A Short Analysis of John Donne’s ‘The Ecstasy’

Notes towards a commentary on Donne’s ‘The Extasie’ by Dr Oliver Tearle

John Donne (1572-1631) didn’t write ordinary love poems. Arguably the first of the ‘metaphysical poets’, Donne writes about love in a refreshingly direct and honest way. And yet, as the label ‘metaphysical’ suggests, his poetry is also full of complex and convoluted images and analogies, and decidedly indirect ideas that circle around the thing he is discussing. This paradox of Donne’s poetry is neatly exemplified by ‘The Ecstasy’ (sometimes the poem’s title is given as ‘The Extasie’, preserving its original Early Modern spelling), so a few words of analysis may help to elucidate what is a challenging and complex love poem.

The Ecstasy

Where, like a pillow on a bed
A pregnant bank swell’d up to rest
The violet’s reclining head,
Sat we two, one another’s best;

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;

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