The Anniversary as a Metaphysical Love Poem
Donne’s eminence lies in English poetry as the promoter of metaphysical poetry. He is found to represent all the characteristic features of this kind of poetry. Precision, intellectualism, technical novelty and the very rhythmic verse-pattern in his poetry bear out his genius and celebrity as a metaphysical poet.
Donne’s range of poetry is quite wide, and includes both secular and religious verses, both love-lyrics and holy sonnets. Of course, Donne’s love-lyrics are particularly popular and of his love-lyrics The Anniversary is a conspicuous specimen. It sums up perfectly what constitutes the essence of Donne’s metaphysical poetic art.
The theme of Donne’s The Anniversary is all about love. The poet idealizes here steady, devoted love. It is the joy of steady complacent love. The indestructibility of true love is unequivocally emphasized here in this mortal world- “Only our love hath no decay.” Of course, the poet admits the power of death to bring the lovers to dust, but asserts that their souls live, communicate and keep them one in the tie of devoted love. The theme of the poem is the simple assertion that true love lives above all earthly fears and apprehensions and continues for a long span of time, without any break or jolt.
The Anniversary is a typical metaphysical love-poem. The metaphysical treatment of love is different from what is found in conventional, romantic Elizabethan lyrics. The approach here is intellectual, not emotional. Love is idealized, but not impulsively adored, and rather intellectually analyzed. Donne’s intellectual assessment of love is clear all through the poem. He states how all things grow old, as time rolls on, and hasten to their end. His purpose is to assert the constant, perpetual character of true love-
“All other things, to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay.
This, no tomorrow hath, nor yesterday.
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.”
In Donne’s other poem, The Flea, this oneness is shown in a more artistic way. The physical difference between the lovers is turned into one by the bite of a flea
“Mee it suck’d first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled bee.”
This unity in diversity in love, through the single devotion of the lovers, is also the subject matter of the poem, The Anniversary. The lovers have two bodies, and will be buried in two graves, but their souls, sublimated by the spark of love, are one. The poet’s tone is here more inspired than what is found in The Flea, though it is less straightforward than the lover’s declaration in The Good Morrow. What is more, this has a spiritual illumination that elevates love above all material decay.
Again, the poet’s admission of the inevitability of death follows a logical process. The lovers, like the mighty princes, ‘must leave at last in death’ and ‘two graves must hide their dead bodies. But the poet proceeds further to refer to the immortality of the lovers’ souls that, released from their physical bodies, will remain, communicate and bear nothing but love
“But soules where nothing dwells but love”
Donne seems to echo here Shakespeare’s assertion of the power of love to defy time and shine, despite its cruel hand, till the edge of doom-
“Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”
Donne reaches his conclusion therefrom in a design that is purely intellectual. He emphasizes the superiority of love, as freed from all fears and threats. None can do treason to true lovers, except one of them.
In fact, in Donne, love becomes triumphant. It is deemed as the inspiration of life, the very morale of living. True love is subjected to no danger, suffers neither from fear nor from suspicion. It is perpetuated by mutual trust and attachment and unfailing constancy. The anniversary of this love will continue, with the same warmth and zeal, for many more years to come. The poet gives out his message of love in the concluding portion of the poem-
“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.”
Of course, Donne’s assertion is not devoid of emotion here. A strong current of emotion animates his lines and awakens the feeling of constancy in love. There is, in fact, a just balance between two elements in him-intellect and emotion. This is a typical mark of metaphysical poetry. As a matter of fact, in metaphysical poetry, the play of intellect serves to create an emotional experience, just as emotional attachment leads to intellectual reasoning, observations and deduction. This is particularly evident in the concluding stanza of The Anniversary in which the poet’s intellectual analysis leads to his emotional declaration
“And then we shall be thoroughly blest.”
The intellectual character of metaphysical poetry is marked, too, in the profundity of reflection and the play of wit and even in the slight sling of satire. The Anniversary is rich in Donne’s profound idealism of love. The poet elevates love above all earthly matters and looks upon it as beyond the power of any authority or above subjugation. His conceits of Kings’ is deeply meaningful and expresses his lofty thought on love-
“Here upon earth, we’are Kings, and none but wee
Can be such Kings………..”
At the same time, the poet’s reflection never degenerates into sentimentality and monotony. There is the sharp flash of wit to keep the poem lively all through. There is, again, the conceit of two graves’ and this leads the poet’s wish to have one’. Metaphysical wit smacks here and the serious thought of the poem is made quite engaging.
“Two graves must hide thine and my corse,
If one might, death were no divorce.”
The metaphysical features of the poem include also utmost precision in reflection as well as description and the presence of conceits, already pointed out. The poet in Donne is a master in the use of precise expressions.
The theme of the immortality of the lovers’ souls is not elaborated in the poem The Anniversary but precisely stated in a single line-
“When bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove.”
The security of the lovers from all earthly threats, too, is well emphasized in a brief, pointed statement-
“Who is so safe as wee? Where none can doe
Treason to us, except one of us two.”
The genius of the metaphysical poet is marked in his technique, and not in the content of his poem, which is often conventional. Metaphysical imagery is not detailed, but extremely sharp and brief. There is a fine fusion of high thoughts and commonplace materials in it and the idea suggested is at once profound and delightful. The regular passage of time is a universal truth, and the poet associates with it the -course of his love. “The sun is elder by a year than it was when the poet and his ladylove ‘first one another saw’. This is a characteristic metaphysical technique.
Lastly, there is the characteristic pattern of metaphysical versification. The movement of the verses is slow but firm and gives an intellectual stir rather than an emotional spurt. In The Anniversary Donne’s lines have a touching cadence, but one never overflowing like Shelleyan. The rhyme-scheme is well patterned and the effect is all through intellectual alertness. Of course, lines have sonority as well as gravity, and running, never run away. The following specimen may be quoted as an instance of Donne’s pattern of versification in The Anniversary-
“But soules where nothing dwells but love
(All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
This, or a love increased there above,
When bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove.”