John Donne: Poems

The Canonization Video

Subscribe to the GradeSaver YouTube channel:

Watch the illustrated video summary of the poem, “The Canonization” by John Donne.

Video Transcript:

“The Canonization” is a poem written by English poet John Donne in 1633. Although the title suggests a religious subject, the piece can be classified as a love poem in defense of the speaker’s passion for his beloved.

Donne’s poem consists of five stanzas, with the word “love” appearing at the end of the first and last lines of each stanza. The speaker begins by entreating his audience to “hold [their] tongue” when it comes to criticizing his love, and to busy themselves with other pastimes, such as worshipping the king or queen.

Furthermore, the speaker argues that he and his beloved are not hurting anyone by participating in a love affair: “What merchant's ships have my sighs drowned? / Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?” The lovers are not making war, fighting lawsuits, interfering with commerce, or spreading disease, and so, the speaker argues, they should be left alone.

Next, Donne compares himself and his lover to a phoenix, implying that they will be consumed by the fiery passion of their affair, and then rise from the ashes. In the course of this rebirth, their relationship becomes a paradox: two individuals become one. Donne also refers to their union as sexless, which may allude to the genderless nature of God and the church.

In the fourth stanza, the speaker declares that he and his lover are ready to die for their love, since they will be commemorated in the form of verse to be recited for years to come. Donne argues that verse will honor the couple just as well as “a well-wrought urn” might. This stanza also contains the key to the title of the poem, as Donne’s speaker announces that he and his lover will be “canonized for love,” through this very poem.

Donne’s speaker closes the poem by invoking a future in which the love between the two of them becomes an example for the whole world to follow. In this future world, the speaker and his lover have achieved something like sainthood, as they have transformed into ideals to be celebrated and invoked during prayer.