john Donne's Love's Growth-Eng Lit

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Report Thread starter 16 years ago
I just need some generalised comments on John Donne's Love's Growth that might impress (like what is his argument). And the rhyme scheme would be really helpfull. i only have to talk for a few min so don't need too much detail.

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Report 16 years ago
I wish we were studying Donne for English Lit. - we seem to have landed a rather duff group of texts, and one teacher who can sap the life from anything... Anyway...

my edition splits the poem into two 14-line stanzas, though some break it into 6-8-6-8 (as the argument is divided in this manner). The rhyme scheme is ABABCCDEEDFFGG; note that a couplet comes at the end of each section, adding a sense of conclusion to that part of the argument. The second and third lines of each stanza are trimeter (6 syllables), whereas the rest is loosely iambic (ten syllables) - Donne is not strict in his scansion, but uses more natural speech rhythms, thus allowing varying line lengths. The two trimeters seem to add variation, and an element of heightened rhythm at the start of each major section.

The poem discusses how love is not simply an "abstract" idea, but also has physical manifestations, and is composed of a variety of elements (hence it is not "pure"). Connected to this is the idea that if love were entirely 'abstract', then it would not be changeable; instead, Donne's love is able to grow. There are some archaic concepts that might have to be explained in order to understand the conceits (I am thankful for the notes in the Penguin edition for explaining these) - here's a brief analysis, splitting the poem up:

I scarce believe my love to be so pure
* * * * * * * * As I had thought it was,
* * * * * * * * Because it doth endure
Vicissitude, and season, as the grass ;
Methinks I lied all winter, when I swore
My love was infinite, if spring make it more.

l.1-4: The speaker initially thought his love was "pure" / abstract, but because he has observed how it has changed ("[endured] / Vicissitude and season"), he now doubts this.
l.6-7: Spring has added to his love, it has grown, thus to have once said it was infinite was a falsity.

This first part introduces then idea that love is changeable.

But if this medicine, love, which cures all sorrow
* * With more, not only be no quintessence,
* * But mix'd of all stuffs, vexing soul, or sense,
And of the sun his active vigour borrow,
Love’s not so pure, and abstract as they use
To say, which have no mistress but their Muse ;
But as all else, being elemented too,
Love sometimes would contemplate, sometimes do.

l.1-6: "Cures all sorrow with more" refers to the belief that diseases could be cured by applying a medicine that was like them [i.e. love cures sorrow by bringing sorrow - a delightful paradox, and reflective of the changing nature of love]. If love is not pure (is no "quintessence", the pure essence of anything), but instead composed of elements that appeal both to the intellect ("vexing soul") and the body ("vexing… sense"), it is not "abstract" in the manner that poets ("they… which have no mistress but their Muse") say it is.
l.7-8: love is composed of various 'elements', some of which are intellectual ("would contemplate") - i.e. emotions, desires, etc... - and others are physical ("sometimes do"), i.e. lots of sex (+ appreciation of physical beauty, etc...).

This second part introduces the idea that love is composed of various elements.

And yet no greater, but more eminent,
* * * * * * * * Love by the spring is grown ;
* * * * * * * * As in the firmament
Stars by the sun are not enlarged, but shown,
Gentle love deeds, as blossoms on a bough,
From love's awakened root do bud out now.
l.1-2: The change of love is not such that its 'size' has increased, but rather, the speaker's understanding has. He has become more aware of the depth of his feeling because of love's physical manifestations.
l.3-4: These manifestations are likened to the belief that the sun gave light to the other heavenly bodies (it doesn't make them bigger, but it does make them visible). Thus, by enjoying the, er, physical aspects of love (and physical sensations of spring, etc...), the speaker has become more aware/"awakened". This is then compared to a 'blossoming'. Hence, it could be seen as a "growth", but one of understanding, through revelation - an increase in depth...

The third part unites the first two: the 'elemented' nature of love (physical/emotional) can lead to its variable nature.

If, as in water stirr'd more circles be
* * Produced by one, love such additions take,
* * Those like so many spheres but one heaven make,
For they are all concentric unto thee ;
And though each spring do add to love new heat,
As princes do in times of action get
New taxes, and remit them not in peace,
No winter shall abate this spring’s increase.
l.1-4: Summary of theme of 'elemented' love; it is compared to the ripples on the surface of water, or the various celestial bodies. Although these are numerous, they are all connected ("concentric unto thee"), all different aspects of the love for one thing. There's also the double meaning of "heaven", paying a compliment to his mistress... (aww!)
l.6-8: Summary of theme of 'growth': the increase in love that comes with the spring will not be taken away (just like raised taxes)... Indeed, it is implied that the various new aspects of love that will come with winter will add to an increased understanding further still.

I do hope that sorts you out... I've found this most therapeutic, writing on some literature that I actually enjoy. You might want to read Eliot's essay 'The Metaphysical Poets' for some more ideas on Donne, + his interpretation of 'dissociated' imagery (applicable to all the poetry you read):

And now, time for beer!
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Report Thread starter 16 years ago
That was amazingly helpful thank you- I didn't expect so much.

Cheers you really helped me out!

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