These are my answers to some of the questions posed for my Literature 12
class for each stanza. There is some good information in here about the poem:
The poet describes the transition between life and death for "virtuous men" because they are virtuous and therefore are not afraid of death. They are able to forsee their death but do not fear it, unlike the other men who are sinful. The stanza describes how the "virtuous men" pass away so gently that some of their friends doubt that they have, indeed, passed away. A ballad is used as well as alliteration and assonance to support this concept.
The poet elevates his love from earthly love to spiritual love by describing how his love is sacred as well as more elevated than the love of ordinary people. More elevated than physical love.
"Twere profanation of our joys to tell the laity our love."
The poet creates a metaphor of an earthquake to compare it to his love. He describes how an earthquake may bring harm and great fear, "Moving of th' earth brings harms and fears," but his love has much more meaning to it, being much more profound by describing it as the "...trepidation of the spheres".
Donne describes other lovers as "sublunary" because "sublunary love" is imperfect. Sublunary means beneath the sphere of the moon thus it is love that is constantly changing. He compares their love to his love which is referenced in his first conceit - gold. Gold is the purest element and thus what elements it cannot be removed or taken away - similar to his love. He also describes how pure his love really is which could be tied in with his references to the purity of gold: "but we by a love, is so much refined". Lastly, Donne states that the presence of the lovers is "elemented" in sublunary love because the lovers must be present, otherwise their love will fade. "Absence, because it doth remove those things which elemented it".
Donne mentions three body parts - eyes, lips and hands - because they are the most important body parts to sense the love in ordinary love. He is once again describing how refined his love is, and that these body parts are not needed to feel his love. These body parts are also noticed in a person's appearance, and yet again, his love is much stronger than the love of ordinary people, thus he does not care for such superficial ideals.
Once again, the gold conceit is used. The poet compares his soul as well as his love to gold - describing his soul to be as precious as gold since it is considered to be one of the most precious metals. Gold is also considered to be the most noble metal thus, most difficult to destroy, much like his love. The gold conceit leads to the circle conceit because the alchemical symbol for gold was a circle with a point in the center. The circle represents purity and endlessness which once again describes his love.
Stanza Seven, Eight and Nine
"They" refers to the lover's souls and the metaphysical conceit used here is the compass. The compass describes the love of the two lovers (notice how repetitive this whole poem seems to be). Because the compass draws a circle, their love is much like a circle - pure and endless. The points of a compass joins together meaning that when the lovers are together, they have an emotional buildup of expectation and joy. "And grows erect, as that comes home".