The Anniversary by John Donne | Analysis

The Anniversary by John Donne | Analysis

The Anniversary Analysis

The Anniversary is a popular and successful poem from Donne. It is his characteristic love-lyric, and illustrates his singularity as a metaphysical love-poet.

The theme of the poem is nothing new, for love has been well celebrated in different poems. The lover speaks of the intensity of love that animates his ladylove and himself. The occasion is the anniversary of their love. This is the second of their ‘raigne’ (i. e., love-making).

Donne, however, passes to the timelessness of the world of love. The theme takes here a turn and makes a syllologistic speculation of the perpetuality of love. Love, of course, takes place in a world, ruled by the canon of time. The very anniversary of love is an admission of this very hard fact. One year has passed since the first meeting of the lovers and all things, including the sun itself, have grown older by a year. This is a plain truth, admitted by the poet, and testifies to his intellectual approach.

Donne’s intellectualism, however, goes to trace the timelessness of love, set against the world of time, where all things are subjected to decay and destruction. Time causes decay to all things-“All other things, to their destruction draw”. But love cares for no effect of time. The lovers have no thought of yesterday or tomorrow, but live in the present-in the present enjoyment of their love. The poet, therefore, draws his straightforward contention

“Only our love hath no decay:

This, no to morrow hath, nor yesterday……….”

This is drawn syllogistically, and shows the sharpness of Donne’s intellectualism.

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Donne’s splendid affirmation of the immortality of love, is made in the context of fleeting time, but this does not run into impulsiveness. The poet remains conscious of the hard truth of death. The eternity of true love does not preclude the mortality of lovers, living in a mortal world. The lovers must part in death and ‘two graves’ ‘must hide, their corse.’ Donne is governed by the logic of human reality, and so admits-

“Must leave at last in death, these eyes, and eares,

Oft fed with true oathes, and with sweet salt teares.”

But the poet has faith in the spiritual existence of the soul after the physical end of the body. Donne’s tone is inspired, and he has spiritual revelation of the release of the soul from the prison of the body-

“When bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove.”

There is a transition from the realization of earthly limitations to the visualization of spiritual blessings after death.

The philosophic aspect of the poem takes here from a distinct form. But the soul’s immensity after earthly death does not constitute the finality of Donne’s philosophic view. The singularity of Donne’s poetic philosophy is struck here. The blessing of heaven will unite the souls of the lovers, but this is nothing uncommon. The lovers will be blest, no doubt, but so will be others-

“And then we shall be thoroughly blest,

But wee no more than all the rest.”

Donne once again turns back to earth and earthly inclinations. The lovers’ souls will, no doubt, be united in heaven in eternal blessing, but they will lose the unique, distinctive nature of their love that they yet possess and enjoy on earth. He does no more dispute the decay, caused by fleeting time. He concedes that perfect love is not immortal, but subjected to the rule of times. He concludes, with his inspired evocation of true love.

“Who is so safe as we? where none can doe

Treason to us, except one of us two.”

Poetry is well described as a criticism of life. This means the interpretative aspect of poetry to evaluate ‘what life is as compared to what it ought to have been. Donne’s criticism of life has no conventional approach, but a clear and positive enunciation of the moral of true love-

“True and false feares let us refraine,

Let us love nobly, and live, and adde againe

 Yeares and yeares unto yeares, till we attaine

To write threescore: this is the second of our raigne.”

It is the conquest of fears-the fear of faithlessness and the fear of death-that makes the lovers truly happy and blessed and hopeful of the regular celebration of the anniversary of their love till they ‘attain threescore’. Donne’s treatment of love is here idealistic and well exhibits the immense variety of his love-theme.

Lastly, there is Donne’s poetical technique in the poem. This is typically original and metaphysical. The Anniversary is, as noted already, a metaphysical lyric, in which intellect and impulse, wit and passion, thought and music, are perfectly balanced. The poet’s images are precise and there is utmost economy in description here, as in typical metaphysical poetry. A single line is well employed to mark the death of the lovers-

“Two graves must hide thine and my coarse.”

The lover’s eyes and ears are described equally briefly and clearly

“……….these eyes, and eares.

Oft fed with ture oathes, and with sweet salt teares.”

The conceit of Kings’ is well conceived to emphasize the monarchy of love.

Donne’s versification bears out here a good deal of variety. The poem has the characteristic metaphysical slow, steady beats of verse, as seen in the first five lines of the first stanza. But the next five lines of the stanza have a swift lyrical march. Intellect and impulse are combined even in the very pattern of versification. The second stanza has a slow, restraint movement of verses in the first six lines. But the pace is rapid in the last four lines of the stanza. Similarly there is a transition from the slow beat of the first six lines to the quick march of the next four lines in the last stanza. There is also variety in the metrical structure with Iambic pentameter, tetrameter and hexameter arranged together quite symmetrically. All this is illustrative of Donne’s command over the art of versification-

And then | we shall |be through | ly blést,

But wée | no more, | then all | the rest.

Hére up | on earth | we are kings | and none |  but wée

Can be | such Kings | nor of | such súbjects bee…

To write | three score | this is | the second of | our ráigne

Iambic tetramete, pentameter and hexameter are all perfectly used and blended.

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