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John Donne

(24 January 1572 - 31 March 1631 / London, England)

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Air And Angels


Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be;
Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
More subtle than the parent is,
Love must not be, but take a body too;
And therefore what thou wert, and who,
I bid love ask, and now
That it assume thy body I allow,
And fix itself to thy lip, eye, and brow.

Whilst thus to ballast love I thought,
And so more steadily to have gone,
With wares which would sink admiration,
I saw I had love's pinnace overfraught
Every thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;
For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere.
Then as an angel, face and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure doth wear,
So thy love may be my love's sphere.
Just such disparity
As is 'twixt air and angel's purity,
'Twixt women's love and men's will ever be.

Submitted: Friday, January 03, 2003

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  • Rookie - 919 Points Gulsher John (6/3/2014 6:23:00 AM)

    Everybody knows Donn writes best.... but how he did it...how he tailored his conciets?
    plz explore his 'ART' (prosody) and then comment.
    simply adjectives is no appreciation. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 416 Points Shahzia Batool (6/3/2014 12:46:00 AM)

    thanks pH for sharing a brilliant blend of passion and intellect again for the readers/students... (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 416 Points Shahzia Batool (6/3/2013 6:05:00 AM)

    Sublimity of love is blended with purity...
    Donne knows what to say and how...
    the reference to ballast love is brilliant! ! ! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (6/3/2010 6:03:00 AM)

    When he meets his love she is the “lovely glorious nothing” that he had worshipped before he met her. But he wants this “nothing” to have flesh, for he feels safer in love when fleshly love “ballasts” that of the soul’s. He then finds that the fleshly attractions of love threaten to destroy his original vision of love, and asks that his lover control his requirement for fleshly love - for women are always of a more heavenly substance than men. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 294 Points Ramesh T A (6/3/2010 2:41:00 AM)

    Intellectually and poetically a beautiful poem about pure love is very interesting and thought provoking with full of meaning to read and cherish! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Pruchnicki (6/3/2009 12:23:00 PM)

    Donne was a metaphysical poet who wrote poetry that combined the profane and the sacred. 'Air And Angels' has intellectual substance as well as metrical beauty which makes for good reading, as well as emotional satisfaction. A 'floating cloud in nature' does not come near the content of the poem.

    Read the poem aloud once or twice, and you might notice the distinctly modern sound inherent in the language itself. Remember that Donne wrote both erotic verse and religious verse, twin preoccupations of modern writers from Eliot to Stevens! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Pruchnicki (6/3/2008 1:33:00 PM)

    A perfect title 'Air and Angels' for a major concern of the 17th century English metaphysical poet John Donne whose poems have been divided into early ironic love poetry and later religious poetry-the profane and the sacred, one might say. The poet used the language of both science and everyday life in powerful and intellectual ways to express his ideas using striking and original imagery.

    Love is both spiritual and physical, he asserts in the first 14 lines which constitute in effect an irregular Italian sonnet rhyming ABBA BCDE DECF CFFF. The argument is complicated but amounts to the poet's assertion that mortal love is partly of the angelic realms but is substantially physical and earthly, as he sees in the visage of his beloved.

    The next 14 lines launches into an extended metaphor wherein he uses the imagery of shipping goods by sea. He has overloaded 'love's pinnace', a small sailing vessel, with 'wares', the language of literary love, with weight that would sink his message, the ship and its cargo. He must rework his words of love into even smaller things, yet there is an almost contradictory force at work. Donne is skeptical of women's love which he considers to be insubstantial, like the air which takes no form, while men like the speaker in the poem (perhaps Donne himself) operate with an'angel's purity', which points up the fickleness, the inconstancy of women in love. Remember that this is an attitude popular with poets who wrote about romantic love in Donne's day, but with his emphasis on the complex nature of love becomes almost modern in its ironic stance!

    Poetry of men, I say, since I never read a poem written by an angel! (Report) Reply

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