover. Because of feminist theorists we now have a new angle at which to perceive Donnes work. Even though we may never be entirely sure of Donnes intent by critically assessing this or any other poem we are always left with the opportunity to learn something new about the author, their time, and even about ourselves. Works Cited Bell, Ilona. The Role of the Lady in Donne's Songs and Sonets. Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Vol. 23, No. 1, The English Renaissance. (Winter, 1983). pp. 113-129.

Donne, John. Poems of John Donne. vol I. E. K. Chambers, ed.London: Lawrence & Bullen, 1896. 12-13. January 2006. Jokinen, Anniina. "The Life of John Donne." Luminarium. 30 Aug 2003. January 2006. Mintz, Susannah B. Forget the Hee and Shee: Gender and Play in John Donne Modern Philology, Vol. 98, No. 4. (May, 2001). pp. 577-603. Mueller, Janel. Women among the Metaphysicals: A Case, Mostly, of Being Donne for. Modern Philology, Vol. 87, No. 2. (Nov., 1989). pp. 142-158