Lovers’ Infiniteness by John Donne

John Donne’s poetry tends to have love, death, and religion as central themes. Lovers’ Infiniteness is no exception, as the poem explores the infiniteness in love and how the lyrical voice addresses his/her beloved one. The poem has a three-part argument and, thus, three stanzas. Each stanza has eleven lines, which is an unusual structure in Donne’s poems. However, Lovers’ Infiniteness is a usual type of poem for the poet, as the lyrical voice argues with his/her love and tries to convince him/her of something.

The poem has a regular ABABCDCDEEE rhyme scheme. The tone is wistful and anxious, while the mood of the poem is dreamlike and romantic. Lovers’ Infiniteness contains a lot of pastoral imagery alongside strong profane metaphors. Furthermore, at the end of each stanza, the word “all” is used, each time with a different meaning and creating a refrain.

 

Lovers’ Infiniteness Analysis

First Stanza

If yet I have not all thy love,

Dear, I shall never have it all;

I cannot breathe one other sigh, to move,

Nor can intreat one other tear to fall;

And all my treasure, which should purchase thee—

Sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters—I have spent.

Yet no more can be due to me,

Than at the bargain made was meant;

If then thy gift of love were partial,

That some to me, some should to others fall,

Dear, I shall never have thee all.

The first stanza depicts the lyrical voice’s need to possess all his/her beloved’s love. The lyrical voice says that he/she will not be satisfied until he/she gets all of his/her love (“If yet I have not all thy love,/Dear I shall never have it all”). Moreover, the lyrical voice assures that he/she has spent all that he/she had in order to obtain this love (“And all my treasure, which should purchase thee-/Sights, tears, and oaths, and letters-I have spent”) and that he/she has nothing left to give. At the end of the stanza, the lyrical voice emphasizes, again, his/her demand for his/her beloved’s complete love (“If then thy gift of love were partial,/That some to me, some should to others fall,/ Dear, I shall never have thee all”). The tone of the first stanza seems gentle but jealous at the same time, as the lyrical voice expresses possession over the beloved one. Love in this poem is not viewed as a simple marriage, but a more complex and abstract notion that the lyrical voice wants and struggles to have.

 

Second Stanza

Or if then thou gavest me all,

All was but all, which thou hadst then;

But if in thy heart, since, there be or shall

New love created be, by other men,

Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,

In sighs, in oaths, and letters, outbid me,

This new love may beget new fears,

For this love was not vow’d by thee.

And yet it was, thy gift being general;

The ground, thy heart, is mine; whatever shall

Grow there, dear, I should have it all.

The second stanza gives the word “all” a new meaning. As the lyrical voice continues talking about his/her beloved one, he/she states that, even if the lover gave his/her “all” that wouldn’t be enough. The lyrical voice expresses the need of a continuous stream of love because, even if his/her beloved one gave him/her “all”, the lyrical voice would still worry that this love could be taken away by others who could give more than he/she to the lover (“But if in thy heart, since, there be or shall/New love created be, by other men,/Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,/In sighs, in oaths, and letters, outbid me,/This new love may beget new fears,/For this love was not vow’d by thee.”). At the end of the stanza, the lyrical voice says that he/she deserves his/her lover’s “all” because he/she already gave the lover his/her “all”. Notice how the meaning of “all” slightly shifts from the end of the previous stanza, and creates a sort of conclusion from the previous lines. The lyrical voice accentuates the love rather than the beloved one and believes that he/she should possess all that love even though it “was not vow’d by thee”. The theme of possession is recurrent, but in this stanza appears to be linked more to transactions than to emotions.

Read more:   The Funeral by John Donne

 

Third Stanza

Yet I would not have all yet,

He that hath all can have no more;

And since my love doth every day admit

New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards in store;

Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,

If thou canst give it, then thou never gavest it;

Love’s riddles are, that though thy heart depart,

It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it;

But we will have a way more liberal,

Than changing hearts, to join them; so we shall

Be one, and one another’s all.

The final stanza reflects on the possibilities of having “all”. Love continues to be described as complex and mysterious. If desire is infinite, love can’t be satisfied on a finite world (“Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,/If thou canst give it, then thou never gavest it”). The paradox of love remains at a theological level as “Love’s riddles are, that though thy heart depart,/It stays at home, and thou with losing savest it;” refers to Matthew 16. With this, the lyrical voice suggests that “all” love must remain to divinity rather than lovers. At the end of the stanza, the lyrical voice appears to solve this complexity of love (“But we will have a way more liberal”). The lyrical voice suggests marriage, as the physical and mystical bond where lovers can achieve to “Be one, and one another’s all”. Notice how in this last line the lyrical voice uses “all” again, but with a different meaning from the previous uses. This satisfies the lyrical voice’s need for infinite love, but, at the same time, the lyrical voice also suggests a similar growth in spiritual devotion.

 

About John Donne

John Donne was born in 1572 and died in 1631. He was an English poet and Cleric. John Donne is considered to be one of the main representatives of the metaphysical poets. His poems are known for their vibrant language, powerful images, abrupt openings and paradoxes. Donne’s poetry introduced a more personal tone in the poems and a particular poetic metre, which resembles natural speech. Moreover, John Donne is considered to be the genius of metaphysical conceits and extended metaphors, as his poems combine two concepts into one by using imagery. Apart from poems, Donne also wrote translations, epigrams, elegies, satires, among others.

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