Lovers’ Infiniteness – John Donne

Background

John Donne is most famous for vibrancy of metaphor and language both of which can be seen in this poem. Donne employed paradoxes and puns and fashioned his own poetic metre which was more akin to casual speech than classic poetry. Donne’s love poetry and his holy or divine poetry resemble each other in a startling way which scandalised many critics of his time.

Metaphorical Inferences

Like many of his romantic poems this one has an abrupt start too. It is unconventional in other ways too. The poet says that he does not have all of his lady’s love and he thinks he is unlikely to ever have it. He has used up his treasure of tears, sighs and letters trying to win her over but his efforts have been unsuccessful. It’s likely that someone else has been more fortunate than him. Throughout the poem the poet plays on the words “all” and “infiniteness”. He suggests that love is infinite like God’s love and it cannot be apportioned like material objects. The poet either gets all the love or none of it. The puns on the word “all” gives rise to paradox. Donne combines sacred and profane metaphors in his usual metaphysical style in this poem.

Summary

The poet says that if he does not have all the love of his lady, then he is not likely to ever have it all. He has strived hard to gain her love but he has not got any more than what he had at the beginning. He has used his entire treasure of tears, entreaties and letters but he is no richer in love now than when the bargain for love began. Donne makes the whole thing sound like a business transaction rather than an emotional one. The poet is disturbed by the fact that, if the poet only has a part of his lady’s love, someone else must be have the rest of it.
There was a time when he had all of her love but there is more love in her heart and there are claimants for that new love. These are men who have a larger store of tears and entreaties than the poet. The poet stakes his claim for this new love too as it has sprouted in the heart which was his sometime ago. His lady had then vowed to give him her whole heart.
In a way he would rather not have all her love because once one claims to have ‘all’ of a thing, one cannot have any more of it. But Donne’s heart grows every day and thirsts for more love, hence he expects his lady to show him more love every day. Her inability of showing or giving him more love makes him realize the she never gave him her heart in the first place. When we love God, though we lose our heart to God we are save it too. Instead of thinking in spiritual terms, the poet and his lady can marry and be one. That way they can be individuals and one at the same time.

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Analysis

Stanza 1

In this poem, the poet is addresses his beloved but Donne was a Metaphysical poet who wove different meanings into his words by employing puns, riddles and paradoxes. The first stanza begins on an abrupt note as is common in Donne’s poems. The poet says that he does not have all of his beloved’s love though he has tried to buy it using his “treasure” or fund of sighs, tears, oaths and letters. He speaks as though he and his lady had entered a bargain by which he has already got his “due”. But he thinks that she has more love left in her heart which is now being given to someone else. So sadly, he will not be able to possess her completely.

Stanza 2

Here the poet says that his beloved may indeed have given “all” her love at one time. But now it is possible that there is more love in her heart as other suitors may have put their stock of sighs, tears and oaths to good use. This new love is a source of anxiety to him as it wasn’t present at the beginning and it has not been promised (“vowed”) to him by her. Even so, her heart is his and everything that grows on this “ground” is automatically his. Here Donne uses imagery taken from agriculture of crops being grown and harvested.

Stanza 3

He still does not have “all” of it and one who has “all” cannot have anymore. With more images of “growing”, Donne says that his heart permits fresh growth so the lady should reward him with more love every day. Since her heart is already his, she cannot give it to him anew. If she can give it to him, it means she had not given it to him in the first place. In true love though, when one loses one’s heart, it remains with that person because he or she gets more back from their beloved. Thus by losing one’s heart, one is actually saving it. This is true when one talks of divine love. But on a mortal plane, it is through marriage that lovers can come together and be united while they retain their identities.

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Overall Impression

Many of Donne’s poems do not appear religious at first but often express spiritual themes. Donne was deeply involved with the Protestant church and repeated readings of the poems reveal their religious intent. For this, he uses words which have several layers of meanings. This poem too is about divine love which is infinite where as earthly love is limited.