towards the end of his life (or as he began to discuss faith in more than women), he hides less behind the complex philosophical conceits one is used to and is frank about his spiritual concerns, as in "Hymn to God, My God, In My Sicknesse":"... As I come
I tune the Instrument here at the dore,
And what I must do then, thinke here before."
If "Holy Sonnet XVII" reveals traces of Donne's past in his later work, we can also find
traces of his future in his love poetry. In "The Relique" and "A Nocturnall Upon St. Lucie's Day",
Donne credits his lover with quasi-religious powers:
"All women shall adore us, and some men;
And since at such time, miracles are sought,
I would have that age by this paper taught
What miracles wee harmlesse lovers wrought." ("The Relique").
In "The Dream", Donne even asserts that his lady possesses divine attributes. These poems are notable in that they are the closest to what one would term Platonic love in Donne's poetry. It seems that only when Donne's mind moves towards the spiritual can he conceive of a love that does not rely entirely upon the passionate and sensual. Not until he meets Anne More does he catch any more than a fleeting glimpse of this love. If we accept that the love he expresses in "The Relique", "The Dream", and "A Nocturnall Upon St. Lucie's Day" is of a higher and more refined nature than in, say, "The Flea", then it is clear that his realisation of this love in the shape of Anne More gives him the spiritual impetus to turn his thoughts to more philosophical matters. Either that, or, more likely he was capable of both a shocking and a touching character in his poetry: a power to charm alongside a power to deceive and entangle with words and conceits. It is wisest to avoid placing Donne's poetry in categories according to chronology (since we know little of this) and more pertinent to consider the similar impetus that drives the romantic and the spiritual in Donne and that allows the same techniques to reach for such different peaks.
The more active, ardent nature of Donne's earlier work can be seen through a consideration of the number of verbs used in two poems picked at random. In the first two stanzas of "The Canonization", there are twenty-eight active verbs. In the first two stanzas of "A Hymne To Christ", one of Donne's last poems, there are fifteen active verbs. Thus Donne's turning away from the world constitutes a similar turning away from action and actuality to things more cerebral and eternal. There is a similar proliferation of nouns in the earlier poetry that is not present to the same extent in the later religious poetry:"The venom of all stepdames, gamesters' gall,
What tyrants, and their subjects, interwish,
What plants, mines, beasts, fowl, fish
Can contribute..." ("The Curse").
This layering of nouns creates the impression of an acceleration in the speed of the rhythm of the poem - an effect which Donne requires less in the spiritual poetry.
The speed of the love poems depends upon their various atmospheres. "The Curse" and "The Canonisation" are brisk and clipped, with layers of nouns and verbs exhibiting the Metaphysical Poets' love of lists. In contrast the more sombre, spiritual pieces such as "A Nocturnall Upon St. Lucie's Day" and "The Relique" move with a lugubrious pace that suits their more profound subject matter.
Thus, in Donne's work we can trace a conceptual if not chronological continuity from the love poems to the religious poems: from the lustful, jocular pieces, such as "The Flea", to the spiritual Holy Sonnets. It is also possible to see in the human love sonnets traces of the profundity of the love of the intangible in the holy sonnets. In both cases, the lover conceives of the loved one in a different form to establish and disentangle his own affection. When Donne writes of a love that transcends the corporeal and reaches a level of spirituality in his amorousness, he is able to throw off the cloak of intellectual inscrutability that his metaphysical conceits give him and address his love with the same frankness with which he addresses God in the holy poems.
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