Poems: To His Mistris Going to Bed by John Donne, &
The Elegy by A.D. Hope

Well known to the world of poetry are the works of John Donne. His seduction poems are enhanced yet softened by the many conceits employed, resulting in an effect of dazzling persuasiveness for any prospective lover. Donne's poem "To His Mistris Going to Bed" (Elegy XIX) is a prime example of his sleek literary tongue in action, and one of the two poems to be discussed here. Lesser known and even further obscured by his deviation from the more popular poetic themes of Australia are the satirical works of A.D. Hope. Hope's infatuation with experiencing "true nature" through sexuality, a concept more European than Australian, lured him towards more classical references, which we shall explore in "The Elegy." A common thread of belief ties these two poets and these elegies, subtly wound throughout the verses in metaphors but nevertheless present.

The structural similarities between "The Elegy" and Elegy XIX are obvious: rhyming couplets in perfect iambic pentameter, with the former poem displaying slightly more alliteration than the latter. As the first poet, temporally speaking, Donne appears to have chosen his rhyme scheme and meter not only for this one poem, but for the majority of the poems in his "Elegies." The choice of rhyming couplets in iambic pentameter produces a smoothly flowing line that carries its metrical inertia into the next line, with the promise of an expected end rhyme. The end rhymes repeat only seldom, with the exception of lines 28-34 of Elegy XIX. The strong "e" sound that ends all six lines is suggestive of glee, and the building up of the same rhyme in three successive couplets gives us an effect of mounting excitement. This effect is appropriate within the location of the poem, when the speaker is viewing his lady unclothed but for a mere "white lynnen," hoping to divest her of that soon enough. Both poets initiate their line with an imperative directed towards a woman (Donne: "Come, Madam, come," and Hope: "Madam, no more!") and end with their attention turned toward the man (Donne's naked man and Hope's "Captain"). By beginning each poem in such a way, we expect the speaker to be male, and intimate nature of the requests soon to follow indicate that the speaker and his lady are alone.

The endings of each poem are similar; Donne's speaker is bared and ready to share body and soul, according to the processes bodies undergo during sexual union as described in "The Extasie," and Hope's "warrior lover" contemplates the reinvigoration of his crusading manhood, which seems to have a life of its own. Hope's diction is noticeably more modern than Donne's, easily justified by the four century gap between the two poets. Hope does appear to position his work as a companion piece to Donne's Elegy XIX, as it follows the above mentioned structure well, but it is unlikely that he would attempt to match his diction to the former poet's. Language unnatural to a poet would cause too many problems to criticize here, but examples include misinterpretations of metaphors and unintended double meanings of older vocabulary. Of course, mere structural similarities could not link two poems together as companion poems without note of the poem's contents, which we shall scrutinize next.

Donne's elegy is addressed to a lady who has not yet slept with him (or the speaker, if we wish to distance the poet from the poem). This is implied by his excited reaction to her body as a zone of new discovery in lines 27-30, and the way he addresses the lady directly as "you" from lines 1-24 and "thee" after line 25. The difference between these two words exists in several foreign languages, for example, the German "du" (you) and "Sie" (thee) have quite different meanings regarding the respect of the speaker to the subject. The speaker has taken on more embellished diction to suit his rising classical and theological conceits within the last half (25-48) of the poem. If we can accept that the lady of Donne's choice did remove her last garment and submit to the speaker (quite easy to accept considering how far she has gone!), then Hope's elegy picks up right after the act with, "Madam, no more!" Considering the favoritism Hope lends to satire, he suggests that the persuasive speaker of Donne's has overwhelmed his lover with so much passion that he himself is overwhelmed by her. Whereas Donne indulges only in a sexual pun ("foe.../...fight") within the first five lines of the poem, Hope proceeds to apply a few classical metaphors in the same space, with Venus representing the lady and Mars the man. Venus ties both poems together through conceits, which we will consider presently.

Donne is fairly straight-forward in the first half of Elegy XIX, discussing each article of clothing and what is revealed as it is stripped away, with an amusing "Angel" metaphor employed in lines 20-24, whose "heaven" sets his "flesh upright." At this point, the speaker's excitement is clearly growing, and his metaphors become increasingly elaborate as he marvels over his lady's body; she is a new land of discovery, a living earth. Of course, what Donne poem would be without a paradox: "To enter in these bonds, is to be free." Lines 33-34 make references to death ("souls unbodied"), which refer to the climax the speaker anticipates, mirrored in Hope's poem, line 70. Donne uses the classical conceit of Atalanta, over which much controversy has arisen about whether the poet made a mistake (it was a man who threw the balls that she stopped for), the balls are actually breasts, or the reference was an intentional reversal of gender. I shall approach this conceit from the last angle, though I am in the minority according to most resources; in the heightening tension of the moment, the speaker is willing to twist entire myths just to compliment his lady. The troublesome balls of Atalanta become a neat tie with Hope's poem, being golden apples. Venus, also known as the Greek Aphrodite, was the winner of the golden apple awarded by Paris. Both poems have this object in common directly, as well as two fixed contests - one of speed, the other of beauty. A theological conceit follows immediately after the classical, describing women as "mystick books," that will only reveal themselves by choice. An interesting juxtaposition of the speaker who asks, "What needest thou have more covering than a man," and "books gay coverings" presents a curious metaphor. If he is trying to replace the book covering, perhaps he feels he is imparted with more "grace" by being the cover on such a sacred tome. It seems that he has no interest in anything but physical appearance of the woman when compared to a picture. The speaker finalizes his persuasive metaphors with a simile, comparing himself to a "Midwife," a relationship any woman would recognize as ultimately intimate. Another questionable meaning appears in line 45-46, "cast all, yea, this white lynnen hence, | Here is no pennance, much less innocence." The problem arises from two different versions of line 46; my original text contains the Helen Gardner version of the line, but another exists as the following, "There is no pennance due to innocence." The Gardner version translates into a request to remove the white clothing simply because it is inappropriate - the woman is not innocent or penitent in this situation. The second version implies that the act about to be committed is so pure that no penance is needed, hence the white cloth isn't needed either. Judging by the arguments presented in other seduction poems of Donne's, such as "The Flea," I am partial to the second version and its interpretation. It assigns Donne a strongly libertine view of sexuality, which is in accord with my view of Donne. Unfortunately for the casual reader, Hope is not as easy to label by the reading of just one poem, so I endeavored to do a bit of research into his poetic motivations.

It is most helpful to understand Hope's tendency towards dualism when examining "The Elegy," since the poem employs it in many ways. This excerpt from John Docker's "Australian Cultural Elites":

"Although more confused and inconsistent, Hope's concepts
of society, art, and nature are...basically dualistic and European-
centered. In Hope's metaphysic, on one side are the "eternal"
forces of the imagination, sexuality, and the natural universe;
on the other side is the "active life", inferior because enmeshed
in the "temporal light of practical interests" (p. 42)."

The second side mentioned by Docker is largely the subject of "The Elegy," interspersed with a continuous battle conceit, within which the lady and the speaker are the foes mentioned in Donne's poem. The speaker of Hope's poem explains the practical uses of the body, which was most likely engaged in the "eternal" type of activity moments before. Unlike Donne, Hope has extended his battle metaphors far past a few lines - they nearly control the poem. The speaker appears to have himself under control until line 41, an imaginable moment in which lust is rekindled by mere looks, which starts a chain reaction of land-related conceits in lines 47-70, similar to Donne's "my America!" Yet now the speaker has already "known" his lady intimately, so the land metaphors have different meaning. Indeed, the woman is living earth, but the idea is less a poetic conceit than a basic belief of Hope's ideology. Hope's notion of woman is similar to that of a Mother Earth figure, with which the act of procreation is the closest man can get with his real order in the natural universe; in effect, he is an active part of creation. The only way that Hope can achieve discovery of eternal nature is through women and sexuality, so it can never be far from his mind. Because Hope's idea of women is entirely procreative, he finds little interest in their intellect and great appeal in their physicalness, their "earthy" side. Hope's land metaphor begins with the lines, "While now the marching stars invest the sky | And the wide lands beneath surrendered lie," designating the woman within the conceit (for she is the land) as passive, whereas he is perhaps the marching stars, active and above her. It is little wonder he calls his phallus a "Captain," for it is the tool with which he seeks to renew himself with nature. The ever-pervasive battle metaphor demonstrates Hope's own ideology in a paradoxical epic-microcosmic proportion; his mind is the Commander, presiding over "soldiers of the heart," (26) sexual organs as "chief commanders," (39) the eyes "bright vedettes" (43). Naturally, the victory will be his when he successfully impregnates his lover.

Recalling Donne's theological conceit of women as sacred books, we can now see a stronger connection to Hope's poem based on his dualistic ideology of women. Books are opened like gateways, the reader hoping to find some kind of order which he can experience by poring over it. Hope and Donne seem to have the same idea in mind; Hope wishes to experience conscious participation in natural order, while Donne may feel something similar to "The Extasie," a pouring forth of souls into one bond of joined freedom. In either case, the gateways to nature can only be discovered through nakedness and union. We can apply this reversed motivation to the land conceit in Donne's poem as well - he states in line 32, "Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be." Though we can surmise that the "seal" is reference to territorial designation via sexual union by example of Donne's Elegy VII, "Natures Lay Ideot" ("Must I alas | ...Chafe wax for others seales?"), we can also interpret this word another way. As Hope wishes to facilitate a conception every time he engages in sex, the "seal" could well be the imprint he leaves on the world - he prints himself in his children and his poetry.

Hope has clearly read Donne's Elegy XIX, and attempted to fashion his own elegy as a companion, "after-the-fact" piece. If the two poems were joined together under one name, the meanings of the conceits may will differ depending on which author was chosen. The extensive use of the battle metaphor by Hope may suit Donne, or perhaps it is too excessive for his style. If Donne's editor refused to print "To His Mistris Going to Bed," then it would have taken another few centuries before Hope's poem could be acceptable. Hope has shown both sides of his dualistic view of nature in "The Elegy," demonstrating his skill with conceit in both modes. Donne displays his persuasive pen once more, touching on classical and theological conceits in the height of passionate moments. Just as Hope ties in his metaphors with Donne's, the observant reader can retrace Hope's steps back to Donne and make a fair comparison of motivations. Whether the poems are taken together or separately, both poets manage to leave their "seal" in literary history.

Copyright 1995, Kaye Anfield