THE ECSTASY by John Donne

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
      By a fast balm, which thence did spring;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
      Our eyes upon one double string.

So to engraft our hands, as yet
      Was all the means to make us one;
And pictures in our eyes to get
      Was all our propagation.

As, 'twixt two equal armies, Fate
      Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls--which to advance their state,
      Were gone out--hung 'twixt her and me.

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.

If any, so by love refined,
      That he soul's language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
      Within convenient distance stood,

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 ecstasy doth unperplex
      (We said) and tell us what we love;
We see by this, it was not sex;
      We see, we saw not, what did move:

But as all several souls contain
      Mixture of things they know not what,
Love these mix'd souls doth mix again,
      And makes both one, each this, and that.

A single violet transplant,
      The strength, the colour, and the size--
All which before was poor and scant--
      Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
      Interanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
      Defects of loneliness controls.

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.

But, O alas! so long, so far,
      Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though not we; we are
      Th' intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
      Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses' force to us,
      Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven's influence works not so,
      But that it first imprints the air;
For soul into the soul may flow,
      Though it to body first repair.

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;

So must pure lovers' souls descend
      To affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
      Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
      Weak men on love reveal'd may look;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
      But yet the body is his book.

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're to bodies gone.

The Extasie (an alternate spelling for The Ecstasy) is one of John Donne's most famous and most complex poems. Here it is suggested that the couple's love is in two dimensions – the physical or bodily, the spiritual. This distinction was common in metaphysical poetry, and either or both forms are the subjects of a great number of Donne’s poems. In The Extasie Donne wanted to make the argument that although the spiritual side is perhaps more important, more cerebral and divine the physical side should and can not be left out. It would seem to be possible to divide the poem thematically into three sections. The first and second in turn describe the couple's stillness and address their spirituality. First he describes his and his partner’s bodily stillness and lack of contact, effectively setting the scene of the poem. He elaborates by illustrating the intermingling of their souls.

Our soules, (which to advance their state,
     Were gone out,) hung 'twixt her, and mee.
And whil'st our soules negotiate there,
     Wee like sepulchrall statues lay;

A large proportion of the poem, then, is devoted to this spiritual love and the 'extasie', whereby their soules leave their bodies and meet, leaving the bodies lying still. It is undoubtable that he sees this as the significant part of their relationship, but in the third section of the poem he shifts the subject to sexual love between them.

But O alas, so long, so farre 
     Our bodies why doe wee forbeare? 
They'are ours, though they'are not wee; Wee are 
     The intelligences, they the spheare. 

Here, he accepts that they, as individuals and together as a unit, are their souls, and that there are less significant physical extensions of themselves in space, to be controlled by their spiritual, or perhaps cerebral selves. Donne argues that their bodies 'Nor are drosse' to them 'but allay'. The idea being expressed seems to be that the bodies are useful and necessary in reproducing (with the child as an alloy, a mix of the father and the mother). He seems to think it almost a shame if they do not make use of their physical faculties – 'Else a great Prince in prison lies'.

The metaphor of a prince is typical of the imagery Donne uses to express the concepts he is trying to get across, and fairly heavy use of such images is intrinsic to metaphysical poetry; indeed they are necessary to convey the gravity and magnificence of metaphysical concepts, such as souls. The intensity between the lovers despite the stillness is well conveyed, as he creates the idea that there is a connection between them other than a physical one.

Our eye-beames twisted, and did thred
     Our eyes, upon one double string; 

In terms of form, although it is not printed in separate quatrains, it is possible to identify groups of four lines, due to the alternate rhyme scheme which restarts every four lines, and the fact that there is more often punctuation such as a full stop at the end on every fourth line than at other intervals. The effect of this is to somewhat redefine the meaning from how it would be were this not the case, and in this way it is possible to identify a structured argument (as with the three parts, approximately spanning lines 1-20, 21-48 and 49 onwards respectively). The rhythm is iambic tetrametre, a faster pace than many poems, and the consequence of this is that the argument flows succinctly rather than meandering, despite the poetic language.

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