The Anniversarie

The royalty of love

Charles I and Henrietta MariaMost of us use anniversaries to celebrate. This poem, too, is a celebratory one, on the completion of the first year of a relationship. It would be most obvious to think of Donne's marriage, which was deep if costly. The celebratory language is in terms of the royalty of love. In a way, this is an extension of the theme of the microcosm of the lovers' world, boldly proclaimed in The Sunne Rising. If the lovers' world consists of only two inhabitants, then they are both royalty, the King and Queen of their own little universe.

Investigating The Anniversarie
  • Pick out the words that suggest royalty in The Anniversarie
  • How does Donne compare the lovers' royalty with that of ordinary kings?

Love's timelessness

The other thing that anniversaries make us think of is the passing of time. Love and time were typically seen as enemies in Elizabethan poetry. There was a great fear of ‘mutability', of the temporariness of things – and the word ‘temporary' comes from the Latin word ‘tempus', which means ‘time'. Donne boldly defies this: their love is outside time. It has a timeless quality, unlike everything else from kings to the sun itself. ‘Only our love hath no decay' is a typical Donne statement, drawing attention to the uniqueness of his experience of love. So, like heavenly time (cf. Hebrews 13:8), it has no yesterday or tomorrow; it is eternally present.

Death the leveller

However, death is a reality, and Donne does not flinch from thinking about it, since love and death might be seen as even greater enemies. However, for him, death is a leveller, though not so much in the conventional sense of everyone being brought down to the grave. In stanza two he acknowledges this in passing, but goes on to stress the opposite: everyone being ‘throughly blest' (l.21) by entering heavenly life. Their souls will have been liberated from their bodies. The image of the body as the soul's grave (1.20) is more Platonic than Christian, it should be noted.

The second of our raigne

Death, therefore, does not threaten, but it is nothing to be celebrated, since in heaven their love will not be unique. So, at the end of the poem, he turns back to the unique present: let us live nobly, with no fear or jealousy, for the next sixty years. The final clause; ‘this is the second of our raigne' returns us confidently to the here and now.

Investigating The Anniversarie
  • What gives the sense of confidence to The Anniversarie?
  • Compare this to The Sunne Rising
    • What is similar?
    • What are the essential differences?

(see Themes and significant ideas > The Transience of Life).

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