Dear Metaphysical students,
I pray that you all are doing well. I am sure you are wroking hard on your course and working even harder on your term paper:
The paper and/or You should
1- be around 2000 words
2- be typed
3- be on a very specific issue using examples from at least 5 poems at least three of which from outside the class stuff
4- use at least 5 sources three of which should be books and articles
5- cite and document your resources
6- be submitted by 27/11/2010. Deadline is absolute
7- not plagiarise. Plagiarism is the worst of academic crimes. Remmeber, you take more marks for your ideas and writing that for the stuff you bring from here or there
8- more issue will be posted soon
The Islamic University of Gaza
Faculty of Arts
Aspects of Modernist Poetry in John Donne’s The Bait
Name: Inas Hamdan
Mr. Refaat R. Alareer
This paper aims at tracing aspects of Modernist Poetry in John Donne’s The Bait comparing it to Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. In the course of this paper, I will shed light upon differences between these two poems, concluding that The Bait is a shift from the conventional poetry of Elizabethans exemplified by Marlowe’s lyric. The paper is divided into three major sections elaborating on the issue of the metaphysical experimentation. The first section explores diction in The Bait showing how it represents the spirit of Modernity. The second section moves to dwell upon the brand new way of treating the lyric subject matter; it focuses mainly on how Donne reacts against, and reshapes both the view of insulted ladies and of idealized love giving them more realistic sense. Finally, the third section is devoted to examine elements of intellectuality by giving a profound analysis of Donne’s imagery employed in The Bait.
1/ Experimenting on Language
- Choice of words
2/ Experimenting on Subject Matter
- The role of the beloved
- The theme of love
3/ Experimenting on Imagery
- Startling parallels
“When we read him [John Donne] we do not feel that it is the work of a man long dead: with his doubts and confusions and harshness and strange ideas he seems to be a product of the Atomic Age.” (Burgess 1974: 101). Is John Donne really that modern? Could his verse be regarded as Modernist? To what extent can his poetic language, subject matter, or imagery represent a shift from the poetry of his day?” In this paper, the term Modernism is given the lead. At its basic level, Modernism refers to new ideas in contrast to traditional ones. In effect, Modernist poetry develops a style that is characterized by stylistic novelty, and experimentation on traditional perspectives. Thus, intellectual fragmentation of the metaphysicals stands among aspects of Modernist poetry. (Abram1993:146)
It has been argued that modernity is an essential feature of the metaphysical poetry. In this paper, I will argue that Donne’s poetry is a departure from the main current of the Elizabethan poetry represented by Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. Donne’s The Bait is a celebrated example of his modern experimentation on language, subject matter, and imagery. The lyric, therefore, marks striking differences between the Metaphysical poetry and its Elizabethan counterpart.
The way each poet constructs his language establishes a clear distinction between Marlowe and Donne, and proves the latter to be a modern poet. Rather than adhering to the stereotypical language of his predecessor, Donne chooses instead to create a fresh language.
It should be noted that a parody occurs when whole elements of one work are reused in another context. Concerning the term “parody”, Nash (1985:79 in Simpson 2004:219) states that ” a test of a good parody is not how closely it imitates or reproduces certain turns of phrase, but how well it generates a style convincingly like that of the parodied author, producing the sort of phrases and sentences that he might have produced”. It appears that Donne did not intend to produce phrases or utterances that might have been produced by Marlowe; but, rather, I would argue, he intended to reshape Marlowe’s style in order to produce an original style typical of his metaphysical mentality_ a technique that could be called modern.
An interesting point to pay attention to here is the opening lines in The Bait; they are, almost, a copy of the original text of Marlowe. Perhaps the most thing that would draw a reader’s attention is the use of “some” in “And we will some new pleasures prove” (Donne 1994:93) It is here where some sort of difference might be traced. Marlowe employs “all” instead, saying ” And we will all the new pleasures prove,” (Marlowe 1975:211) This, as it may seem, has to do with the very theme of these two poems; Donne seems to be against the fact the Marlowe claims he can provide his lady with all things he is promising. In other words, he disapproves of this impractical, artificial life Marlowe is wishing for. He is in fact more realist, promising things that are possible. Another crucial point here, relevant to Donne’s experimenting on language, is his careful choice of the word “new”; it indicates Donne’s desire for change, reinforcing the spirit of Modernism in the text.
Still, the beginning of Donne’s The Bait, unlike his other poems, is not abrupt; but rather it is, some how, conventional. It is so because it imitates Marlowe’s beginning “Come live with me, and be my love”. The imperative structure does not appear to be a good beginning of a love lyric, yet Donne adopted it. The fact that Marlowe did the same thing seems a little bit perplexing; is not Donne against him? If so, why did he quote this very line? The answer might lie in Nash’s quotation (1983:219) which emphasizes the fact that “the parody aims affectionately at the comprehension of certain stylistic mannerisms”. From a mannerist point of view, a certain style is adopted in order to confirm a sort of dexterity; that is, Donne liked the change that Marlowe introduced into his poetry. In this sense, Donne cannot be said to criticize or satirize Marlowe; the latter came up with a new, innovative element which appealed the former.
Not only did Donne twist and distort the idea of poetic language, he diverged from the long-established traditional ideals of poetic subjects. This is evident in the way he portrays his lady and his brand new treatment of the theme of love.
To many readers The Bait and The Passionate Shepherded are seemingly alike, at least in structure. If by structure we mean number of lines, number of stanzas, and rhyme scheme, then the two poems are very similar. Is Donne’s poem a structural parody? Can a great, highly cultivated poet like Donne think or even consider copying another poet from an hateful age to him? Does this seeming similarity imply difference in content? Starting with the subject matter of Donne’s The Bait, some sort of similarity might be detected. That is to say, both poems are concerned with the theme of love or, more particularly, seducing a woman. But, is that all; it is unbelievable that Donne, the poet who left a profound impact on the English poetry, borrowed the same subject matter without coloring it with his own speculations.
The different, and opposite way both poets use pronouns gives an insight into how they view women, and thus, determine the role of the lady in the two poems. A careful reading of The Bait would show that Donne respects his lady, while Marlowe insults her. In grammatical terms, English distinguishes three grammatical persons: The personal pronouns I and we are in the first person. The personal you is in the second person which stands for the addressee; thou and thee are the archaic informal second-person singular pronouns. He, she, it, and they are in the third person. A reference to the connotation of each group of the previously-mentioned pronouns is needed here. The second person pronouns_ thou, thee_ suggest that the speaker sees his beloved as a respectful being whereas the first person pronouns I and We suggest a sense of individualism and, perhaps, of control on the part of the speaker.
Dividing the pronouns in the whole poem into two groups: one includes the pronouns referring to the beloved as an identity separate from her lover; the other encompasses both “I” and “We” which, in turn signify the lover’s desire for either excluding his lady, or referring to her as a mere attachment to him, will help readers sense the different attitude each poet adopts.
The number of pronouns referring to the beloved in The Bait is far more than those referring to the speaker. Donne, in other words, is noticed to extensively use pronouns such as Thou, and Thee; there are eleven of them in the poem. However; his use of first person pronouns I and We is very limited; there are two “I”s and only one We. On the other hand, in Marlowe’s lyric, the number of the pronouns referring to the lady is far less that than those referring to the lover; there are two second person pronouns in the text, whereas the speaker’s are eight _ a suggestive of control and attachment.
Based on this comparison, Marlowe is more personal, controlling, and, thus, excluding his lady, and making himself along with his dreams the centre of attention. Donne; however, manipulates the use of these pronouns in the text, reversing what Marlowe did, and thus, changing the way women are viewed. Donne, according to Bell (1983:115) believes that his lady should be “the force addressed”. In so doing, he, as Mueller points out in her essay Women Among the Metaphysicals (1989:145), has shaken ” The arrogance of a man who thinks his woman property”.
However, one might refute the above argument, saying that Donne in his opening line “Come live with me and be my love” is being very personal, trying to own his lady by using the possessive pronoun My. A reference to Kristeva’s theory of intertextuality would help here. According to Allen (2000:38), “Meaning, we might say, is always at one and the same time ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the text”. Yet, Donne’s opening line seems to be a sign that Donne is affected by Marlowe’s sense of ownership and individualism. That is, Donne begins his poem being personal, but then, throughout the rest of the poem, he seems to abandon that tone, making use of pronouns referring to the other character; that is, the lady. Marlowe, unlike Donne, sticks to the same personal tone, repeating the line ” Come live with me and be my love” three times, in addition to his extensive use of We, My, and Our that symbolize his lady’s attachment to him. To quote Allen (2000:53):
For Bloom, poets employ the central figures of previous
poetry but they transform, redirect, reinterpret those already
written figures in new ways and hence generate the illusion that
their poetry is not influenced by, and not therefore a misreading
of, the precursor poem. For him all texts are inter-texts. As he
writes in Kabbalah and Criticism:’ A single text has only
part of a meaning; it is itself asynecdoche for a larger
whole including other texts. A text is a relational event,
and not a substance to be analyzed’ (1975b:106). What
makes Bloom unique is what he does with this
Central to Donne’s peculiarity of experimenting on the subject matter is the way he treats the theme of love; this marks another distinctive feature of Donne’s poetry, making it modern, and thus different from that of Marlowe. It seems fair to say that Marlowe’s The Passionate Shepherd to His Love flows in the Petrarchan channel, thus exemplifying the fashionable love poetry of the sixteenth century based mainly on Petrarchanism_ a relation where the beloved is always unattainable and the lover is an abject begging her to love him back.
The Petrarchan conventions are evident in Marlowe’s lyric; the whole poem is a traditional love poem, characterized by the pleas of a rejected suitor. Marlowe’s extensive use of imperative statements in stanzas 1, 5, 7 indicates the fact that his speaker is nothing but a Petrarchan lover waiting for his cruel lady to return his love and accepts his invitation. His endeavor to present an ideal, improbable life full of temptations furthers this idea. The temptations and promises he alludes to are suggestive of the unattainable lady found in Petrarchan sonnets of the sixteenth century. His lady is so cruel that he has to exaggerate reality, hence, introducing a very ideal love; that is, a Petrarchan one. The following stanza is an embodiment of this Petrarchan idealism:
Thy silver dishes for thy meat
As precious as the gods do eat,
Shall on an ivory table be
Prepared each day for thee and me
In his essay Donne’s relation to the Poetry of His Time, Praz (1958:61) refers to the Petrarchan love saying ” [I]ts formula, as it was broadcast throughout Europe by the Italian sonneteers, amounted to this: the poet dreams that his cruel beloved has relented and comes to solace him”. In his lyric, Marlowe, just like those Italian sonneteers, is more of a dreamer, trying to present the most ideal type of life for the sake of gaining his beloved.
Donne, unlike Marlowe, challenges the Petrarchan norm, displaying no echo of woe or depression on the part of the lover. Donne’s speaker, for instance, does not adopt the imperative style that is overused by his counterpart. Donne’s lady, in most of his poetry, as Praz (1958:65) points out ” is not the distance figure seen in a glimpse against the sky, hardly more human that the sun and the evening star to which she is compared. Such was the lady is so much of a flesh-and-blood presence”; the lady in The Bait is no exception. Depending on this comparison, one might say that Donne presents a realistic life and, therefore, a realist lover_ typical of Donne’s metaphysical originality.
Still, this sense of realism is, somehow, confusing in Modernist poetry standards. In The Bait, Donne refers, indirectly, to his beloved’s physical beauty. Is not that a feature of Petrarchanism? Is not he a modern poet eager to break away from the Petrarchan norm? Again, Kristeva’s theory of intertextuality may help. That is, Marlowe’s lyric is an intertext by which Donne is influenced. In spite of the fact that Donne has been labeled a metaphysical poet, he was a member of a community believing in Petrarchanism, in effect, yoked to some of their conventions. Praz (1958:71) best explains that influence as follows:
Donne must have a actually felt in opposition to the poetry
of his day, and if he still remained a Petrarchist to some
extent, this is due to the fact that, on matter how strong one’s
personal reaction is, one cannot avoid belonging to a definite
Yet, as previously stated, Donne was displeased with the poetry of his day. The Bait, though a parody of Marlowe’s lyric, is a celebrated example of Donne’s peculiarity of experimenting on the subject-matter, thus, of him being a modern poet.
Crucial to aspects of Modernist poetry is experimenting on imagery, which manifests itself in one of the most essential characteristics of Metaphysical poetry; that is, the metaphysical conceit. Unlike Marlowe’s simplicity of images, Donne displays a wonderful mastery of distorting the usual, conventional images of love lyrics of the Elizabethan age. Reacting against Marlowe’s imagery , Donne developed a unique, novel technique of constructing imagery, employing what came to be known as striking and elaborate parallel between dissimilar thins or situations. (Abrams 1993:39).
Donne chose a brand new way to describe his sweetheart liking her to a bait_ a tool used to catch fish. Strangely enough, the lover can be said to symbolize the fish that ” Will amorously to thee swim”. For him, she is charming , sexy as is the bait to the fish in that river. The conceit is extended by another metaphor in stanza 4 where the speaker likens his beloved’s eyes to the bright light of the moon and sun; he points out “And if myself have leave to see, / I need not their light, having thee.” Just as both the sun and moon whose light is enough to see any thing, so is the beloved’s eyes which the speaker admires. The image, also, hints that his lady’s eyes are more powerful than the sun; it is a typical exaggeration of Donne’s metaphysical originality. This very image is utilized to further the main conceit of the bait. That is, the power this woman has reflects the power of the bait that enables it to attract the fish. This image itself is furthered in the 4th stanza where the speaker says ” If thou, to be so see, be’st loth”/” By sun or moon, thou dark’nest both,”. That suggests that the brightness of his beloved’s eyes not only gives warmth to the river, as stated in 2nd stanza, but also darkens the sun and moon.
The idea of his beloved being an attractive bait is furthered even more. That is evident in the seventh stanza where the speaker reflects on the fact that his lady ” need’st no such deceit”. He turns the image to include himself too; it is not that the she represents the bait, but also he represents the fish eager to catch that bait comparing himself to “That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,”. Donne seems to have succeeded in weaving these extraordinary images to create such a strikingly marvelous conceit that best helps readers comprehend the totality of his poem meaning. Again, every stanza in The Bait furthers the major image. It could be argued that the whole poem is a chain of circles of very strange, yet related images, all reinforce the very main, startling conceit; that is, the bait. The previously-mentioned relevance of separate images forming an extraordinary conceit is lost in Marlowe’s poem which Donne parodied.
It is this richness and originality of Donne’s imagery that makes his verse appealing to T.S.Eliot who, in his essay The Metaphysical Poets (1921) maintains that poetry highly intellectual, reflecting the complexity of its age:
[I]t appears likely that poets in our civilization, as it exists at present,
must be difficult. Our civilization comprehends great variety and
complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined
sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must
become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect,
in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning
In conclusion, one can regard John Donne’s The Bait as a piece of Modernist poetry. The language is well-experimented on producing the most original style that is typical of the metaphysical poetry. Donne’s careful choice of words, and his breaking away from the conventional image of insulted women in literary texts along with the idealized view of love in the Elizabethan Age hint at his modernity. Moreover, he exhibited a high level of intellectuality via making startling parallels and images, thus, proving himself to be a modern poet. This series of experimenting on language, subject matter, and imagery, as it may seem, is an indication that Donne’s poetry is sharply opposed to the stereotypical poetry of Christopher Marlowe.
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