Love is pure truth, a divine experience, a way to live more and surpass even death.
It is a sublime fantasy that is real and better than the material world. Love is life’s paradox.
This is the idea that John Donne is expressing in the poem The Canonization. It is a reply as well as a declaration that the poet makes to the world- a world that treats lovers harshly.
He scorns the worldly, he questions the inquisitive, he proves the myths true, he places his love high and announces it as canonized.
The sudden change in his tone doesn’t bother if one recognises the powerful and apt imagery he has used in the poem.
The very first line ‘For God’s sake, hold your tongue, and let me love’ hits hard, but certainly in a good manner. In fact, it catches the interest of the reader at once.
The poem is like a necklace, beaded with beautiful and grand images like –
‘What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?’
‘And we in us find the eagle and the dove’
‘The phoenix riddle hath more wit/ By us; we two being one, are it’
‘As well a well-wrought urn becomes/ The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs/ And by these hymns, all shall approve / Us canonized for Love.’
‘Countries, towns, courts: beg from above/ A pattern of your love!’
These are not empty expressions as every word in the poem is linked with the central theme – love.
If we randomly pick one word from each stanza, it will still be related to the poem.
For example, ‘improve’ (stanza 1) – one who is in love grows as an individual and improves by learning to be selfless; ‘remove’ (stanza 2) – when in love you cannot dwell on hatred, and so the negativity is removed to make space for hope; ‘Mysterious’ (stanza 3) – love is an easy mystery; ‘legend’ (stanza 4) – we all remember love stories as legends, sadly these are mostly incomplete ones; ‘mirrors’ (stanza 5) – love is as reflective as a mirror.
Love is closely related to asceticism in the poem, which is one of the conceits (an ingenious or fanciful comparison or metaphor) used by the poet.
He proves it with great subtlety that the lovers need nothing from the world; they complete each other and hence, know inner peace.
The poet says that the lovers rise to such a level that they become one and enter a divine world, thus leaving the material world behind. They dwell in each other’s simple presence.
In the last stanza, after canonizing himself and his lover, the poet says that his pious canonized love would be celebrated in the world by one and all.
He ends by completing the canonization of his love, placing it on a high pedestal, and separating it from the worldly pleasures.
Canonization, the title of the poem, seems to be a question and an answer at the same time. As one wonders about how love can be canonized and attain sainthood, the divine nature of the poet’s love presented in the poem gradually justifies the same.
The poet shows that his love is spiritual not merely physical, that his union with his lover has made them blissful and assures that it will radiate amongst the others.
His canonized love is not against the world rather it is for the world, acting as an inspiration. His love is not harming anyone but is a liberating force, just like a saint’s.
John Donne’s The Canonization is a smart poem with brilliant use of wit, the quintessential quality of a metaphysical poet.
He celebrates love in a simple, forthright tone that makes this 17th-century poem wondrously alive in today’s world as well.
‘Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?’ (Stanza 2)
‘Call her one, me another fly/ We’re tapers too, and at our own cost die’ (Stanza 3)
There is a message hidden in this poem and the title ‘canonization’ is the key to unveil it. Donne wants to share that every one of us, whatever be our rank in the society that runs according to the man-made rules, has the ability to reach the divine state.
Sainthood according to him is not reserved for some but is achievable by all.
What we need is to rise above the material world, to resurrect ourselves through true love. Here the beloved represents anything- a person, God, nature, the entire world.
Love is the best, the all-embracing way to reach the sublime state as it is love that makes a person truly selfless and compassionate.
Even today if someone pursues this path, they will know that they are canonized, for they are in love.