Critical appreciation of ‘The Canonization’
Introduction of ‘The Canonization’
‘The Canonization’ is one of the most famous poems of John Donne. Coleridge was greatly impressed by its beauty. He wrote that it was one of his “favourite poem” most modern critic of John Donne’s have also looked upon it as a solid sparkling diamond in his poetic treasury. It is supposed to belong to the group of his poems which express his satisfaction in his love relationship. As such it is taken to express his positive attitude towards love and woman. No definite date of its composition is known. Yet critics believe that it might have been composed after the accession of King James I, which took place in 1603. It is gathered from the seventh lone of stanza I, which alludes to the king’s real or his stamped face.” It is worth mentioning that Queen Elizabeth ruled over Britain before King James I. And gold sovereigns with the image of the King’s face stamped on them were floated as British gold currency in 1603 and after that year.
The background of The Canonization
The poem begins with a note of displeasure as follows. “For God sake hold your tongue, and let me love.
“This abruptness” remarks Cazamian, “is mingled with a piquant discourtesy to a friend who deters him from love.” So the critics believe that the poem is addressed to a friend who seems to be a religious man, probably a clergyman. As such, he might have advised Donne not to get lost in the love for his for his beloved Anne Donne. At the time, Donne was already married to her and loved her much too passionately. So his friend might have told him that love of the flesh is profane. It gives rise to the sins of the flesh, destroys peace in the world, and brings damnation after death. The friend might have tried to deter Donne from love so frequently. So one day his advice made Donne much displeased, and he composed the present poem as a reply to it.
The Poetic Thought of John Donne
In the mood of displeasure, a thought occurs to the poet. It is that love is God. If elaborated, the thought means that each of two passionate, spiritual, lovers is an image of God. Now if such lovers renounce the world for their love and die in the love of their God, they should be canonized as saints. It is a paradox. As contrasted with it, the chistian belief is that a person, who has renounced the world and the flesh in the love of God, and dies as such, or in the service of religion, will attain the canonization.
Poetic Emotion of John Donne
Now, Donne’s poetic sensibility transmutes his thought into a personal emotion. Instantly his poetic intellect begins to analyse the elements of the emotion. And his poetic talent begins to represent those emotional elements as follows:
For God’s sake stop lecturing to me on my fault in loving my own wife so passionately. For love is a nature force in man. So it is as useless to chide me for my love as for my approaching old age in which my head may become bald with few grey hair on it, my limbs may be affected with plasy, and my joints, troubled with gout. Evidently you simply waste your time and mine in giving me your advice again and again. You had better pay attention to your own welfare. You may improve your social status by amassing wealth. You may also improve your mind with the study of arts. You have a lot of professions before you. Choose any of them. But, please, let me love freely.
Let me add that my love injures nobody’s rights. It has caused no harm to sea trade. It has never interfered with laws of Nature. Even human nature has been affected by it at all. For soldiers still find causes of war, and the lawyers of lawsuits. As for the nature of our love, it it not profane in any sense. As lovers, I and my beloved wife-each is a taper as well as a fly at one and the same time and each dies at his on her own cost. For the cause and agent of death is present in the heart of each. Our love is also selfless. For each preys upon the charms of the other, like an eagle, and each submits to the predatoriness of the other like a dove most willingly. Besides our love is also spiritual and sublime. For when we are united together by love, we become a neuter thing-the phoenix, Our Platonic love burns our bodies to death in that transcendental state, so to speak. And when we think of our bodies, they rise rejuvenated from their own ashes, again. Evidently we may be aptly called the Phoenix in the state of our spiritual unity.
Now, if the people cannot consider us love — saints our life, the will look upon as such after our death. Our love lyrics will commemorate us and make us immortal as lovers. And those who will read them, will look upon us an love saints canonized for love. The future lovers will invoke us and beg us to pray to god that they too may be granted the pattern of our love.
Cleanth Brooks’ Comments
John Donne has argued his case very well, and in conformity with christ’s opinion of love, But Cleanth Brooks remarks …”the poet daringly treats profane love as if it were divine love. The canonization is not that of a pair of holy anchorites, who have renounced the world and the flesh. The hermitage of each is the other’s but they do renounce and so their title to sainthood; it is cunningly argued. The poem is then a parody of Christian sainthood; but it is an intensely serious parody.
The critic implies that Donne here makes fun of the idea that only the holy hermits who have renounced the world and the flesh can attain to sainthood. But we respectfully disagree with him. Through the poem donne never scoffs at the idea of holy sainthood. In the fourth stanza he describes his love lyrics as “hymns and refers to himself and his beloved as “canonized for love” So we can say that in this poem he lays down a new thesis. It is that profane love, being refined, can lead to canonization, if its story is represented in love – poems of great qualities.
Imagery of The Canonization
Apart from ordinary imagery, the poet has employed here three great images: the image of the taper and the fly, the image of the eagle and the dove, and the image of the Phoenix. All the three were common to elizabethan literature. But it is their application to himself and his beloved which is most striking. And Donne proves himself and his sweetheart – each a taper as well as a fly, and eagle as well as a dove. He also proves that being united together they become the Phoenix. Cleanth brooks remarks: “The likening of the lovers to the phoenix is fully serious and with it, the tone has shifted from the ironic banter to a defiant but controlled tenderness.
Metre and Rhythm of The Canonization
The metre of the poem is uncertain. For Donne’s versification does not depend on the principles of accentuation of syllables. His verses are characterized by a fixed number of syllables, dramatic rhythms, and Rhymes. Here the longest line is a pentameter. The shortest one is a Trimeter. Here and there, we find an extra-syllable at the end of a line for the sake of rhyme. One the whole, the dominant metre seems to be the lambus. The rhythms. Of the poem are dramatic speech – rhythms. A diamond dust of rhetoric has been strewed here and there to impose on the reader the desired emphasis, tone and mood. Strictly controlling the structure of the desired emphasis, tone, and mood. Strictly controlling the structure of the poem, Donne has varied pitch and quantity of syllable to give a colloquial intensity and rhythm, On the whole, the poem is a dramatic Lyric, or rather a dramatic monologue, of the first water.
Conclusion of The Canonization
To conclude, the poem is a well wrought piece of great poetry. The Blend of feeling and thought, passion and ratiocination is flawless. Donne’s wit controls not only the flow of his emotion but also the imagery the structure of the poem. The versification is complex. But it is so powerful that it describes Donne’s special insight most effectively. There is no obscurity anywhere and there is no looseness. Or crack, in the structural unity of the poetic thought, either. Even the cardinal image are skillfully related to one another. The phoenix for example, is a bird. But like the tapers it also burns. Evidently the poem is a massy diamond of great poetic brilliance. It has sweep which is as powerful as a sea wave.
English Literature- Important links
- Development of English poetry since the age of Shakespeare
- Important Forms of poetry in English (Narrative, Lyrical, Sonnet etc.)
- “The Canonization” by John Donne- Summary & Line by line Explanation
- Sonnet 29- When, in disgrace with fortune (William Shakespeare)
- SONNET 138- When my love swears (Analysis and Explanation)
- Critical review of Sonnet Writing of William Shakespeare
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