Home English Analysis of ‘The Canonization’, by John Donne

Analysis of ‘The Canonization’, by John Donne

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The Canonization

John Donne, whose birth year is not known, was a poet who grew popular with each century. While he was alive he could not publish his poems but his manuscripts were very popular. In the 18th century Donne’s works were disregarded as critics thought he was a genius but a little eccentric. From the 19th century Donne’s poems became extremely popular and he had admirers in Alexander Pope, Robert Browning, T.S. Eliot and more. The Canonization is yet another love poem of Donne.

In his typical style Donne starts off the poem chiding the person addressed to keep quiet and not to speak of his love. Speak of his physical ailment or deformity like palsy or gout but not about his love. Even physical appearances can be made fun of or his ‘ruined fortune’ but not his love or the lover. He then advices the people he addresses to do something worthwhile rather than find fault with his love. His suggestions include improving their wealth, interest in arts, to take a course, go places or think about the royalty or holy things – do anything but leave him alone.

The second stanza starts on an offensive note where he asks the people who is hurt by his love. Did any ships drown or lands get flooded because of their sighs and cries? Did his love chills send away spring sooner than its time? Did the heat of his love plague anyone? Nothing like that happened because all were going about their jobs as usual. The soldiers were fighting and the lawyers had their cases, yes the world was functioning as ever. In the third stanza he states his love, and acts indifferent to all the comments. He says they can call them flies or by any names and they were not going to be bothered. They were burning out like a candle. They were like an eagle and dove but then he quickly brings in the phoenix to tell the people that they would die and rise again like the phoenix.

In the next two stanzas he resigns to his fate but is sure that they will be canonized for their love. He decides to die if they cannot live in love. Their love story might not be worthy to be written on tombs or hearse but it would make good poetry. Their love story might not go down in the chronicles of history but will be seen in sonnets of poets. Their names would not be written on the urns or tombs but hymns would be sung canonizing their love. And in future they would be revered by people in love. Love in the future would no longer be peaceful but a rage, the whole world would be contracted and would be seen through the eyes of lovers. At that time these canonized lovers would be sought out for lessons on love. So here we have Donne standing up for his love against all odds and ending it on a high note of canonization.

The poem has five stanzas with nine lines in each stanza and the rhyme scheme is ABBACCCAA. The second, fifth, sixth and seventh lines are in iambic tetrameter. The last word of the first line in all the stanzas is ‘love’. Enjambment is a technique where the idea begins in the first line and  ends in the next line and this is seen in the lines,

“Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still

Litigious men

The thought left in the fourth stanza is picked up in the fifth stanza and that can be called as enjambment too. There are bird imageries with the mention of eagle, dove and the phoenix. Phoenix is used as metaphor as well to indicate their rise in love. The other imageries used are that of urn, tomb and hearse, all in connection with death; a death that the poet is imagining. Alliteration is seen in some lines like “My five gray hairs, or ruined fortune flout,” “let me love”. In the beginning there seems to be just one person to whom the poet is addressing “For God's sake hold your tongue…” Later he seems to be addressing people in general.  The title, ‘The Canonization’ makes the reader wonder if it is one of Donne’s metaphysical poems but it is not; it is a love poem. He believes that his love is so good that soon they will be known as lover saints.