How has John Donne treated the theme of love in his poem ‘Lover’s Infiniteness’? Essay
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Through his poem, John Donne, expresses his yearning to possess ‘all’ of his lady-love’s affection. He narrates about the pain and feelings he faces whilst trying to woo her. ‘Lover’s Infiniteness’ is part of Donne’s complex collection of literary work known as ‘Songs and Sonnets’; this particular piece was published in 1601. The poem deals with a question of how ‘vast’ or unconditional someone’s love can be, thus the word ‘Infiniteness’ in the title which expresses the enormity of Donne’s love for her.
Being a metaphysical poet, Donne induces the elements of religion, identity, passion and reasoning into his poetry- for instance, in this specific poem, he emphasizes his ‘desire’ for the ownership of his lover’s heart yet, continues to think deeply and question her faithfulness to him. This further leads him into overthinking about the unquestioning love he has for her and how she might never reciprocate that amount of love to him.
The tone of the poem suggests insecurity and- subtly- jealousy and possessiveness: this can be evident through lines such as ‘This new love may beget new fears’, ‘New love created be, by other men’, ‘The ground, thy heart is mine…have it all’. Using a variety of literary devices, Donne puts across the main idea of the poem vividly.
Donne compares love to a ‘transaction’ wherein he expects his lady-love to ‘gift’ her love to him after he has ‘spent’ a lot of his ‘sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters’ to ‘purchase’ her heart- this is one of the many examples of both metaphor and visual imagery he uses(a clear picture of his efforts is being made). Some instances of the usage of paradox can also be seen: ‘If thou canst not give it, then thou never gav’st it’ expresses that if she doesn’t care for him every single day, then it would mean that never ever cared for him.
The entire poem has been written in a well-structured manner of 3 paragraphs consisting 11 lines. Each paragraphs portrays a different aspect of Donne’s thoughts regarding his pining for his lover, aiding to a gradual build-up of a climatic ending to the poem. The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme of ABABCDCD.
Donne begins with ‘If yet I have not all thy love, /Dear, I shall never have it all.’ The tone suggests gentleness, but the lover seems to be wanting more from his lady-love – more attention, more love and affection. He is completely awestruck by her and deeply craves for her heart; he ‘cannot breathe one other sigh, to move, /nor can entreat one other tear to fall’ for he has been doing so for a very long time and cannot afford to spend any more of his ‘treasures’ of ‘sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters’. He calls her love for him as a ‘gift’ that is ‘partial’: the irony -usually love towards a lover isn’t supposed to be partial- when he stresses on how her heart might belong to other men as well, not fully his. Donne says ‘Dear, I shall never have thee all’, conveying how he worries about she not being his at all in reality.
In the second stanza Donne questions his lady-love. He wonders that even if she did give him her ‘all’, what if it doesn’t last for a long time? The lines convey a sense of insecurity and jealousy the poet feels when he ponders about other men- just like him- who too would go through pain and try to gain her heart by using their share of ‘sighs, oaths and letters’ that would ‘outbid’ him- he fears of losing her. ‘This new love may beget new fears/ for, this love was not vowed by thee’, he sadly states out of fear and addressing the harsh reality. The last three lines of the paragraph show a more optimistic side of his: ‘And yet it was, thy gift being general’, he thinks about the positives of owning her love. He says ‘The ground, thy heart is mine; whatever shall/ Grow there, dear, I should have it all’: he compares her heart to fields where the seed of his love would grow and whatever she feels would be his too- an example of metaphor.
John Donne wants a totality of love, but he has also reached the limit of his capacity to feel; he wants more to look forward to. The theme of possession and, specifically, commercial transactions underscores the inadequacy the lover feels when he thinks of or discusses the “all” of love that he requires from the lady. In the third stanza, he imagines their growing love as a kind of deposit with interest- he feels the need for her to pay back every single moment he’s spent putting efforts for their relationship with equal amount of love and attention. He could do no more.
‘He that hath all can have no more.’ After deep thought, Donne comes to a very contrasting conclusion: he suggests that if he has earned ‘all’ of her love and has been granted the ownership of her ‘heart’, he wouldn’t have anything more to look forward to as he feels that her love for him isn’t vast or unconditional- it might eventually stop growing.
‘Thou canst not every day give me thy heart/ If thou canst give it, then thou never gav’st it’: he questions that if she didn’t give him her heart before, then what assures the fact that she will give him her heart later on? Through a painful yet gentle tone he says ‘Love’s riddles are, that though thy heart depart…sav’st it’, here Donne expresses that even she might never respond to his feelings or leave him, he would still keep her heart- that he once had for a short while- safe and will always cherish the memories that they had shared before.
Towards the end of the poem, Donne requests his lady-love to join hearts with him and be everything for each other: ‘Than changing hearts, to join them, so we shall/ Be one, and one another’s all.’
Through 3 paragraphs, Donne successfully conveys the pain, efforts and time he had spent to gain his lady-love’s heart. He portrays different the consequences faced while craving for one’s love and attention. Subtly expressing his possessiveness and jealousy, he tells of his true, infinite love that he has for her and how he wishes for her to answer him with same infiniteness.