John Donne: Poems

John Donne: Poems Summary and Analysis of "The Anniversary"

A year has passed, and “all other things” including royal courts and the very sun itself have grown older by a year, drawing that much closer to their end. In contrast, the one ageless thing is the unchanging love the poet shares with his lover. Although their bodies will be in separate graves when they die, their eternal souls will be reunited along with “all the rest” when they are resurrected. For now, the two are kings in their world of love, secure in their faithfulness, and he hopes that they will be together for 60 anniversaries.


In this three-stanza poem, the poet commemorates the first anniversary of seeing his beloved. He begins by using imagery from the political world: the royal court of kings. He juxtaposes this image with the supreme nature image, the sun, to encompass the highest concepts of the whole world (royalty and the life-giving sun)—only to point out that these things are mortal and have come one year closer to death since he first laid eyes on his beloved. He claims the only thing not subject to “decay” (line 7) is the love that he and the object of his affections share. Their passion has “no to-morrow …, nor yesterday” (line 8) and is therefore timeless and beyond the reach of mortality.

It is interesting that this stanza argues for the constancy of their love, rather than a love that grows over time. While it does not decay, it also does not increase; he is satisfied with it. There is no “tomorrow” or “yesterday,” and the “first” and “last” day are kept all the same. Unlike the infidelity poems, in this poem the speaker expects that they both are solid in their mutual love.

In the second stanza, however, Donne acknowledges that while their love is timeless, the lovers’ physical bodies are not so fortunate. One day each of them will die—this death will force them to “leave at last in death these eyes and ears,/Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet salt tears” (lines 15-16). Thus, their physical bodies—the instruments through which they enjoy their love—will fail them, ending in a kind of “divorce” (line 13). Donne turns this loss around, however, by reminding his beloved that their bodies may be subject to corruption, but not their souls: “When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove” (line 20).

As with much metaphysical verse, the focus is on the immaterial and spiritual over the physical and mortal. Unlike many of the other poems considered here, but like Holy Sonnet 10, this poem explicitly refers the audience to the eternal life of the soul. Their love will live on in their souls, and these souls will be reunited after their bodies are moved to their graves.

The final stanza points out that at this point, the lovers will be like “all the rest,” thoroughly blessed in the Afterlife. Thus, they will no longer have a unique and ageless relationship. Yet, while they remain on earth, they are in the special realm of constant love which is available to “none but we.” The stanza returns to the royal court motif, this time placing the lovers squarely in the seat of sovereignty in a kingdom made of their love, subject to no one but each other.

The lovers are subject to the progress but not the depredations of time. He concludes that they should “love nobly, and live, and add again/Years and years unto years” (lines 28-29). (“Nobly” carries both of its meanings here; they should love as the nobility they are, and with noble hearts.) His call to add “years unto years” is his way of embracing the passage of time but in a positive way. He sweetly remarks that they will celebrate one anniversary after another until sixty years have passed—and therefore sixty anniversaries. For now, he and his beloved will begin the second “year” of their reign. Presuming that sixty years is a long enough earthly life, the poet promises a very long reign of love.