One of the things, among others, that the poets John Donne (1572–1631) and John Milton (1608–1674) have in common is their poetic style. John Donne and John Milton developed a poetic style in which they reasonably and often paradoxically approached philosophical and spiritual subjects. Although John Donne and John Milton have written fairly distinct poems, but their constructions of devotion and godly poetics tend to be quite similar. Although most of their poetic works are centered on their personal relationship with spirituality, but the sexual realism in their poetries cannot be ignored or overlooked. They use rhythms in their poetry that are jarring yet rhythmic, metaphors that are contradictory and rich and they explore deep emotional themes. Moreover, both the poets believed that God and humankind have a gendered relationship (Dipasquale). The purpose of this paper is to analyze the attitudes of Donne and Boone to God and love as found in John Donne’s “The Flea” and “The Canonization,” and Book One of John Milton’s of “Paradise Lost.”
John Milton’s Attitude of God and Love
Modern critics tend to have different views about Milton’s ideas in his poem Paradise Lost (Cop 23-26). The time in which Milton lived, and the church he belonged to are reflected by his religious views that he expresses throughout Paradise Lost, which make it a seriously and sternly Christian poem. John Milton was a devout Christian, although his ideas were completely orthodox. Modern critics may not easily accept the theme in Paradise Lost, but it is comparatively easy to see. It becomes obvious that the theme of Paradise Lost is religious when at the beginning of the poem Milton says that he is writing it, or rather singing this poem in order to “assert Eternal Providence, / And justify the ways of God to men” (Milton I, 25-26).
Justification of God to men is one of the major themes of Milton’s Paradise Lost. However, Milton’s use of the word justify is often misunderstood by casual readers and those who are not properly acquainted with Paradise Lost. They assume that Milton that asserts that God’s actions and motives need to be explained and vindicated because they seem so arbitrary, and they consider him rather arrogant for this. However, the truth is that Milton is not really being arrogant. By justifying, Milton is not trying prove that God’s actions are proper, rather he is trying to show the justice that underlies his actions. Milton wishes to show that God is just and so are all his actions. Milton is trying to show the justice that lies behind God’s actions.
“Man’s First Disobedience” is the other main theme of Paradise Lost, which the title seems to suggest. Milton proceeds to show how God’s actions are just even when someone disobeys Him. To do this, Milton narrates the story of the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Even after disobeying God, Milton presents two paths by comparing Adam and Eve’s story to Satan’s. According to Milton, one path leads to more disobedience and sins which was taken by Satan. The other path leads to redemption, which was taken by Adam and Eve, since they wanted to repent for their sins and sought forgiveness. Milton succeeds in explaining the justice behind God’s actions by concluding that even after repeatedly falling, mankind can reach salvation by staying obedient to God.
Milton’s attitude to God becomes apparent when he starts arguing about disobedience and its opposite, obedience. Not only does Milton explain why mankind must be obedient to God, but also presents his own views about God. Milton imagines a universe where God literally has his own throne in Heaven, which is at the top. With this presence of hierarchy, Milton implies that God by definition in this universe is a superior being, which He truly is, while mankind is His subjects and that is why they must obey Him. It is evident that Milton thinks highly of God, as any person should. However, there is nothing in Milton’s poem that may suggest that mankind should be obeying God out of love for Him. Milton presents obedience to God as a moral obligation for mankind.
John Donne’s Attitude of God and Love
As a metaphysical poet, John Donne is known for the witty, sensual poems that he wrote during his early career. John Donne had not started writing devout, seriously religious poetry up until his later career. The Flea happens to be one of John Donne’s early poetic works, and therefore the major theme of this poem is seduction (Schulze). Nonetheless, Donne was a religious man, but unlike Milton, Donne uses religion, or rather God, to his own advantage and against his lover, in the attempt to seduce her into giving in. Donne has borrowed a lot of religious imagery in this poem (Labriola 327-339), which gives him an added absurd authority over his lover. The Flea might not be a religious poem, but John Donne has employed religious terminology.
Donne does not really directly refer to God in his poem but he is trying to convince her that it would not be “A sinne, or shame” (Donne 6) if she gives up her virginity. Donne’s poem also echoes the Christian Trinity when he says that this “This flea is you and I” (Donne 12) and that killing it would be “sacrilege, three sinnes in killing three” (Donne 18). By deploying religious riffs, Donne’s argument suggests that even God supports what he wants her to do, and that not doing it would be ‘sacrilege’ or heretical. It is not surprising that Donne is defending his own romantic motives by using God and religion since during the time Donne wrote this poem he was known for his satiric view of a world and his wit.
Once again, The Canonization is one of John Donne’s early poems, and thus although the poem is rich with religious references, Donne’s speaker is again using them his own advantage. Although Donne is writing about the perspective of being “canonized.” The term has been used in religious, but of course, he is being mischievous. He implies that if he and his lover love as they do, they will be elevated to the level of saints. Donne is most being playful and witty, but he ends up being slightly blasphemous as well, as many readers would argue. Despite the religious references, Donne uses a provocative tone in the poem right from the beginning. It is apparent that the speaker in this poem is trying to prove his love affair by using religious terms.
Ironically, Donne compares the devotion the two lovers have for each other to the devotion that saints have for God (Labriola 327-339). Like The Flea, Donne defends human sexual love in The Canonization by deploying religious language. Moreover, the poem shoes the author’s exasperation at being reprimanded continuously and ultimately he urges the social world around him, “For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love,” (Donne 1). Some might argue that even Donne’s earlier poems reveal a deep-rooted sincerity for Roman Catholicism, which they perhaps do, but the fact remains that Donne is certainly mediating with God on his own behalf. It becomes evident that Donne takes love more seriously than religion and does not hesitate in using to support his own goals.
John Milton vs. John Donne: Attitude of God and Love
When it comes to the attitude that John Milton and John Donne have of God and Love, there tend to be more differences than similarities in Milton’s and Donne’s poems. Although both Milton and Donne were devout Christians, but their poems that have been discussed present rather contrasting views about their attitude of God and love. On one hand, Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost barely has any meaningful mention of love; while on the other hand, Donne does not directly refer to God in his two poems, The Flea and The Canonization, apart from urging the society to hold their tongue for His sake.
If one reads only Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost, it is easier to tell what Milton thinks of God rather than what he thinks of love. There are two things that evidently suggest that Milton thinks highly of God and strongly believes in God’s superiority. Firstly, he clearly states that he has written the poem to defend God and show everyone how His actions are all justified. Secondly, Milton implies that by definition, God is a superior being, somewhat like a king, and just like subjects are supposed to obey their king similarly Milton believes that mankind is obliged to obey God.
In contrast, theoretically, it would be quite difficult to figure out what Donne thinks about God from just the two poems discussed, since he barely mentions God in these poems. Nonetheless, assumptions can certainly be made. One of the things that can be assumed is that as a devout Catholic, Donne too thinks highly of God, which is among the few things that Donne’s poem has in common with Milton’s. Donne believes that God is a superior being because he seems certain that society will back down and let him love for ‘God’s sake.’ Just like Milton believes that mankind should obey God, Donne is certain that the society is obedient to God and if he tells them to do this for God’s sake, then they will.
However, if Milton’s poem can be called pious, these two poems of Donne seem to have a slightly blasphemous tendency. Another thing that perhaps reveals Donne’s attitude of God and even love is that Donne takes love more serious than God and religion, and even the world around him. So much so that he even uses God’s religion to his own advantage in two different poems for his love, which certainly seems to be his priority. In fact, Donne has actually used religion in favor of his love to such an extent that he ends up suggesting loving some is not just a physical experience but even a religious experience as well. It is ironic that Donne is so certain that God supports his pursuit of love, even of the sexual nature, or at least that is what he believes. The interesting thing about both of Donne’s two poems is how he has juxtaposed love and religion (Skouen 159-188). For instance, Donne says that “You which beyond that heaven which was most high’” (Donne). He agrees that heaven is most high but for him his lover is more important than heaven.
The purpose of this paper was to analyze the attitudes of Donne and Boone to God and love as found in John Donne’s “The Flea” and “The Canonization,” and Book One of John Milton’s of “Paradise Lost.” After analyzing these poems, two different attitudes about God and love have been revealed from the two poets. Milton is more serious about God and religion, while Donne is satirical and witty. Milton takes it upon himself to defend God while Donne decides to defend himself through God and religion. Milton’s poem has a pious touch while Donne’s poems tend to be a bit blasphemous. For Milton, God is a superior being and mankind should be obedient to him, but for Donne, nothing is more important than love, not even God.
Although John Donne’s poems that he wrote later in his life tends to reflect a very different attitude of God, but everything that has been analyzed above is what his poems reflect about his views of God and love. Despite certain similarities in their poems and their devout Christian background, both the poets have rather contrasting attitudes of God and love.
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