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An image is a mental picture perceived through one or more of the senses of sight, hearing smell, taste, and touch. Imagery means the making of pictures in words. It is the pictorial quality of a literary work formed out of a collection of images with the help of figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, symbolism, conceit, etc. John Donne shows great originality in the imagery of his poetry.

Donne was widely read in most of the subjects which excited the cultivated minds of his time: astronomy, chemistry, geography, physiology, law, theology, mathematics, medicine, astrology, anatomy, etc, and drew upon all these widely for illustration. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" he uses an old-fashioned Ptolemic doctrine.

"Moving of the earth brings harms and fears,Men reckon what it did and meant,But trepidation of the spheres,Though greater far, is innocent."

In "Go and Catch a Falling Star", Donne has given us images of a falling star, a mandrake root, the Devil's cleft feet, and mermaids. Apart from the mermaids, none of the other images has anything to do with beauty and love. But the poet's ingenuity deserves to be appreciated, not condemned. The novelty of images may also be saucy, pedantic wretch who is called upon to go and scold late school-boys and sour prentices, court huntsmen, and country ants. Hours, days, months are here regarded as the rags of time. There is surely nothing poetic in these images. But they seem perfectly appropriate in their context and they provide the amusement which the writer aims at.

In " The Canonization " the poet speaks of himself and his beloved (i) as flies and also as tapers; (ii) as the eagle and the dove and (iii) as the phoenix combining both the sexes. The first two images may have been employed by other poets, but the phoenix image is surely original and far fetched.There are secular images drawn by means of conceits in "Twicknam Garden". The poet's love is compared to a spider that converts manna to gall and his jealousy is the serpent that makes this garden an equivalent of Paradise, where Eve was tempted to taste the forbidden fruit by Satan in the guise of a serpent. Secondly, the poet would like to be changed into a mandrake so that he can continue to groan in his distress as mandrakes were supposed to cry out in agony when uprooted. The poet also expresses his desire to be changed into a stone fountain, the water of which falls continuously in the form of shedding tears. Thirdly, the poet's tears are the wine of love. Lovers are asked to taste the poet's tears and then taste their mistresses' tears. If the taste is not the same, it means that their mistresses' tears are false. The remarkable metaphysical image occurs in " A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning ". By means of a conceit the parted lovers are compared to a pair of compasses. The image here is fantastic and far-fetched. Coleridge and Grierson admired this comparison of the pair of lovers to a pair of compasses but Dr.Johnson disliked this kind of comparison which gives rise to absurdity.
Comment on the imagery of Donne's poetry

To sum up, Donne's imagery contributes a great deal to the difficulty which readers to-day experience in reading these poems. It is complex and intricate, for as Grierson says, 'it brings together the opposites of life, body and soul, earth and heaven, the bed of the lovers and the universe, life and death, microcosm and macrocosm in one breath.'


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