Metaphysical poets, selected poems Contents
- Donne, John
- John Donne's early life
- John Donne - from Catholic to Protestant
- John Donne's marriage and its aftermath
- John Donne - The Reverend Dean
- Herbert, George
- Crashaw, Richard
- Vaughan, Henry
- Marvell, Andrew
- King, Henry
- Lovelace, Richard
- Cowley, Abraham
- Philips, Katherine
- Cleveland, John
- Social / political context
- Religious / philosophical context
- Literary context: ideas and innovations
- Aire and Angels
- A Hymn to God the Father
- A Hymn to God, my God, in my Sicknesse
- A Nocturnall upon St. Lucies day
- At the Round Earth's Imagin'd Corners
- A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Synopsis of Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Commentary on Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Themes in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Imagery and symbolism in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Language and tone in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- Structure and versification in Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
- A Valediction: of Weeping
- Batter my heart
- Death be not Proud
- Elegie XIX: Going to Bed
- Elegie XVI: On his Mistris
- Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward
- Lovers' Infiniteness
- Oh my blacke Soule!
- Satyre III: 'On Religion'
- Show me Deare Christ
- Since She Whom I Lov'd
- Song: Goe, and catche a falling starre
- The Anniversarie
- The Dreame
- The Extasie
- The Flea
- The Good-morrow
- The Sunne Rising
- This is my playes last scene
- Twicknam Garden
- What if this present
- Affliction I
- Easter Wings
- Jordan I
- Jordan II
- Love II
- Prayer I
- The Church-floore
- The Collar
- Hymn in Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament
- Hymn to St Teresa
- St Mary Magdalene, or the Weeper
- To the Countesse of Denbigh
- Ascension - Hymn
- The Night
- The Retreate
- The Water-fall
- A Dialogue between Soul and Body
- On a Drop of Dew
- The Coronet
- The Definition of Love
- The Garden
- The Mower Against Gardens
- The Mower to the Glo-Worms
- The Mower's Song
- The Nymph Complaining for the Death of her Faun
- The Picture of Little T.C. in a Prospect of Flowers
- To his Coy Mistress
- Upon Appleton House, to my Lord Fairfax
Aire and Angels
John Donne : Aire and Angels
This is a demanding poem, which discusses various theories about love. However, it is very clever and well worth the effort. There are two main difficulties:
More on incarnation: see The Extasie
Donne draws on the idea that there is an inequality between men's and women's love. This discussion has been going on for centuries, but until the last two centuries, women's voices were virtually never heard. That meant that male opinions predominated and male love was often presented as superior. Today this may sound very sexist. However, we need to look carefully at what Donne is actually saying here.
Love and angels
The main analogy in this poem is between masculine love and angels. Nowadays angels are often seen as feminine but traditionally they have tended to be viewed as masculine. In Donne's day it was believed that angels needed some medium through which to manifest themselves to humans. That medium was the element of air, which was regarded as the purest of the four elements (the others being earth, water and fire), though Donne's references to ‘a voice' and ‘a shapelesse flame' suggest other ways for angels to make themselves known.
Donne's argument is that love also needs an incarnation in which to manifest itself, just as does the soul (l.7). Otherwise, it remains invisible: ‘Some lovely glorious nothing I did see' - an unusual oxymoron. So his first attempt to find a suitable manifestation was the woman's body. She, as a physical being, must be the outward expression of his love. This suggests typical Elizabethan love poetry, in which every detail of the lady's body is listed as an object for admiration: ‘thy lip, eye, brow'.
However this proves inadequate so he switches his analogy to a ship: ‘love's pinnace'. His approach has loaded so much on to the woman's body (ship), that it has capsized. The medium of incarnation must have been wrong. What, then, is the right medium?
The answer is the woman's love itself. Just as air is not as pure as the angel it manifests, neither is the woman's love as pure as his, but it is the only way for it to show itself. This can, of course, be interpreted in several different ways – and Donne enjoys this ambiguous, paradoxical, possibly teasing, kind of ending. Is the poem, then, a put-down for women? Or does it mean that love simply cannot exist materially unless both a man and a woman are fully in love with each other i.e. a complete manifestation? Or that without a woman's love, a man's love is just an idea?
- How do you read Aire and Angels?
- Is it a sexist statement about men's love?
- Or is it a statement about the need for mutuality?
- Can you define what, for Donne, is the experience of being in love?
- How does the poem make you think about:
- What sexual love is?
- How we express that love in language?
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