Consider some of the ways in which Donne’s poetry could be said to be ambitious in its style and subject matter.

To be ambitious is to have a strong need and determination to succeed – something Donne had in many aspects of his life. From his poetry, relationship with God, to his personal life, Donne had a ‘restless desire for work and for worldly success’.

Perhaps Donne’s most ambitious move was his decision to marry Anne More, daughter of Sir George More, whom he met when she moved into his employer’s – Sir Thomas Egerton – London mansion. Sadly, when Anne’s father found out about their marriage, he threw Donne into prison. During this time, Donne and Anne’s separation is seen in the poem The Expiration, but Donne’s ambition to get through everything thrown at them is seen in poems like The Sun Rising and The Canonization. In The Expiration, Donne shows Anne and him being in pain due to their imminent separation, through the hyperbole ‘double dead’, emphasising the impossibility of the statement being like the almost impossible chance of them surviving without each other. The oxymoron benight out happiest day’ also shows the doubt Donne has at his and Anne’s relationship surviving. However, the angry aubade The Sun Rising, is one of the paradigms of Donne’s ambition. He addresses Sir George More with the angry opening plosive ‘busy’, calling him and ‘old fool’. He continues his subversiveness by reversing the typical vertical ladder-like image of hierarchy, and placing the ‘court-huntsmen’ and the ‘King’ below the ‘schoolboys and sour prentices’. By doing this, Donne is being ambitious in the subject-matter of the poem too, as he is implying that Sir George More is not more powerful simply because he is above them in the social hierarchy. Through writing a poem like this, Donne might be feeling empowered by the fact that he can do this and get away with it. Furthermore, through this audacious poem, Donne is showing his ambitions to keep Anne as his wife, and the lengths he will go too to do so. Similarly, in the The Canonization, Donne is addressing a bigger audience to show the importance of his and Anne’s marriage, himself believing he put her into a ‘wretched fortune’ and had to make up for it. he doesn’t feel that the sacrifices they have made have been acknowledged, and so wants them ‘canonized for love’. He is not requesting some menial and every day task to be carried out, but one of the most important and rare acts carried out by the Catholic church. The audacity of it is shocking – especially at the time it was written -, but effective in getting his point across.

Donne ‘making a case for the power of poetry’, was considered to be a metaphysical poet. To him, ‘a thought was an experience’, and he often conveyed this through his use of conceit. For example, \donne uses a compass to symbolise the connection he and Anne had in order to soothe her ‘mourning’ when he went away to Europe. Although Samuel Johnson said the conceits in metaphysical poetry are ‘heterogenous idea yoked together by violence’, the parallels between the literal connection of the compass being what hold it together, and the spiritual connection between Anne and Donne being what will keep them together, is the perfect comparison. Therefore, Helen Gardiner’s point of discussion that in an ‘extended conceit the poet forces fresh points of likeness on us’ is applicable to Donne, as he forces the reader to looks at an everyday object differently, in a very subtle yet effective comparison.

Donne’s unorthodox approach to diving poetry is where we see his ambition in regards to God. Although he had many ways of approaching and showing what he wanted from God, he had only one goal – to be saved by Him. It is perhaps more obvious in his Divine poems,where Donne uses the sonnet as a form for communicating his anxiety about his soul and the afterlife, what Donne wanted from God, but as Ilona Bell points out, his earlier and letter poems are ‘strikingly similar’. In Lover’s Infiniteness’, Donne’s insecurity and desperation to have an all-consuming relationship is scattered throughout. The insecurity begins from the first word, through the conjunction ‘if’, later being repeated multiple times. The repetition of ‘all’ when addressing the woman’s love, shows he cannot be sated with just being loved by her – he must completely own and consume her. He is jealous and worried, that if he does have it ‘all’, that she might have some for other people (‘some should to other fall’), again showing his need for an enthralling love. Similarly, these needs can be seen in Holy Sonnet XIV, but concerned with God rather than a woman. Donne is insecure about his weakness, which has led him to be ‘betrothed’ to another (Satan), and is now worried he cannot be saved. His use of the itself-ambitious sequence of dynamic verbs at the start and throughout, is what highlights his frantic want to have the all-consuming love, and so his ambition to be saved: ‘knock, breathe, shine’. He reaches the epitome of desperation in the final three lines of the poem, when he asks God to ‘enthral’ (enslave) him, but free him; to help him be ‘chaste’, but wants Him to ‘ravish’ him. The desperation in this spoems is proof of Donne’s ambition when it comes to God: the violent, -almost onomatopoeic – verbs, the imagery of matrimony to Satan, and the mercurial requests to God, all show him striving to be saved by God.

 

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