The Anniversary by John Donne
Table of Contents
The poem, The Anniversary is a celebration of joyous, self-complacent love.
The Anniversary Summary
All kings, with all their favourites, all the glories of honour beauty and wit, and even the sun, that makes time, itself are elder by a year than they were when the poet’s ladylove and he first saw each other. In fact, while all other things draw to their destruction, the love of the poet and his ladylove only has no decay. Though running, it never runs away from them. Rather it keeps its first, last and everlasting day.
I. The timelessness of love :
The poem opens with the poet’s splendid affirmation of the immortality of love in a world of time. All things, including the sun itself, that makes time, have advanced by a year since the first meeting of the poet and his ladylove. All things, other than their love, are subjected to destruction. But their love has no decay and is not affected by the flow of time. It is free from the effect of tomorrow as well as yesterday. It, no doubt, runs, but it never runs away from them. It retains its steadfast continuity all through.
Stanza 2 :
Two graves will cover the ladylove’s dead body and his. If one grave might be for them, death would be no divorce for them. Alas, they, who are prince enough of each other, as well as other princes must leave their eyes and ears, which are often fed with true oathes and with sweet salt tears, in death. But souls where nothing but love dwells and where all other thoughts are inmates shall then prove their love, or some love, increased above this. After all, when bodies rest in their graves, souls move away from the graves of their bodies.
II. The celestial blessing of true love :
The poet, of course, remembers that they must part in death. They will be buried separately in two graves. Their physical faculties will all be dead but their souls. animated with the passion of true love, will pass into heaven and become united there.
Stanza 3 :
And then the lovers shall be thoroughly blessed. But they are no more than all the rest. They are Kings here, upon this earth. They, and none else, can be such Kings and such subjects here. There is no one so safe as they, as no one can do treason to them, except one of them two. Therefore, the poet entreats the ladylove) let them refrain from true and false fears. Let them love nobly and live, and add again years and years unto years till they attain the age of sixty. This is only! the second year of their reign (of love).
III. The continuity of the anniversary of love :
The poet and his ladylove will, no doubt, be thoroughly blessed then in heaven. But everyone there will be equally blessed. The poet’s mind turns back to earth again and find their monarchy of love that is fully safe and secure. None, but one of them, can do wrong to them or betray them. The poet, therefore, proposes to refrain from true and false fear, to love nobly and live for many years to come. The celebration of their first anniversary of love will be continued till they record their sixtieth anniversary.
The Anniversary Theme
The poet meditates on the timelessness of the world of love. Time rules and commands the created world, where all things, including the mighty sun, grows older, as it rolls on. Love is also a subject of the world of time, and does not remain beyond its authority. The very idea of the celebration of the anniversary of the lovers’ first meeting well implies this. As the inhabitants of the world of time, the lovers, no doubt, grow old, but their love is not haunted with the hurrying chariot wheel of time. This has no ‘to-morrow’, ‘no yesterday’. Love, therefore, lives out of the bound of decay, caused by the continuous march of time. While all other things to their destruction draw, love only has ‘no decay’. It of course, runs with time, but never runs away from the lovers, but ‘truly keepes his first, last, everlasting day’
The lovers are, no doubt, also destined to die. But their bodies only perish. Their souls escape from earthly bodies and pass into the blessings of heaven. Yet, love is not a matter of spiritual blessing only. Its unique, distinctive nature is perceived in its absolute monarchy on earth in the true and noble attachment of the lovers to each other. It is not enough consolation for the lovers to know the spiritual union of their souls after their earthly death. What makes love perfect, unique is the mutual trust and devotion of the lovers. Love is not immortal, but it can be made noble, unique and great by the lovers’ conduct. The poet’s message is, therefore, straight in the concluding lines 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 rainge.”
What the poem emphasizes is the concept of noble, perfect love. This love is free from the fears both of earthly faithlessness and of mortality. It is through their inspired, devoted living that the lovers can make their mortal love unique, long lasting in grandeur and constancy.
The Anniversary Title
Anniversary means the annual celebration or observance of a particular date. Donne’s poem is on the anniversary of the first meeting of the lovers. The occasion is the first anniversary of this meeting. One year has passed since the lovers’ first meeting. All things have grown older by a year. But the lovers’ love has not decayed, as it is timeless although it lives in a world of time. Admitting the lovers’ physical death, in this world, the poet asserts the triumph of love through their faith and constancy. By refraining from all fears, false as well as true, and loving nobly, the lovers may live long and celebrate the anniversary of their love from year to year till they record the sixtieth anniversary.
The theme of the poem is thus built round the anniversary of love, and that is why the poem has the title The Anniversary.
The Anniversary Line by Line Analysis
Stanza 1 :
All Kings– all mighty persons. Their favorites-those who are the attendants of kings. All glory-whatever may be the glory. Honors– honour; men of honour, honourable persons. Beauties– beautiful women. Wits-witty men intelligent men. Honors, beauties wits persons of honour, beauty and wit. This is a case of synecdoche (the abstract quality is used to mean the concrete personality).
The Sun itselfe– the expression itself is used to qualify the Sun. Which makes times-time is made by the course of the sun. They– This possibly means kings, their favourites, and the men of honour, beauty, wit and also ‘times’. Passe-go away. Which makes times, as they passé the sun makes time, even as time and all those which pass since the lovers’ first meeting. Than it was-than the things were. Thou-ladylove. When thou…….saw– when the poet and his ladylove met for the first time.
N.B. Donne is speaking of that very time, when their love bloomed for the first time.
Is elder…sun-one year has passed since the inception of the love of the poet and his ladylove. Everything has, therefore, advanced in age by one year.
N.B. Donne speaks of the world of time, where everything is subjected to the canon of time.
Only our love– their love is only an exception. Hath-has. No decay– not subjected to the decay caused by time. Only love.. .decay– while all things with the passage of time, face decay, their love remains free from any touch of degeneration. This-this love. This, no tomorrow, hath-love has no to-morrow. Nor yesterday-has no yesterday. This, no tomorrow……..yesterday– love lives beyond the chase of yesterdays and to-morrows. There is neither change nor decay in love from day to day. All days are same in the intensity of love. Hence there is nothing of the thought of yesterday or of tomorrow to disturb the lovers.
N.B. Donne here shows the timelessness of the world of love. All other things are subjected to the decay, the day, as it rolls on, causes. Love only has no decay that the effect of time causes.
Running– love, no doubt, runs. It moves quickly like other things. In never runs from us away-it never goes away from the lovers : it never parts the lovers.
N.B. The warmth of love remains always. Love advances and rolls on with time, but never deserts the lovers.
Truly keepes– retains faithfully. His-its. Everlasting that is ever lasting, i.e., continuing. But truly……. day– love retains its old faith and constancy all through. There is no change, no decay in true love. The lovers’ passion, warmth, devotion and constancy remain unaltered, although time rolls on from year to year.
N.B. The poet emphasises the timelessness of the world of love in a world of time. The implication is here the conflict between time and love between the world of time and the timelessness of love.
C.f. The Sunne Rising (Donne)
“Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, monthes which are the rags of time”
Stanza 2 :
Two graves the lovers will be buried in two graves. This is possibly because they are not man and wife yet, and so will not be allowed to share the same grave. Hide-cover. Thine and mine coarse– the bodies of the lovers.
Two graves………coarse– after their death, the lovers will be buried separately in two graves.
N.B. The poet admits here the physical death of the lovers.
If one might– had there been one grave. Divorce– separation, Death………divorce-death would mean no separation between the lovers.
If one might…….. divorce– had the loves been buried in the single grave, they would lie together, and death would be no separation between them.
N.B. This is a sort of metaphysical wit.
Alas, as well……. Princes– just like other eminent persons. Wee-the lovers. Who Prince…….. bee– the lovers are, however, the prince of each other. Princes have the authority of different territories. The lovers have authority over each other.
N.B. This is a fine conceit, emphasizing the majesty of the lovers in their mutual faith and devotion C.f. The Sunne Rising
“She” is all States, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is.”
Must leave at last in death– the lovers will have to part from (in death). These eyes, and eares-their physical bodies, including their eyes and ears. Must have…….eares– death will come, and the lovers will have to part from their eyes and ears, different physical faculties.
Oft-often. Fed-nurtured, nourished. True oathes-true and solemn oathes, taken by the lovers, in the confirmation of their love. True oathes-may be taken to mean the sincere promises of love. Oft fed…… oathes-of love. Sweet salt-the salty taste that has a sweet appeal. This is a case of the oxymoron (juxtaposition of contradictory words). With sweet salt feares-their eyes are often filled with tears that are salty but full of sweet sensations.
But soules-the poet passes from the body, of the lovers’ physical bodies to their souls. The bodies perish, but the souls last. Where nothing…….love– love lives permanently in soul. Dwells-here, lives permanently.
N.B. The lovers die, but their love survives, through their souls eternally. The poet emphasizes the old idea of the timelessness of love Of course, he is concerned here with the soul that is subjected to no decay.
All other thoughts– all other considerations. Inmates-temporary lodgers.
N.B. The poet makes a distinction between love and other elements. Love lives in the soul, and is therefore, a permanent dwellers. All other elements belong to the body and perish with the body. So they are temporary lodgers. This, too, is an excellent specimen of the metaphysical conceit.
Then shall prove-souls will then indicate the immortality of love. This– This love. Love increased there above-souls will pass to a spiritual existence and increase. There above– above this earth. This….. above – experience the same love or perhaps, even a greater love in heaven.
N.B. Souls move to heaven, while bodies rot on earth. Love, too, moves up with the souls and expands in heaven, above this earth.
When bodies to their graves-when physical bodies rest in their graves, when bodies are placed in their graves. Soules…..remove-souls move away from the bodies in graves. When bodies to…….remove-after death, the bodies are placed in their graves, but the souls are released from their graves which are the bodies.
N.B. There is an intellectual twist, typical of metaphysical poetry. Bodies are imagined as the prison house of souls.
Cf. Marvell’s A Dialogue between the Soul and Body
“A Soul hung up, as ’twere in Chains
Of nerves, and, Arteries, and Veins.”
Stanza 3 :
And then– after their souls are released from their bodies. Wee shall be-the lovers will be. Throughly blest– enjoyed absolutely the blessings of God. And then…….blest– the lovers will be blessed in heaven after their death on earth.
But wee no more–but the lovers will have nothing more or exceptional. Than all the rest-than others who are also blest in heaven. Wee no more than all the rest-the lovers will, no doubt, be blessed, but so will be all, as they deserve. Hence the lovers will enjoy nothing exceptional in heaven. Their love will have not that special happiness which they have on earth.
N.B. Donne’s intellectualism has a new turn, and finds earth more interesting than heaven. The lovers’ souls will be united in heaven and thoroughly blessed. But they will be nothing more than others. They will rather lose in heaven what is unique, distinctive of their love on earth.
Here upon this earth-in this human world: in their earthly life. We are Kings-they are as majestic as earthly monarch (of course, in the matter of their love). None but wee-no one else other than the lovers. Can be such Kings can be so monarchial in their authority on love. None but…..kings-the lovers claim to be unique in their majesty in the matter of love. No one else has their monarchy in love on earth. Nor or such subjects bee-nor can be the subjects of such kings as they themselves.
N.B. The lovers are their mutual kings and subjects. They have monarchy in love and remain monarchs and subjects of each other. The uniqueness of the metaphysical conceit is clearly evident here.
Who is safe as wee-the lover asserts that no one is secure as they. The lovers’ monarchy of love is absolutely secure. Where none can doe-no one can do. Treason to us– act of betrayal to the lovers. Except one of us two-except either lover by turning false to love.
N.B. Donne introduces a political conceit to assert the supremacy of love. The lovers’ monarchy is well secure against all external aggressions. This is not threatened by any act of treason, for they two are the rulers and subjects of their kingdom, and no one but they themselves can do any act of treason to their state of love.
True and false feares-there are fears, true as well as false, in the realm of love. The poet means possibly by the true fears’ the fear of the mortality of love in this mortal world. The false fear is used to designate the fear of betrayal by the lovers themeselves.
N.B. Metaphysical intellectualism reaches a serious depth here. The poet reflects on the nature of fears that may beset lovers, as the subjects to this mortal world.
Refraine-hold back, keep under control. True and…..refraine-this is a part of the message of love, enunciated by Donne. The Iovers must hold back their fears, true and false. They must not remain under the shadow of the fear either of the mortality of their love in this mortal world or of the disloyalty to love by themselves.
Let us love nobly-the lovers must be truly inspired by the feeling of love that is not disturbed either by genuine or by imaginary fears.
N.B. Nobility in love consists in the conquest of any kind of fear, true or false, genuine or imaginary.
And live-the lovers are to live and love, love and live. Adde againe– join years to years. The poet, of course, is meaning the addition of the lovers’ anniversary of love. Yeares and yeares unto yeares-in a world of time, the lovers will live and love for years together. Till we attaine– till the lovers reach. To write-to record. Threescore-sixty. The poet means here the sixtieth anniversary of love. Till we attaine…….. threescore-till they reach the sixtieth anniversary of their love. This is the second this is the second year. Of our raigne-of their love. This is…raigne-the poet wants to mean the second year of the celebration of their love. This, of course, means the first anniversary of their love.
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