The Canonization by John Donne

The Canonization by John Donne

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Love is true and pure, a divine experience, a way to live more and to surpass even death. It is a sublime fantasy that is real and better than the material world. Love is life’s paradox. This is the idea that John Donne is expressing in the poem The Canonization. It is a reply as well as a declaration that the poet makes to the world- a world that treats lovers harshly. He scorns the worldly, he questions the inquisitive, he proves the myths true, he places his love high and announces it as canonized.

The sudden change in his tone doesn’t bother if one recognizes the powerful and apt imagery he has used in the poem. The very first line ‘For God’s sake, hold your tongue, and let me love’ hits hard but certainly without any pain. In fact, it catches the interest of the reader at once. The poem is like a necklace, beaded with beautiful and grand images like, ‘What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?’, ‘And we in us find the eagle and the dove’, ‘The phoenix riddle hath more wit’, ‘The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs’, etc. These are not empty expressions as every word in the poem is linked with the central theme – love.

If we randomly pick one word from each stanza it will still prove to be in deep relation with the poem. For example, ‘improve’ (stanza 1) – one who is in love grows as an individual and improves by learning to be selfless; ‘remove’ (stanza 2) – when in love you can’t dwell on hatred, and so the negativity is removed to let the hopefulness enter in you; ‘Mysterious’ (stanza 3) – love is an easy mystery; ‘legend’ (stanza 4) – we all remember love stories as legends, sadly these are mostly incomplete ones; ‘mirrors’ (stanza 5) – love is as reflective as a mirror, etc.

Love is closely related to asceticism in the poem, which is one of the conceits used by the poet. He proves it with great subtlety that the lovers need nothing from the world; they complete each other and hence find peace in each other. The poet says that the lovers rise to such a level that they become one and enter a divine world, thus leaving the material world behind. They then dwell in each other’s simple presence. In the last stanza, after canonizing himself and his lover, the poet says that his pious canonized love would be celebrated in the world by one and all. He ends by completing the canonization of his love, placing it on a high pedestal and separating it from the worldly pleasures.

Canonization, the title of the poem, seems to be a question and an answer at the same time. As one wonders of how love can be canonized and attain sainthood while slowly the divine nature of poet’s love presented in the poem justifies its name. The poet shows that his love is spiritual not merely physical, that the union of his lover with him has made them blissful and assures that it will radiate among the others. His canonized love is not against the world rather it is for the world, acting as an inspiration. His love is not harming anyone but is a liberating force, just like a saint.

John Donne’s The Canonization is a smart poem with brilliant use of wit – greatest sign of a metaphysical poet. He celebrates love, taking it to a level of serenity and this makes it wondrously alive in today’s world also. One who doesn’t understand conceits, metaphors or the imagery that Donne has used would call him a very straightforward poet or maybe a 21st century poet. Because that is how frank the poem appears at some points, for example – ‘For God’s sake, hold your tongue, and let me love’ (Stanza 1), ‘Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?’ (Stanza 2); such lines can be a hit among the modern lovers also. But there is a message hidden in this poem and the title canonization is the key to unveil it. Donne wants to share that every one of us, whatever be our rank in the society that runs according to the man-made rules, has the ability to reach the divine state.

Sainthood for him is not reserved for some rather it is achievable by all. What we need is to rise above the material world, to resurrect ourselves through true love. Here the beloved represents anything- a person, God, nature, the entire world etc. Love is the best way to reach the sublime state as it is love that makes a person selfless and passionate towards the beloved. And will it not be magnificent if we all pursue this path rather than the one based on materialism, if we all become selfless and passionate, ultimately getting canonized? If not developed (materially), the world would definitely become a happier place.

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