The Metaphysical Realm

An analysis of 17th century poet John Donne’s “The Ecstasy.”

Paul Tyndall, Staff Writer

John Donne (1572-1631) is a character whose lack of investment given is mitigated only through his celestial identity. His poetry is beaten, modest, odious, and utterly human. It is the very tempo of natural poetic form. His contemporary, William Shakespeare, created a comprehension of human interest that exudes thousands of different possible interpretations, yet traces back to the organic festering of one major emotion in him.

The Shakespeare enthusiast’s vice happens to be not in a lack of recognizing the genius but in the intended separation between poem and poet. It is impossible to incite conflict against how the Bard’s sonnets were published, that being of course without the author’s permission in 1609. Digested into some order, these sonnets are personally wrought with innuendo and frustration, so much to the point where certain individuals grasp too freely on who is being talked about rather than what is. This breeds ignorance in Shakespeare himself. Instead of his literature being devoured, it becomes lost in Prospero’s masque, shielded from obscurity.

Looking through the lens of a scholar, Donne is unable to suffer from the plight indicative of Shakespeare. He forges his feelings into something completely generalized, giving it a pretension for the reader. Metaphysical intention comforting human desire is often the centerpiece of his love sonnets and songs. While Donne’s life can be indicated in his poems, no sacrifice forsakes his intention of form or alters the congruency of the works. 

Definitely, Donne’s best metaphysical poem is “The Ecstasy,” although I would neither proclaim nor deny its connecting quality with the reader. Yet what cannot be mistaken is the unrepentant passion of mind and body betwixt lover and loved signifying form in all sense.  The pastoral setting is established in the opening lines: 


Where like a pillow on a bed,

A pregnant bank swelled up, to rest 

The violet’s reclining head,

Sat we two, one another’s best.


A decisive reader can determine the poet is already out of consciousness through his ability to identify his lover. The word “breast” is swapped with “best”1 to identify the humble meaning or help build a complacent outlook between the violet (humble, well-meaning) with the two lovers (our situation becomes more humble and well-meaning as we spend it as one). It then becomes increasingly evident the violet is itself the epithet for the mood each lover happens to be in. Donne’s tone in the opening lines indeed educates the temper of the poem amused by the earthliness he places his two lovers in. It continues: 


Our hands were firmly cemented together 

With a fast balm, which thence did spring,

Our eyes beams twisted, and did thread

Our eyes, upon one double string;


So to t’intergraft our hands, as yet 

Were all our means to make us one,

And pictures in our eyes to get 

Was all our propagation.


As ‘Twixt two equal armies, Fate 

Suspends uncertain victory,

Our souls, (Which to advance their state, 

Were gone out), hung twixt her, and me. 


And whilst our souls negotiate there,

We like sepulchral statues lay;

All day, the same postures were,

And we said nothing all day.


These stanzas figure into the supernatural and literal all too phenomenally. While this undertone sounds, another consecutive arrival begins fluttering, that of a definition between the unlimited congregation taking place inside both partners. Donne writes, “Our eyes, upon one double string.” The reminiscence achieves two functions. It establishes the change in narration from one wholly cognizant narrator into two wholly aware protagonists. Simultaneously, it proportions an acute self only on the two narrators’ unconscious physical bodies.2

The second stanza recalls their relative being, the intimidation produced through these lines is only eased by the sounding of “our propagation.”3 Where, O where are these desolate souls going, who fail to see their one deliverance is inside both conscious selves, too introspective to see the answer lies not in “two equal armies” suspending “uncertain victory…hung twixt her, and me.” The harmony and tumult happen to be never-ending, enclosing a unison inside both lovers. 


If any, so by love refined,

That he soul’s language understood,

And by good love were grown all mind,

Within convenient stood,


He (though he knew not which soul spoke

Because both meant, both spake the same)

Might thence a new concoction take, 

And part for the purer than he came.


This ecstasy doth unperplex 

(we said) and tell us what we love,

We see by this, it was not sex,

We see, we saw not what did move


Acceleration towards a new purity and perfection begins to take effect in the opening. Donne proses, “Both spake the same.” Identity in the middle of these two lovers again loses itself in the mind and only can be recovered when “a new concoction” is introduced as a spherical soul. “This ecstasy doth unperplex” as they believe ecstasy to be the arbitrary beginning to enlightenment.


On man heaven’s influence work not so, 

But that it first imprints the air,

So soul into soul may flow,

Though it to body first repair.


As our blood labours to beget 

Spirits, as like souls as it can,

Because such fingers need knit

That subtle knot, which makes us man:


So must pure lover’s souls descend 

T’affections, and to faculties, 

Which sense may reach and apprehend 

Else a great prince in prison lies. 


To our bodies turn we then, that so 

Weak men on love revealed may look;

Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,

But yet the body in his book.


The particular usage of sentiment approbates the fluency in motion happening to the souls. Further, in accordance for divinity to be reached by the lovers, their bodies must “first repair.”4 Turning a phrase such as this does not instigate the less pure medium, forgetting physical conformity is not always destined to conscious apparitions but instead is maintained on physiologic influence for a breakthrough.5 Heavenly doctrine can only be premeditated based on a worldly idea of what’s happening.

A great distinction, though not necessarily explicit, between Donne and the less tactful poet, becomes unwarranted in articles of expression. What can Donne say of religion without insult reaching downward from his head into his wrist?6 Donne (only exerting his biases once), performs passive feeling in “[t]hat subtle knot, which makes us man.” Geoffrey Chaucer (Canterbury Tales) also sounds in the restatement of the point “subtle knittings” for “conjunctions of God and Man.” The basic idea becomes the lovers don’t understand the workings of their relationship with each other; however, they are succumbing to that feeling of spiritual love, which spirals itself in the setting of the unknown. To fall from such ecstasy could be seen as a prince locked away from his subjects. 


Love’s mysteries in souls do grow, 

But yet the body is his book.

 And if some lover, such as we, 

Have heard this dialogue of one, 

Let him mark us, he shall see

Small changes, when we’re to bodies gone.


While our poet-lovers finally realize the implications of the body, they cannot separate themselves from the ecstatic moment in time they have experienced; thus, it still lasts when returning to both the metaphysical and to reality. Donne never coaxes inertia — he rides on the diseases innate to the soul, adding humanity with every verse.




1 The two words sound similar, indicating the lovers are close to one another. 


2The two lovers are wholly aware of one another, but the external world gains little self-awareness in Donne’s poem as it proceeds. The focus grows deeper onto each lover’s unconscious soul.


3 Reproduction of the selves through the spirit dissuades the fear of losing each other when their ecstatic love vanishes. 


 4Donne’s sentiment contains the physical partaking of one union in the spiritual, so they may ready themselves into a more divine understanding as they return to reality. 


5Creating a divine experience does not negate the influence of the body (“less pure medium”);  anatomies (in Donne’s view) are used to propel this psychological awakening.


6Donne manages to touch upon unwarranted religious context without dancing with sensitivity.