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Published: 30-11-2019

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The Canonization: an Analysis of Structure and Symbolism

The poem ‘Canonization’ by John Donne, with its witty analogies and inventive use of conceits, exemplifies metaphysical poetry. The poem begins abruptly in common Donne style. The speaker is addressing somebody who appears to disapprove of his love. He asks the addressee to hold quiet or chide him for his other shortcomings like his palsy, gout, greying hair or his ruined fortune. Then he talks about factors the society deems crucial and tells the addressee to work on getting them rather of criticizing the speaker. The addressee is asked to work on improving is own state or mind by wealth or arts to take a course or enter a profession or to preoccupy himself with gaining favour with the nobility or chasing income. It is implied that these issues hold no worth for the speaker and that there is something inherently wrong with the society which encourages greed, sycophancy and cupidity but faults him for his really like.

In the second stanza, the poet parodies modern Petrarchan notions of enjoy and places them in stark contrast with the ugly realities of the planet. He asks rhetorically, “who’s injured by my adore?” The torments of love seasoned by the speaker, his sighs, tears, colds and passion, do not harm any individual else. The innocence of his enjoy is then played off against the misery, exploitation and suffering prevalent in the actual planet. His sighs do not sink ships, nor do his tears flood lands. The approaching spring is not chilled by his colds and the heat in his veins is not the trigger of plague. The true tragedies in this globe, the wars and the quarrelling males, are not affected by his enjoy at all. The stanza ends with the mention of the speaker’s lover who for the very first time becomes an active participant in what till now was only described by the speaker as “my love”.

The third stanza is filled with metaphors which bring into light the saintly nature of the lovers. The poet says that the lovers do not care about the censure of the society simply because their adore has made them what they are. The society may possibly evaluate them to insignificant flies/moths, but even such a comparison brings into light their saintly nature since like moths they too are ready to sacrifice themselves at the flame (of really like). The lovers are then compared to a candle that dies at its personal expense. Similarly, the lovers are consumed by their own passion. Standard symbols “eagle and the dove” denoting the male strength and female gentleness are then utilised to clarify how opposing forces are brought collectively inside them. The speaker then compares himself and his beloved to a phoenix, which also has a religious significance with regards to the resurrection awaiting the lovers. The two lovers become a single to rise above their sexuality and give credibility to the legend of the phoenix. Soon after getting consumed by their passion they are reborn from the ashes of their enjoy. The word “die” is utilised as a play on the popular renaissance pun meaning orgasm. Hence, by living beyond their personal ‘death’ they execute a miracle which can be taken as a sign of sanctification. The sexual act is presented as a sacrament, celebrated by two saints (the lovers), in worship of their religion (enjoy). This application of sexual pictures in a religious context is virtually blasphemous.

In the third stanza, the poet steadily moves away the ironic, witty banter and acquires a severe tone. The tenderness and seriousness continues in the fourth stanza. The speaker says that the lovers are ready to die for their really like. Following their death, even if their legend is not match for tombs and hearse, it will be fit for poetry. The lovers have no need to be remembered in chronicles but will “build in sonnets pretty rooms”. This metaphor is even more acceptable simply because the Italian word for ‘room’ is ‘stanza’.

The lovers are then compared to the “greatest ashes” whose virtue remains unchanged no matter whether they are kept in “well-wrought urns”(pretty sonnets) or “half acre tombs”(chronicles). These hymns written as a tribute to their adore will lead to their canonization and other lovers will invoke the speaker and his beloved.

Their quintessential love is further explored in the final stanza. Their enjoy has created them one another’s hermitage. In becoming hermits, they do not give up the world but “drive” into each and every other’s eyes the soul of the whole globe with its nations, towns and courts. Thereby they made mirrors or spyglasses via which the complete planet can be viewed. The other lovers will then pray for the pattern of the speaker’s love, so that they might model their own adore following it.
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