The role of Difficulty in John Donne's Love poems.

Essay by JoekiltyUniversity, Bachelor'sB-, April 2003

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Jonson said that Donne 'for not being understood would perish.' Discuss the role of difficulty in Donne's love poems.

In assessing the difficulties in reading any of Donne's love poetry it is important to first establish what is meant by the word difficult. Donne's poetry offers different levels of interpretation. Some seemingly simple phrases can have underlying sub-levels of meaning. Another difficulty is his use of imagery. Some of the imagery seems as though it does not fit within the realms of his poetry. It takes a close reading of these images to establish exactly why Donne uses them. In this aspect of his writing he was dramatically different from his contemporaries and they found this difference hard to grasp. Jonson's comment that Donne would perish because he was so hard to understand explains how Donne's peers viewed his poetry. There is even a suggestion that King James found Donne's poetry incomprehensive as he is quoted as stating that 'Dr.

Donns verses were like ye piece of God they passed all understanding. ' It is hard to tell whether this is criticism or praise but it does show that Donne was regarded as obscure by his contemporaries.

The words which he uses and the analogies that are made can be so complex that simply reading the plain text with no elucidation would be impossible for a reader unaware of Donne's style. This is true for 'Loves Growth,' where he blends the natural world and the seasons with astronomical allusions such as 'Stars by the sun are not enlarg'd but shown' (II. 4). The first difficulty is working out exactly what such allusions mean. A knowledge of the theories pertaining to the stars and sun in the days before Galileo's telescope is needed to understand...