In Donne’s poetry, individual desire operates on two levels: on one level, it is the desire which is born out of the lower self and seeks gratification in the pleasures of the senses. On another level desire is spiritual and it seeks to transcend the physical. The “country pleasures” which John Donne mentioned in “The Good Morrow” is an example of the physical pleasures which the poet seeks to satisfy in physical activities. However such kinds of pleasures are only mere illusions, that is, “fancies”.
The desire to love is felt like an inner urge in the poet.
It is a spiritual force which transcends the physical to meet at a higher level and brings about a unity of souls. His only desire was to be united with his beloved: “If ever any beauty I did see, Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee”. The strong urge of the desire to love is enacted effectively by the tone of the last two lines in the first stanza of “The Good Morrow”.
The caesuras after “see” in line 6 of the first stanza and in line 7 of the first stanza enacts forcefully the inner urge which the poet feels.
The “desire” starts in a dream to have a “beauty” and that desire is fulfilled majestically. The use of metaphysical conceits dominate the last two stanzas. The lovers see worlds of their own reflected in the pupils of each other. Here we can see that the desire is not sensual pleasure, rather it is the new horizon which love opens to the poet which are of significance.
Hence, the desire is more of a spiritual nature. The emphasis throughout the second and third stanzas is on the soul rather than on the physical. It is the desire of a soul in quest of divine joy.
Harmony and inner tranquillity can only be attained through a union of souls. In “Holy Sonnets I”, the poet’s desire for Divine grace is strongly articulated. “He appeals to God’s mercy to save him before it is too late and he is eternally dead. “1 It is a prayer of a lost soul seeking divine grace to prevent it from damnation in the fire of hell. The poet realises his helplessness in the face of death. Only divine grace can help him to attain salvation. The sincerity of the prayer is evident throughout the sonnet. Man is a born sinner for he has been created weak.
But with the help of the creator, man can strengthen his heart so that he does not fall an easy prey to the art of the arch deceiver who is our eternal “foe” (Ln. 11), that is, Satan. The desires for physical pleasures are but an illusion: “And all my pleasures are like yesterday” (Ln. 4). In this line the poet’s realisation of the fleeting pleasures of this physical world is articulated and at the same time it expresses a sense of regret and despair for having wasted one’s life. The damage is almost irreparable, but reparable by the intervention of the divine grace. Hence the poet’s plea to God to “repair” (Ln.2) him, that is, to repair the damage which the poet has done to himself by committing sins.
The word “repair” is loaded with meaning. “Repair” implies that damages have occurred and the reasons for these damages are sins. Desires can thus lead to sin and the individual is constantly being tempted. It is a test of character which the individual is undergoing in this terrestrial life and without the support of God, the poet will not be able to sustain himself for even one hour. The desire to be forgiven and the desire for divine grace is expressed with a lot of fervour.
In sonnet 5, the poet once again expresses his desire for salvation. The same fervour and zeal is present as in Holy Sonnet I and the poet asks God to endow him with the capacity to weep so that he can drown his sins in tears. The overall desire in this sonnet is the desire for sincere repentance so that the poet can save his soul. There is the realisation that without divine grace, the poet will lose both his lower self as well as his higher self, that is, his soul. In “A hymn to Christ”, the poet’s desire is to be a born Christian again: “… and make me anew”.
The desire to be born again is like another chance to be given to sinners so that they can lead a life in conformity with the teachings of Christ, the saviour of humanity. It is the desire to attain an everlasting life. There is the realisation of lost innocence which the poet talks about in the imagery of a “usurped town” which has been “ravished”. In sonnet 7 Donne realises his need for repentance. He believes that his “sins abound”. The life that he has been living is full of sins. The poets urgent desire to be forgiven by God is expressed as: “Teach me how to repent… “. The poet does not really know how to ask for forgiveness to God.
In a sense he is waiting for divine inspiration to reach him. It is the thought of death that pushes Donne to seek divine forgiveness for all his past sins. By repenting the poet wants to seek “abundance of [God’s] grace”. Donne speaks directly to the “lord”: “but let them sleep, Lord”. “Donne uses a very common religious metaphor in comparing death as a “sleep” before the end of time, when both good and bad people will be “woken up” to meet their eternal fate. Also, in this line, the speaker shifts the object of his apostrophe: he’s now talking to God. “2 “The last two lines introduce an important simile.
Learning how to repent is like having the pardon for your sins sealed in blood. Donne conceives the pardon as an official document, the kind that would normally have a wax seal that serves as a kind of signature. But the simile is more complex than that. The speaker is saying that God really did seal his (the speaker’s) pardon with God’s own blood when He sent Jesus to die for the sins of humanity. The blood on the pardon is a metaphor for Christ’s blood. “3 So Donne’s desire for forgiveness is a means he is seeking to go to heaven. In sonnet 14 the poet desires to start his life afresh.
The metaphor of the “usurped town” is very symbolical in this sense. It is as if the poet’s soul has been captured by the “enemy”, who perhaps, is the Satan. The poet does not feel that is still in his own skin. He thinks himself to be a prisoner of his own soul as someone would be imprisoned in a “usurped town”. Though the sonnet contains many sexual metaphors like “o’erthrow me, and bend / Your force”, “ravish”, and “enthrall”, the sonnet aims also at the new start of a spiritual life. The poet asks God to “make me new”. This is in a sense the inner self calling out to the poet that the way he has been living his life was not appropriate.
He therefore needs spiritual renewal to be able to come closer to God. The metaphor “or break that knot again” is “more as an apology and plea for forgiveness”4 when an individual is forgiven by God he is like a new born child that has never ever committed sins. This is what the poet is seeking in this sonnet- to be as pure once again as a new born child. So, individual desire in Donne’s poetry is more of a spiritual kind. Desire for the poet was not only sensual but rather more associated with God. He is trying in a sense to attain a very high level of spirituality in his life and desires salvation and the eternal bliss, which is paradise.
The spiritual height that the poet wants to attain is due to his realization of his sins he committed all through his life. Now he needs to be cleansed.
Bibliography. John Donne poems: A Good-Morrow. Holy sonnets 1, 5, 7,14. Online resources. http://wednesday1993. wordpress. com/2011/04/17/john-donnes-holy-sonnet-i-the-theology-of-grace/ http://www. shmoop. com/round-earths-imagined-corners-holy-sonnet-7/death-symbol. html http://www. shmoop. com/round-earths-imagined-corners-holy-sonnet-7/repentance-pardon-symbol. html.
http://www. shmoop.com/batter-my-heart-holy-sonnet-14/unhappy-engagement-affair-with-god-symbol. html 1 Quoted online from: http://wednesday1993. wordpress. com/2011/04/17/john-donnes-holy-sonnet-i-the-theology-of-grace/.
2 Quoted online from: 3Quoted online from: http://www. shmoop. com/round-earths-imagined-corners-holy-sonnet-7/repentance-pardon-symbol. html 4Quoted online from: http://www. shmoop. com/batter-my-heart-holy-sonnet-14/unhappy-engagement-affair-with-god-symbol. html.