Commentary on The Extasie

The argument of the poem

The argument of the poem falls into three sections:

  • The physical signs of the lovers' ecstacy (ll.1-20)
  • Its philosophical meaning (ll.21-48)
  • An invitation to return to the body: the need for incarnation (ll.49-76)

Lines 1-20

The lovers have reached a state where they feel their souls have, as it were, left their bodies:

  • ‘our soules....hung 'twixt her and mee'
  • while their bodies ‘like sepulchrall statues lay'.

There was a union, but it was a soul-union, not physical union, apart from

  • ‘Our hands were firmly cimented'
  • and ‘did thred/ Our eyes, upon one double string.'

Their only ‘propagation' was seeing each reflected in the other's eyes.

Lines 21-48

Donne imagines what some bystander would make of them. Certainly it would be a purifying experience for such a person. And for them, too, it has answered some questions about love and sex. In the first place, the ecstasy has been a union of souls, not of bodies.

Like a transplant

It is like transplanting. Donne was writing before organ transplants were even dreamed of, but plants were regularly transplanted to get better and better plants. The net result of their two souls being transplanted into one another is a single new soul which ‘Defects of lonelinesse controules'. It is fulfilled, where ‘no change can invade'.

Lines 49-76

So how are they to understand their bodies and physical sexuality?

  • Firstly, we cannot be defined by our bodies: ‘They are ours, though they are not wee'.
  • Yet we must be thankful to them. Donne refuses to belittle the part our bodies play.
  • There always has to be an incarnation.

More on Incarnation?

Souls cannot exist without bodies:

Soe soule into the soule may flow,
Though it to body first repaire


  • The body consists of ‘affections' and ‘faculties', emotions and senses, and this is the only way for even ‘pure lovers soules' to manifest themelves,
Else a great Prince in prison lies

he simply says.

  • So there is an ‘invitation to sex' at the end, but it is almost for the benefit of others, not themselves. It is to be a revelation:
Weake men on love reveal'd may looke

like writing invisible thoughts down into a material and visible book. For the lovers themselves, it really will not make much difference ‘when we'are to bodies gone'.

Investigating The Extasie
  • Look at lines 49-76 The Extasie
    • Why won't it make much difference when they are ‘to bodies gone'?
    • Why is Donne so aware of ‘other people' and what they will think, in these concluding lines?
      • He isn't usually, is he?
    • Compare these ‘Weake men' to the ‘dull sublunary lovers' of A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.
      • How does Donne set up a them/us division?
  • Compare Donne's philosophy of love and sex with other approaches current today
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