Air And Angels Poem by John Donne

Air And Angels

Rating: 3.1

Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be;
Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see.
But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
More subtle than the parent is,
Love must not be, but take a body too;
And therefore what thou wert, and who,
I bid love ask, and now
That it assume thy body I allow,
And fix itself to thy lip, eye, and brow.

Whilst thus to ballast love I thought,
And so more steadily to have gone,
With wares which would sink admiration,
I saw I had love's pinnace overfraught
Every thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;
For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere.
Then as an angel, face and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure doth wear,
So thy love may be my love's sphere.
Just such disparity
As is 'twixt air and angel's purity,
'Twixt women's love and men's will ever be.

Michael Pruchnicki 03 June 2008

A perfect title 'Air and Angels' for a major concern of the 17th century English metaphysical poet John Donne whose poems have been divided into early ironic love poetry and later religious poetry-the profane and the sacred, one might say. The poet used the language of both science and everyday life in powerful and intellectual ways to express his ideas using striking and original imagery. Love is both spiritual and physical, he asserts in the first 14 lines which constitute in effect an irregular Italian sonnet rhyming ABBA BCDE DECF CFFF. The argument is complicated but amounts to the poet's assertion that mortal love is partly of the angelic realms but is substantially physical and earthly, as he sees in the visage of his beloved. The next 14 lines launches into an extended metaphor wherein he uses the imagery of shipping goods by sea. He has overloaded 'love's pinnace', a small sailing vessel, with 'wares', the language of literary love, with weight that would sink his message, the ship and its cargo. He must rework his words of love into even smaller things, yet there is an almost contradictory force at work. Donne is skeptical of women's love which he considers to be insubstantial, like the air which takes no form, while men like the speaker in the poem (perhaps Donne himself) operate with an'angel's purity', which points up the fickleness, the inconstancy of women in love. Remember that this is an attitude popular with poets who wrote about romantic love in Donne's day, but with his emphasis on the complex nature of love becomes almost modern in its ironic stance! Poetry of men, I say, since I never read a poem written by an angel!

13 5 Reply
Kevin Straw 03 June 2010

When he meets his love she is the “lovely glorious nothing” that he had worshipped before he met her. But he wants this “nothing” to have flesh, for he feels safer in love when fleshly love “ballasts” that of the soul’s. He then finds that the fleshly attractions of love threaten to destroy his original vision of love, and asks that his lover control his requirement for fleshly love - for women are always of a more heavenly substance than men.

4 9 Reply
Judith Missewace 03 June 2012

wow thats a nice beautiful poem....sounds good...

7 6 Reply
Ramesh T A 03 June 2010

Intellectually and poetically a beautiful poem about pure love is very interesting and thought provoking with full of meaning to read and cherish!

8 4 Reply
Oludipe Oyin Samuel 04 June 2012

The truth in Donne's poetry- subtle and sublime

4 6 Reply
Sylvia Frances Chan 25 January 2024

Most deserving poem as the Classic Poem Of The Day, excellent choice of Poem Hunter and Team. Thank you for sharing

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Sylvia Frances Chan 25 January 2024

MY LAST NOTES: His poetical works are noted for their metaphorical and sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs and satires. Donne's style is characterised by abrupt openings and various paradoxes, ironies and dislocations.

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Sylvia Frances Chan 25 January 2024

I have studied English Literature, that's why I know much about John Donne. He was an English poet, scholar, soldier and secretary born into a recusant family, who later became a cleric in the Church of England. He is considered the preeminent representative of the metaphysical poets.

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Sylvia Frances Chan 25 January 2024

TWO: The poem begins with the speaker describing how he has loved the listener many times over, and always without knowing her. His love exists on its own terms, separate from the person it is directed at.

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Sylvia Frances Chan 25 January 2024

SIX: She would be weighed down like a small ship. ‘Air and Angels' concludes with the speaker deciding the only way his love and his listener's love can come together is if her's encircles his like a sphere

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John Donne

John Donne

London, England
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