The Canonization by John Donne

The Canonization by John Donne

💬Picture this: The Canonization by John Donne is all like, “Hey, our love is so over-the-top amazing that it’s practically on par with becoming a saint in the eyes of the Catholic Church!” Yep, it is so pure and out-of-this-world that it deserves its own holiday!” 😄❤️🎉

About the Poet

John Donne (1572-1631) was born into a Roman Catholic family during a time when England was undergoing religious turmoil. The country was transitioning from Roman Catholicism to Anglicanism, a process known as the English Reformation. Initially, Donne’s upbringing and early education were influenced by his Catholic background.

In his youth, Donne had aspirations of achieving a prominent public position. Unfortunately, his secret marriage to his employer’s daughter ruined his prospects. However, as he grew older and pursued his education at the University of Oxford and later the University of Cambridge, Donne’s religious beliefs began to evolve. The atmosphere at these prestigious institutions was marked by the influence of the Church of England, which adhered to Anglicanism. The intellectual and theological environment at these universities likely played a role in shaping Donne’s religious views.

At some point, Donne made a conscious decision to convert to Anglicanism. This decision was not taken lightly, as religious affiliations were deeply intertwined with one’s identity and social standing during that era. Donne’s conversion to Anglicanism signalled a break from his Roman Catholic roots and a commitment to the Church of England.

Following his conversion, Donne pursued a career within the Anglican Church. In 1615, he underwent ordination, a formal process that included becoming a clergyman. This step was significant because it allowed Donne to actively participate in the Church of England as a minister and preacher.

As an ordained Anglican clergyman, Donne’s career took a new trajectory. He became known for his powerful and eloquent sermons, which would later contribute to his reputation as a preacher of great influence. His role within the Anglican Church would ultimately lead to his appointment as the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1621, a prestigious position within the Church hierarchy.

John Donne is celebrated as one of the greatest poets in English literature, particularly within the Metaphysical poetry tradition. His body of work includes captivating love poems, religious verses, treatises, and impactful sermons. His early secular poetry is known for its directness, intensity, brilliant wit, and daring imagination.

As his career progressed, Donne’s poetry took on a darker tone, evident in works like the Anniversaries (1611–12), which contemplate the world’s decline. His 19 renowned Holy Sonnets, written between 1607 and 1613, were published after his death. Among his prose writings, which are as emotionally charged as his poetry, one of the most enduring is “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” (1624).

Historical Context

The Canonization was written by John Donne in the 1590s, during a period of significant cultural, religious, and political change in England. During the late 16th century, England was experiencing religious conflicts, particularly between Catholics and Protestants. The English Reformation, initiated by Henry VIII in the 16th century, had resulted in England’s break from the Catholic Church and the establishment of the Church of England (Anglicanism). However, religious tensions persisted, and Catholics faced persecution for their beliefs.

The poem was likely written during the Elizabethan era, when Queen Elizabeth I ruled England (1558-1603). This period saw a flourishing of English literature and the arts, with poets like John Donne exploring complex themes in their work. The period was marked by English exploration and expansion. It was a time when England was beginning to establish itself as a colonial power, with explorers like Sir Walter Raleigh venturing to the New World.

In this historical context, Donne’s poem reflects the intellectual and religious curiosity of the time. It engages with themes of love, spirituality, and the transcendent in a manner characteristic of metaphysical poetry, while also addressing the religious and social dynamics of the late 16th century.

Metaphysical Poetry

The Canonization is a prime example of metaphysical poetry, a style characterized by intellectual and philosophical themes, use of conceits (extended metaphors), and exploration of the spiritual and physical aspects of love.

The term Metaphysical poets was coined by the critic Samuel Johnson to describe a loose group of 17th-century English poets whose work was characterised by the inventive use of conceits, and by a greater emphasis on the spoken rather than lyrical quality of their verse. The features most prominent in the poetry of John Donne, the chief of the Metaphysicals. Others include Henry Vaughan, Andrew Marvell, John Cleveland, and Abraham Cowley as well as, to a lesser extent, George Herbert and Richard Crashaw.

Metaphysical poetry is a unique style known for blending deep emotions with clever intellect. It uses a technique called “conceit,” where seemingly unrelated ideas or objects are yoked (means “joined”) together so that the reader is startled out of his complacency and forced to think through the argument of the poem. Instead of just expressing feelings, it dissects them, digging into the poet’s thoughts. Metaphysical poets are bold in using literary devices like obliquity, irony, and paradox. They also use direct language and rhythms resembling natural speech.

What is Canonization?

Canonization is the official act of a Christian communion, a relationship of recognition and acceptance between Christian churches or denominations (i.e. a recognized autonomous branch of the Christian Church; sects), declaring one of its deceased members worthy of public veneration (means “reverence”) and entering their name in the canon catalogue of saints, or authorized list of that communion’s recognized saints.

The process of canonization varies from denomination to denomination, but it typically involves a rigorous investigation into the candidate’s life and virtues. The candidate must have lived a life of heroic virtue and must have performed at least two miracles. Upon the verification of the miracles, the candidate is canonized. Once canonized, the individual is considered a saint, and their life and example are regarded high as models of holiness and devotion within the Catholic faith. Canonization is a formal declaration that the person is in heaven and can intercede (means “to intervene”) with God on behalf of the faithful.

Relevance of the Title

The poem is a celebration of the speaker’s love for his mistress, and the speaker compares their love to a religious experience. The speaker argues that their love is so great and pure that it makes them worthy of being canonized as saints.

The title also signifies the theme of the poem i.e. relationship between love, religion and sanctity (means “piety”). The speaker challenges the traditional religious view of sanctity, arguing that love is the highest form of holiness.

It appears that the title has multiple layers of meanings. For example, the word “canonization” can also refer to the process of establishing a work of literature as a classic. In this sense, the title suggests that the speaker believes his poem is a work of great merit, and that it will be celebrated for centuries to come.

Poem’s title, “The Canonization” is a complex and thought-provoking one that invites the reader to consider the poem’s multiple meanings. Some critics have argued that the title of “The Canonization” is ironic, as the poem does not actually canonize the speaker or his mistress. Instead, the poem challenges the traditional religious view of sanctity and suggests that love is the highest form of holiness.

Other critics have argued that the title is not ironic at all, as the speaker is genuinely serious about his claim that he and his mistress are worthy of being canonized. They point to the fact that the poem is full of religious imagery and language, which suggests that the speaker is genuinely comparing his love to a religious experience.

Regardless of whether or not the title is ironic, it is clear that it is a carefully chosen title that is relevant and appropriate to the poem’s content and themes. It is a title that invites the reader to think about the poem in a number of different ways.


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©2023 Md Rustam Ansari []


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