“The Ecstasy” is a metaphysical poem written by John Donne and published in his collection “Songs and Sonnets” in 1633. This poem delves into the complex themes of love, spirituality, and the union of souls. It is known for its intricate use of metaphors and conceits to explore the nature of love and the transformative power of deep, spiritual connections.
“The Ecstasy” explores the themes of love, spirituality, and the union of souls. It delves into the concept of spiritual or metaphysical love, suggesting that physical and emotional love is a pathway to a higher spiritual plane. The poem examines the transformative and transcendent power of love in connecting two souls.
In “The Ecstasy,” the speaker reflects on a moment of intense love and connection with their beloved. The poem uses rich and elaborate metaphors, such as the mingling of blood, the intertwining of souls, and the union of the two lovers’ bodies and minds. It suggests that the love between the speaker and the beloved elevates them to a spiritual plane, where their souls unite in a state of ecstasy.
The poem explores the idea that love is not just a physical or emotional experience but a profound and spiritual one. The lovers’ connection transcends the physical world and enters a realm of spiritual unity. The poem is characterized by its intellectual depth and intricate metaphors, which are typical of John Donne’s metaphysical poetry.
“The Ecstasy” is considered one of John Donne’s most celebrated poems and is admired for its exploration of the metaphysical aspects of love and spirituality. It continues to be studied and appreciated for its intellectual complexity and profound insights into the nature of love.
Line by line analysis:
Where, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swelled up, to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;
In this stanza, the poem describes a tranquil and intimate scene in nature where the two individuals, deeply connected and in love, find solace and comfort. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “Where, like a pillow on a bed,”
- The stanza begins by setting the scene, comparing their location to a comfortable and soft pillow on a bed. This suggests a place of rest and relaxation.
- “A pregnant bank swelled up, to rest”
- The natural environment is described as a “pregnant bank,” implying that it’s full and fertile. The bank swells up, creating a place to rest or recline.
- “The violet’s reclining head,”
- The image of a violet, a delicate flower, is used to represent the beauty and fragility of nature. The violet’s “reclining head” suggests the flower’s gentle posture.
- “Sat we two, one another’s best;”
- The stanza concludes by stating that the two individuals, deeply in love with each other, sat together. They are described as “one another’s best,” emphasizing that they are each other’s most significant and cherished companions.
In summary, this stanza creates a serene and picturesque scene in nature where the two lovers find comfort and solace, sitting together and cherishing their deep connection with each other in a tranquil environment.
Our hands were firmly cemented
With a fast balm, which thence did spring,
Our eye beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes, upon one double string:
This poem appears to describe a strong and intimate connection between two individuals. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “Our hands were firmly cemented”
- This line suggests that the hands of the two people were tightly joined or held together, like they were bonded with cement, signifying a strong physical connection.
- “With a fast balm, which thence did spring;”
- The term “fast balm” could symbolize a quick and soothing remedy, possibly representing the emotional or spiritual connection between these two people. It suggests that their bond brought comfort and relief.
- “Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread”
- “Eye-beams” could refer to the glances or gazes exchanged between these individuals. The term “twisted” and “thread” imply that their gazes intertwined and connected in a way that is difficult to separate.
- “Our eyes upon one double string;”
- This line suggests that their eyes were connected as if they shared a common visual thread, emphasizing a deep and unbreakable connection between their souls or their perception of each other.
Overall, the poem conveys a sense of profound unity and connection between the two individuals, both on a physical and spiritual level, as their hands and eyes are bound together in a strong and enduring manner.
So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet
Was all our means to make us one,
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.
This stanza continues to describe the deep connection and unity between the two individuals. Let’s analyze it line by line:
- “So to’ intergraft our hands, as yet”
- The phrase “intergraft our hands” suggests that their hands were connected or joined together in a way that’s similar to grafting two branches of a tree. This act of joining their hands symbolizes their effort to become one.
- “Was all our means to make us one,”
- The act of holding hands was the only method they had to unify and become a single entity. It emphasizes the simplicity and purity of their connection.
- “And pictures in our eyes to get”
- This line suggests that they didn’t have to do much more than looking into each other’s eyes to understand and communicate their feelings or desires. “Pictures in our eyes” may refer to the images or emotions that they shared through their gazes.
- “Was all our propagation.”
- “Propagation” typically refers to the process of reproducing or producing offspring. In this context, it means that their love and unity were nurtured and propagated through the simple acts of holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes. They didn’t need more elaborate means to strengthen their connection.
Overall, this stanza underscores the idea that their love and unity were built on simple, pure, and genuine actions, like holding hands and sharing meaningful glances, rather than complex or materialistic efforts.
As ‘twixt two equal armies, Fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls, (which to advance their state,
Were gone out), hung ‘twixt her, and me.
In this stanza, the poet uses a metaphor involving two equal armies and the concept of Fate to describe the state of their souls and their relationship. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “As ‘twixt two equal armies, Fate”
- The poet begins by likening their situation to a battle between two evenly matched armies. This suggests that their relationship is at a critical juncture, and the outcome is uncertain.
- “Suspends uncertain victory,”
- Fate is depicted as suspending or delaying the resolution of this battle, making it uncertain who will emerge victorious. This implies that the future of their relationship is in a state of suspense or ambiguity.
- “Our souls, (which to advance their state,”
- The poet refers to their souls, which seem to have a purpose or a desire to progress or improve their current condition.
- “Were gone out), hung ‘twixt her, and me.”
- Their souls, which had ventured out or moved forward in some way, now find themselves suspended between “her” and “me.” This suggests that their souls are in a state of limbo, not fully committed to either side, possibly indicating a sense of indecision or uncertainty in the relationship.
Overall, this stanza conveys a sense of suspense and uncertainty in their relationship, where the outcome is yet to be determined, and their souls are in a state of conflict or hesitation, unable to fully commit to one direction or the other. The poet uses the metaphor of a battle and Fate to emphasize the tension and ambiguity in their situation.
And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.
In this stanza of the poem, it describes a unique and contemplative state of being for the two individuals. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “And whilst our souls negotiate there,”
- This line suggests that their souls are engaged in some sort of inner or spiritual discussion or contemplation. Their inner selves are in deep thought or communication.
- “We like sepulchral statues lay”
- The phrase “sepulchral statues” refers to statues or sculptures typically found in a tomb or a sepulcher. This imagery implies that they are still and unmoving, like statues in a burial place. It suggests a sense of quietude and stillness.
- “All day, the same our postures were,”
- They maintain the same physical postures throughout the day, without changing or moving. This reinforces the idea of their stillness and contemplation.
- “And we said nothing, all the day.”
- Despite their souls being engaged in some form of inner dialogue or negotiation, they don’t speak or communicate verbally with each other throughout the entire day. There is a deep and silent connection between them.
This stanza conveys a sense of profound introspection and understanding between the two individuals. While they may not be speaking aloud, there is a strong connection and communication happening on a deeper, spiritual level, and they maintain a shared silence throughout the day.
If any, so by love refined,
That he soul’s language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,
In this stanza, the poem appears to describe a rare and refined kind of love that transcends mere verbal communication. Let’s analyze it line by line:
- “If any, so by love refined,”
- The poem suggests that there might be someone who has been so profoundly affected or elevated by love that they have undergone a transformation or refinement of their emotions and character.
- “That he soul’s language understood,”
- This person, because of their love, has the ability to understand the language of the soul. In other words, they can grasp the deeper and unspoken feelings or thoughts of others.
- “And by good love were grown all mind,”
- This individual, through the power of genuine and virtuous love, has become entirely understanding, empathetic, and considerate. Their love has cultivated their intellect and emotional intelligence.
- “Within convenient distance stood,”
- This person is situated at a suitable or appropriate distance from the two individuals being described in the poem. They are close enough to observe and understand the deep connection between the two without intruding upon it.
This stanza emphasizes the transformative and transcendent nature of the love being experienced by the two individuals. It suggests that there might be someone who, through their love and understanding, can appreciate and respect the deep bond between these two without intruding on their private connection.
He (though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same)
Might thence a new concoction take,
And part far purer than he came.
This stanza further explores the idea of a person who is deeply attuned to the love and connection between the two individuals. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “He (though he knew not which soul spake,”
- The poem refers to the person mentioned earlier, the one so refined by love that they understand the language of the soul. This person is now described as not knowing which of the two individuals is speaking through their souls, as both are expressing the same emotions or thoughts.
- “Because both meant, both spake the same)”
- The reason the person can’t distinguish which soul is speaking is because both souls have the same intentions, emotions, and expressions. Their unity and love are so profound that their souls communicate in unison.
- “Might thence a new concoction take,”
- This line suggests that this understanding person could take something new or unique from witnessing the deep connection and communication between the two individuals. It’s as if they are learning or gaining a valuable insight from this experience.
- “And part far purer than he came.”
- The person, after witnessing the profound connection between the two souls, may leave this experience with a part of themselves that is much purer and more refined than when they first encountered it. This implies that witnessing such deep and genuine love can have a transformative effect on a person.
This stanza underscores the idea that genuine, deep love and connection can influence and change those who witness it, making them purer and more enlightened in the process.
This ecstasy doth unperplex
(We said) and tell us what we love,
We see by this; it was not sex,
We sec, we saw not what did move:
This stanza of the poem seems to discuss a moment of clarity and revelation in the context of the deep connection between the two individuals. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “This ecstasy doth unperplex (We said)”
- The word “ecstasy” here refers to a state of intense emotional or spiritual pleasure and connection. The two individuals are acknowledging that this state of ecstasy has provided them with a sense of clarity.
- “and tell us what we love,”
- They are seeking an understanding of what it is they truly love and cherish. They want this moment of ecstasy to reveal the nature of their feelings.
- “We see by this; it was not sex,”
- They have come to realize, through this moment of deep connection, that what they love is not merely physical or sexual in nature. It’s not driven by purely physical desires.
- “We sec, we saw not what did move:”
- They acknowledge that they have come to see and understand what they love, but they still do not fully comprehend the source or cause of this profound emotional and spiritual connection. They have experienced it, but they are not entirely sure what initiated or fueled it.
This stanza reflects a moment of self-discovery and clarity within the relationship, where the two individuals recognize that their love is not solely based on physical desires and seek to understand the deeper aspects of their connection.
But as all several souls contain
Mixure of things, they know not what,
Love, these mixed souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this and that.
In this stanza, the poem discusses the idea that individual souls are composed of a mixture of elements and qualities, which may be unclear or not fully understood. Love, in this context, serves to combine or mix these individual souls, resulting in a union where both souls become one, embodying a combination of the characteristics of each person. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “But as all several souls contain”
- This line acknowledges that every individual soul comprises a variety of elements and attributes.
- “Mixure of things, they know not what,”
- Individuals may have a mixture of qualities and traits within themselves, but they may not fully comprehend the exact nature of this mixture.
- “Love, these mixed souls doth mix again,”
- Love has the power to recombine or mix these diverse souls together.
- “And makes both one, each this and that.”
- Through the power of love, the two souls become a singular entity, a union that encompasses the characteristics of both individuals (“each this and that”).
This stanza emphasizes the transformative and unifying force of love, which has the ability to blend and unite the unique qualities of individual souls, creating a profound and harmonious connection between two people.
A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size,
(All which before was poor, and scan)
Redoubles still, and multiplies.
In this stanza, the poem uses the metaphor of a violet transplant to describe how the love between two individuals can have a transformative and enriching effect. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “A single violet transplant,”
- The poet uses the image of a single violet flower being moved or transplanted from one place to another.
- “The strength, the colour, and the size,”
- When this violet is transplanted, it gains strength, its color becomes more vibrant, and its size increases. In other words, it flourishes and thrives in its new environment.
- “(All which before was poor, and scan)”
- Prior to the transplant, the violet was described as “poor” and “scan,” meaning it was weak or lacking in vitality.
- “Redoubles still, and multiplies.”
- After being transplanted, the violet not only grows stronger but also multiplies, suggesting that it reproduces and spreads, creating more violets.
This stanza uses the violet as a symbol for the transformative power of love. Just as the violet becomes more vibrant and prolific when transplanted, the love between the two individuals enriches and multiplies, leading to a stronger and more vibrant connection between them.
When love, with one another so
Interinanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.
In this stanza, the poem describes the transformative power of love when it deeply connects two souls. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “When love, with one another so”
- The stanza begins by addressing the idea that love, when it is shared between two people, can have a profound impact.
- “Interinanimates two souls,”
- The word “interinanimates” suggests that love animates or enlivens both souls, causing them to come to life or become more vibrant when they are together.
- “That abler soul, which thence doth flow,”
- Love has the effect of enhancing or strengthening one of the souls, referred to as the “abler soul.” This means that one person’s soul is invigorated and empowered by the love they share.
- “Defects of loneliness controls.”
- Love has the power to overcome or control the feelings of loneliness or inadequacy in the individual souls. It compensates for any shortcomings or deficiencies by connecting the two souls deeply.
Overall, the stanza conveys the idea that when two souls are deeply connected by love, it has a transformative effect, making them more vibrant and helping to compensate for any feelings of loneliness or inadequacy. Love enhances and empowers the abler soul, creating a harmonious and fulfilling connection between the two individuals.
We then, who are this new soul, know
Of what we are composed, and made,
For, th’ atomies of which we grow,
Are souls, whom no change can invade.
In this stanza, the poem explores the idea that the two individuals, united by their love, have become a new, singular entity. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “We then, who are this new soul, know”
- The poem asserts that the two individuals, bound together by their love, have become a single, unified entity or soul.
- “Of what we are composed, and made,”
- They understand the composition and nature of this new soul that they’ve become. They are aware of the elements that have combined to create this profound connection.
- “For, th’ atomies of which we grow,”
- The word “atomies” here refers to the smallest, indivisible components. In this context, it suggests that the smallest components of their being or essence have come together.
- “Are souls, whom no change can invade.”
- The essence or components that have formed this new soul are individual souls, and the poem emphasizes that these souls are so deeply intertwined that no external change or influence can disrupt their unity.
This stanza conveys the idea that their love has given rise to a new, unified soul, and they understand that it is composed of individual souls that are inseparable and resilient against external influences or changes. It reflects the enduring and profound nature of their connection.
But O alas, so long, so far
Our bodies why do we forbear ?
They are ours, though they are not we, we are
The intelligences, they the sphere.
In this stanza, the poem explores the longing for physical closeness and the distinction between the physical bodies and the inner selves (intelligences) of the two individuals. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “But O alas, so long, so far”
- The stanza begins with an expression of longing and lamentation. The two individuals have been apart for a considerable period of time, and this separation is causing sorrow or frustration.
- “Our bodies why do we forbear?”
- The question arises as to why they continue to keep their physical bodies apart or separate. There’s a desire for physical closeness.
- “They are ours, though they are not we, we are”
- This line emphasizes that their physical bodies belong to them, but they are not the essence of who they are. The true essence of their beings lies in their intelligences or inner selves.
- “The intelligences, they the sphere.”
- The “intelligences” refer to the inner selves, the intellectual and spiritual aspects of the two individuals. The term “sphere” likely represents the physical bodies. This line underscores the idea that while the physical bodies are separate, their inner selves are intimately connected and are what truly define them.
In this stanza, the poem addresses the longing for physical closeness and the recognition that their true identities and connection go beyond the physical realm. It emphasizes the separation of their bodies but the unity of their inner selves or intelligences.
We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their forces, sense, to us
Nor are dross to us , but allay.
In this stanza, the poem expresses gratitude and appreciation towards their physical bodies (referred to as “they”) for serving as vessels that facilitated the initial connection and understanding between the two individuals. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “We owe them thanks, because they thus”
- The poem suggests that the two individuals owe gratitude to their physical bodies.
- “Did us, to us, at first convey,”
- The physical bodies initially served as a means to convey or communicate their feelings and emotions to themselves. In other words, their bodies allowed them to experience and understand their own emotions.
- “Yielded their forces, sense, to us”
- The physical bodies yielded or provided their capabilities, such as the ability to sense and perceive, to the individuals. Their senses allowed them to become aware of their emotions and the connection between them.
- “Nor are dross to us, but allay.”
- The word “dross” typically refers to impurities or waste material. In this context, it means that the physical bodies are not mere impurities or hindrances to them but, rather, they soothe or calm them. The physical aspect of their existence contributes positively to their understanding and connection.
This stanza acknowledges the role of their physical bodies in facilitating their initial connection and understanding, and it suggests that these bodies are not obstacles but rather a part of what enables their deep connection.
On man heaven’s influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air,
So soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair,
In this stanza, the poem explores the concept of how divine or heavenly influence interacts with human beings and how the soul connects to the physical body. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “On man heaven’s influence works not so,”
- The stanza begins by stating that the influence or impact of heaven (divine or spiritual forces) doesn’t affect humans in a straightforward manner. It’s not a direct, immediate connection.
- “But that it first imprints the air,”
- Before it reaches human beings, heaven’s influence first leaves an impression in the atmosphere or the environment. It suggests a more indirect or gradual process.
- “So soul into the soul may flow,”
- The influence from heaven then allows the soul to flow into or connect with the soul of the individual.
- “Though it to body first repair,”
- Even though this connection occurs, the soul first has to repair or become united with the physical body.
In essence, the stanza describes a process in which heavenly influence indirectly affects the human soul and, through that influence, the soul becomes united with the physical body. It emphasizes that this connection is not immediate but occurs through a series of steps.
As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot, which makes us man:
In this part of the poem, the poet explores the intricate process of human creation, combining physical and spiritual elements. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “As our blood labours to beget”
- The stanza begins by likening the human body’s efforts, specifically the role of blood, in the act of procreation. It refers to the physical aspect of human life, the biological process of creating new life.
- “Spirits, as like souls as it can,”
- This line suggests that the goal of this biological process is to create new life forms or “spirits” that are as similar to human souls as possible. Here, “spirits” could refer to the essence of life or consciousness.
- “Because such fingers need to knit”
- The creation of these life forms is likened to the delicate and skillful work of fingers “knitting.” This emphasizes the intricacy and precision of the process.
- “That subtle knot, which makes us man:”
- The “subtle knot” is the complex interweaving of physical and spiritual elements that defines humanity. It’s this combination that distinguishes us as human beings.
In summary, the stanza is a metaphorical exploration of human creation, highlighting the interplay between the physical and spiritual aspects of human existence. It emphasizes the intricate process of forming a human being, blending both the physical and metaphysical to make us uniquely human.
So must pure lovers souls descend
T’affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehended,
Else a great prince in prison lies.
In this stanza, the poem discusses the idea of how pure and deep love connects the souls of lovers to their emotions and abilities. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “So must pure lovers souls descend”
- The stanza begins by stating that the souls of pure lovers must “descend,” which means they must connect or be intimately linked.
- “T’affections, and to faculties,”
- These connected souls must descend or connect to the lovers’ affections (emotions and feelings) and faculties (abilities, talents, or capabilities).
- “Which sense may reach and apprehended,”
- The emotions and abilities to which the souls descend are ones that can be perceived and understood by the senses and the mind. In other words, they are real, tangible, and comprehensible.
- “Else a great prince in prison lies.”
- The stanza concludes with a metaphorical expression. If the souls of lovers don’t descend and connect to their emotions and abilities, it’s as if a great prince (a symbol of someone important or powerful) is imprisoned or constrained. This suggests that deep and pure love enables individuals to fully experience and express their emotions and abilities.
In essence, this stanza emphasizes that pure and deep love connects the souls of lovers to their emotions and abilities, allowing them to fully experience and understand their own feelings and talents. Without this connection, it’s as if a significant aspect of their being is constrained or imprisoned.
To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love revealed may look;
Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.
In this stanza, the poem explores the connection between the physical body and the experience of love, highlighting that the body plays a role in revealing the mysteries of love. Let’s break it down line by line:
- “To our bodies turn we then, that so”
- The stanza begins by suggesting that the focus should shift to the physical bodies of the lovers.
- “Weak men on love revealed may look;”
- This line implies that individuals who may be considered “weak” or ordinary in their understanding of love can look at the physical expressions of love to gain insight into its mysteries.
- “Love’s mysteries in souls do grow,”
- Love is described as having mysteries that are cultivated or developed in the souls of individuals. These mysteries refer to the deep, emotional aspects of love that are personal and internal.
- “But yet the body is his book.”
- However, despite the mysteries of love growing in the soul, the stanza concludes by asserting that the body is the “book” of love. In other words, the physical expressions of love, such as affection, touch, and physical intimacy, are the visible and tangible manifestations of love that others can observe and understand.
The stanza underscores that while love’s mysteries are primarily internal and emotional, the physical expressions of love are how it is often revealed and understood by others. It emphasizes the role of the body in conveying and expressing the depths of love’s emotions and connections.
And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change, when we are to bodies gone.
Certainly, let’s break down the stanza line by line:
- “And if some lover, such as we,”
- The stanza begins by addressing any other lovers who are similar to the two individuals in their deep connection and love.
- “Have heard this dialogue of one,”
- It suggests that these other lovers may have observed or heard the “dialogue of one,” which likely refers to the intimate and spiritual communication between the two lovers.
- “Let him still mark us, he shall see”
- The poem encourages these observers to continue paying attention to the two lovers, even after their physical existence has ended. They will continue to be a subject of interest.
- “Small change, when we are to bodies gone.”
- This line implies that when the two lovers transition from their current state (presumably a state of deep spiritual connection) to being separated from their physical bodies, there will be “small change.” This suggests that the nature of their connection and love will remain relatively constant even after they’ve left their physical forms.
In essence, this stanza encourages other lovers who have witnessed the profound connection between these two individuals to continue observing them, as their love and bond will persist and remain largely unchanged, even when they are no longer in their physical bodies. It conveys the enduring and timeless nature of their love.