The Anniversary by John Donne is a dramatic lyric in which the poet celebrates his love which is now one year old. The poet is the speaker and his beloved is the listener. The central theme of The Anniversary is the immortality of true love which transcends death itself. The opposites of immortality and death are here juxtaposed and reconciled.
Diction & Language in The Anniversary
As regards the language of the lyric, The Anniversary is simple, much simpler than that of other poems of Donne. There are no difficult allusions and references. He writes in a simple and direct manner. The lyric acquires force and energy, as the poet has succeeded in capturing the very rhythms and accents of spoken speech, as in the line, “When thou and I first one another saw” and the concluding lines of the poem.
John Donne as a Love Poet
John Donne’s love poems cover a wide range of feelings from extreme physical passion to spiritual love, and express varied moods ranging from a mood of cynicism and contempt to one of faith and acceptance. Hence, it is difficult to classify them with any exactness. Moreover, they were not written at any one period but over a number of years and were published for the first time in 1633, in one volume, entitled “Songs and Sonnets”.
Donne’s greatness as a love poet arises from the fact that his poetry covers a wider range of emotions than that of any previous poet, and that it is not bookish but is rooted in his personal experiences. His love experiences were wide and varied and so is the emotions range of his love-poetry. He had love affairs with a number of women, some of them lasting and permanent, others only of a short duration.
Although The Anniversary is quoted in full below, you can also read the poem here at Poetry Foundation.
The Anniversary Analysis
All Kings, and all their favourites
All glory’ of honors, beauties, wits
The Sun it selfe, which makes times, as they passe,
Is elder by a yeare, now, than it was
When thou and I first one another saw:
All other things, to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This, no to morrow hath, nor yesterday,
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keepes his first, last, everlasting day.
Since the poet and his beloved first met each other, kings and all their favourites have aged, the glory of honour, beauty and wit has passed away,
And the sun itself, which measure time, as it passes, is older by a year. All other things are hastening to their decay; their love alone knows no decay. Neither tomorrow nor yesterday does affect their love: while it runs in its course, it never runs away from them. Their love never changes; it is the same as it was in the beginning and will continue to be the same till the end. Their love is eternal.
Two graves must hide thine and my corse,
If one might, death were no divorce.
Alas, as well as other princes, wee,
(Who Prince enough in one another bee,)
Must leave at last in death , these eyes, and eares,
Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet salt teares;
But soules where nothing dwells but love
(All other thoughts being inmates) then shall prove
This, or a love increased there above,
When bodies to their graves, soules from their graves remove.
The graves must hide their corpses. If one grave might cover the two corpses, death would not separate them. Alas! As it is the fate of other princes, they, each being as good as a prince in enjoying the love of the other, also must at last let their eyes and ears be closed in death, their ears which were nourished with genuine oaths, and their eyes, which were nourished with sweet-bitter tears. But their souls, possessed entirely by love, and admitting other thoughts only temporarily, shall then prove the constancy of their love. Their love will increase still more in heaven when after death their bodies sink into the grave and the souls ascend to heaven.
And then wee shall be thoroughly blest,
But wee no more, than all the rest,
Here upon earth, we’are kings, and none but wee
Can be such Kings, nor of such subjects bee;
Who is so safe as wee? where none can doe
Treason to us, except one of us two.
True and false feares let us refraine,
Let us love nobly, ‘and live, and adde againe
Yeares ad yeares unto yeares, till we attaine
To write threescore: this is the second of our reigne.
And in heaven they shall be thoroughly blest; they shall be as much blest as other spirits. Here on earth they are kings in their love; none else is so crowned with love. As they are kings in their love, none else but they can be subjects of such kings – they are both kings and subjects in their love. None can do treachery to them, unless one of them turns faithless. Let them refrain from fears, either real or groundless. Let them love nobly and live adding year to year until they are sixty. Then they will celebrate their golden jubilee; it is only the second year of their love.
Critical Appreciation of The Anniversary
It was a year ago that the poet met his beloved. During this time, the kings and their countries, the beauty of women, and the wit of the learned have all grown aged. But Time has had no influence on their love. Their love, like a current of water, has flowed on during this time, but it has not flowed away from them. Their love is immortal; it is not subject to change and decay. It is the same today as it was yesterday and it will remain the same in the future also.
They are kings of the kingdom of Love, but even kings die, and so they too, would die one day. Even death may fail to part them, if they are buried in the same grave. In that case they would be one even after death. But even they are not buried together; death would be able to separate only their bodies. Their respective souls would rise to heaven and they will continue to love each other, with added passion and intensity, as they loved here on earth. The only difference would be that there they would have no eyes or ears, through which on this earth they enjoyed the felicity of listening to vows of love and shedding “bitter-sweet tears”, caused by lover’s quarrels, ending in happy reconciliations.
In heaven, no doubt, they would be blessed and satisfied, but in heaven all are equally happy and satisfied. There shall be nothing unique about their own happiness. The unique felicity of true love can be enjoyed only in this life and that too through senses. The physical self, the body, is essential for realising the uniqueness of a love-experience.
Donne’s attitude towards love is realistic. Even when he talks of love in the Platonic strain, he does not forget the body. In his philosophy, love, however spiritual and exalted it may be, must have its basis in physical experience. Love on this earth, even physical love, is not to be looked down upon. True lovers are kings of the kingdom of love, and their happiness and security is far greater than that of other kings. For, they need not fear any treachery or any deception from any quarter. But Donne is realistic enough to realise that lovers can be false to each other. The only danger that they need fear comes from themselves.
However, they should not allow their present happiness to be spoiled by any doubts and fears, whether genuine or baseless. They should go on loving nobly and truly, year after year, till their love is sixty years old. Then they would celebrate its golden jubilee. At present it is only the second year of their love.
Thus, in the lyrics, the poet has reconciled Death and the eternity of love. He has exalted conception of love and true love transcends death itself. They poet’s attitude is different from the conventional Elizabeth attitude. The Elizabeth poets glorified love, but their treatment lacked in realism and passion. Donne infuses passion and realism in his treatment of love and thus goes against the Elizabeth tradition. The lyric brings out his original and unique attitude towards love.
Thus, in the lyric the poet has reconciled Death and the eternity of Love. He has an exalted conception of love and true love transcends death itself. The poet’s attitude is different from the conventional Elizabethan attitude. The Elizabethan poets gloried love, but their treatment lacked in realism and passion. Donne infuses passion and realism in this treatment of love and thus goes against the Elizabethan tradition. The lyric brings out his original and unique attitude towards love.