In John Donne’s poems, “The Ecstasy,” “The Flea” and “The Good-Morrow” we see a similar theme about how unity makes love stronger. “The Good-Morrow” talks about mixing two people, putting two halves together, to strengthen a relationship. Similarly, when we examine “The Flea,” Donne uses the theme of mixing two people together but in a humorous and physical sense, as it is about a flea that has sucked both the narrator’s and his lover’s blood—making them “one” inside the flea. In “The Ecstasy” Donne talks about the how two people can feel the greatest love, or “ecstasy,” and he emphasizes the importance of both spiritual love of the souls and the physical love that creates unity. Through these three poems, we can see how Donne uses the theme of mixing two people, physically and spiritually, together as a way to strengthen a relationship.
In “The Good-Morrow” the narrator talks about waking up next to the woman he loves and realizing that they together make a whole. He describes seeing themselves in one another, when he says in the third stanza, “My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears” (line 15). He can see himself in her eyes and she in his. He elaborates on this idea when he talks about being two halves, saying, “Where can we find two better hemispheres” (17). They are each a hemisphere of their own world, becoming one when put together. He continues to talk about the strength of their relationship and the importance of being “mixed” together. He says, “Whatever dies, was not mixed equally; / If our two loves be one, or thou and I / Love so alike, that none do slacken, non can die” (19-21). A relationship that dies does so because it was not mixed equally—the two halves did not complete one another. Therefore, the narrator is saying that if their “two loves” become one, as they love one another in the same way and neither of them give up or “slacken,” they will have a strong enough love that will not die.
In “The Flea” we also see the theme of physical unity, though more humorously. The narrator of the poem is trying to convince his lover to participate in premarital sex by justifying that their blood has already been mixed inside a flea. As he talks about how he and his lover’s blood are mixed together, he says, “Our two bloods mingled be” (4). He continues talking about their blood mixing, saying, “one blood made of two, / And this, alas, is more than we would do” (8-9). The mixing of their two bloods is more than they would do having sex. He continues to talk about the bond that the flea has created by mixing their blood, saying, “Where we almost, nay, more than married are. / This flea is you and I, and this / Our marriage bed” (11-13). He is saying they are already “one” inside the flea—“more than married.” The physical mixing of their blood inside the flea has created a bond between them that makes their relationship stronger than marriage.
“The Ecstasy” also shares the theme of two people, in love, uniting to become one. The poem begins with the lovers holding hands and a description of their physical connection; it says, “Our hands were firmly cemented” (5); their hands are cemented together, making it very hard for them to ever part. The narrator continues to describe the unity their hands give them, saying, “So to engraft our hands, as yet / Was all the means to make us one” (9-10). The simple act of holding hands has made them “one.”
The narrator then goes onto describe that aside from the physical connection they have, it is also their souls that unite them. The poem describes them leaving their bodies, having an out of body experience, where they are better able to understand how spiritual connection is equally important in terms of love. He says, “Our souls…were gone out…/ And while our souls negotiate there, / We like sepulchral statues lay“ (15-18). While their souls are out of their bodies, they are able to see more clearly what makes their love so great. The narrator says, “This ecstasy doth unperplex, / We said, and tell us what we love; / We see by this it was not sex” (29-31). They see that there is more to their love than the physical relationship. They have a spiritual connection because their souls are mixed together as one; stanza nine says “Love these mix’d souls doth mix again / And makes both one” (36-37). It is their love that mixed their souls together.
However, by the end of the poem, the narrator does not deny the importance of physical unity. The lovers in the poem realize that although their love is deeper than sex, they discover that they are grateful for their bodies because it allows them to feel love and express love. The poem says, “Our bodies why do we forbear? / They are ours, though they’re not we; we are / The intelligences, they the spheres / We owe them thanks, because they thus…yielded their senses’ force to us” (50-52, 54). Our bodies are the vessels that hold our souls and allow us to feel and express love. This poem illuminates the need for both spiritual unity of souls, as well as the physical unity of bodies. It is not wrong to enjoy the physical aspects of love, as it is also another form of becoming one.
All three of these Donne poems use the theme of mixing two individuals together to create unity. Through “The Good Morrow” we see the theme expressed as two halves coming together to form one whole—“two hemispheres” creating a world all their own. Through “The Flea” we have a more humorous image of the two lovers’ blood mixing together inside the flea, making them “one”—something more than even marriage would give them. And through “The Ecstasy” we see two people joined spiritually through their souls as well as physically. Donne uses similar phrases and images in these poems that portray the literal and metaphysical act of “mixing” two individuals together to signify the importance of becoming “one” in a relationship.
- Donne, John “The Good-Morrow”
- Donne, John “The Flea”
- Donne, John, “The Ecstasy”