The Concepts of Love and Faith in the Canonization

January 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

For some, a leap of faith is easy. Believing in a God comes naturally for some, but for others, it is something that logically seems improbable. What separates the two groups is that one group is willing to use faith as a tool to justify beliefs, while the other group denies faith as a valid justification. However, for those who believe in their religion, their faith is a truth to them because they choose to place trust in that faith. This is the key aspect in making religion relevant: believing makes the concept true to the individual, whether or not it objectively is so. In “The Canonization” by John Donne, the speaker expresses great love for his beloved. This love, however, would not be possible if he did not believe in it so deeply, since believing in an idea is what makes it a truth for an individual.

Throughout the poem, Donne uses the word “love” in the beginning and end line of every stanza. This tactic serves to highlight the belief that love is the start and end of everything the speaker believes, giving the reader insight into what is filling the speaker’s mind. Furthermore, the word “love” is always used in relation to the “my” or the “our.” It is never a floating idea; it is always grounded in a conceptualization of how it exists. Although love is a concept, the poem wants to talk about it in the context of how it exists in the world rather than construing it as some nebulous ideal. Thus, the speaker also indicates that the love in question is more special than the kind of love normally discussed. By constantly referring to love in relation to “my” or “our,” Donne gives love a unique meaning specific to what he feels. Apparently, Donne expects the readers to catch on and conceptualize the poem through the lenses of this specific love. If one misses how love is perceived in this poem, the resulting interpretation could be different from how Donne intends for it to be.

Apart from the word placement, Donne focuses on creating irony within the poem. For instance, the poem’s title is “The Canonization,” but the first line in the first stanza is “For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love” (1). The definition of a canonization is a church declaration that a deceased person has gained sainthood, so that the audience may expect to read something deeply religious. However, the first line contradicts what the readers are expecting. The speaker uses God’s name in vain, which is something that is against the Ten Commandments outlined in the Bible. Furthermore, the entirely of the poem can also be considered ironic as compared to the title. The poem is premised around the speaker describing his immense love as something to be desired from all of the earth: “Countries, towns, courts: beg from above/ A pattern of your love!” (45). This sequence creates a sense of irony as well, as the first and foremost love should not be for an earthly figure, but rather for God; the Bible maintains that one’s strongest love should be for the Heavenly Father. The title only becomes contextualized when the reader realizes that the speaker and his beloved are being canonized not for sainthood purposes, but rather because their love is so strong: “Any by these hymns, all shall approve/Us canonized for Love” (16). This statement brings everything back to the idea of faith: love becomes elevated nearly to the status of a religion only because the speaker believes in it with all his heart. He is so confident that he states that “We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms;/As well a well-wrought urn becomes” (41-42). The idea of love becoming immortal is also ironic, as love most likely will not be the model that the world will “epitomize” forever. However, because the narrator believes, his idea is true to him.

The speaker’s belief also allows him to see his loving as the best quality he owns. He states that “Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still/Litigious men, which quarrels move,/ Though she and I do love” (25-27). He conceptualizes his love as his sole function, much as the main function of a lawyer is to quarrel. This idea that loving is his job also proves how much faith he has in this love. It would be nonsensical to state that his main purpose is to love his significant other if he does not believe that the love is one to last a lifetime. Donne is quite direct with this message; he wants the readers to understand that, for the speaker, love is not just a pastime but a central goal.

Although he is direct in some parts of his composition, Donne also uses paradoxes in order to further support the ideas within the poem. The speaker states that his lover and he are one, asserting that “By us; The phoenix riddle hath more wit/ we two being one, are it” (32-33). However, this construct is a paradox because two people physically cannot be one, and also because in order to create the love that he speaks of, the speaker must institute a back-and-forth between two lovers. That would be impossible if they were one. Furthermore, this paradoxical train of thought extends to the concept of the phoenix as well. The phoenix is said to rise from its ashes after being burned, so that the speaker is implying that their love will also rise back up after their death. However, this idea is paradoxical in the sense that their love cannot actually come back, as when they die, their connection ceases to be. These contradictions further prove Donne’s point about faith; although what the speaker is saying technically cannot be reality, his faith in what he is saying brings meaning to his words. If the speaker were to have no faith in his love for his beloved, then all the paradoxes would simply remain empty contradictions. By believing in his love, the speaker transforms these paradoxes into actualities.

It is clear to the reader that the speaker loves his beloved, and it is also clear that what makes this love special is the extent of his faith and value he places on it. If this faith were empty, he in turn would not be able to place such a high value upon it. Donne wants the readers to know that life should not be determined by what is already considered valuable, as value can be created simply by believing strongly. It may be easy to simply place faith in a stabilized institution such as the church, but that does not mean that it is impossible to also create one’s own personal truths.

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