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When Donne started writing, Petrarchan lyric writers were writing sonnets based on the creed of chivalry and woman worship. The language of the Petrarchan love lyrics was highly decorative. The poet of the Petrarchan love tradition used to depict a reluctant mistress and a lover who complained with sighs, vows, and tears. There was a little attempt to present the real complexities of an emotional relationship like love. Love was then nothing but an adoration of the mistress who was regarded as a goddess.

Rejecting this Petrarchan love tradition, Donne wrote love poems with intense realism. He brought about a new idea in the conventional love tradition and showed originality in his love approach. He invented something new in the language as well as the theme of love poetry. Thus, Donne departed from the Petrarchan love tradition and helped establish a new metaphysical school of poetry.

The most original contribution of Donne in love poetry is the blending of thought with the imagination, and passion with intellect. This intellectuality is expressed in the conceits he uses in his poems. The conceits are based on the similes and metaphors drawn from all the branches of knowledge such as theology, cosmology, philosophy, medicine, chemistry, law, etc. The Elizabethan lyrists used conventional physical comparisons. But Donne uses scholastic and fanciful comparisons. He compares two lovers to a pair of twin compasses in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning".

Donne's love poems cover a wide range of feelings from extreme physical passion to spiritual love, and they express varied moods ranging from cynicism and contempt to faith and acceptance. His emotions are not bookish but rather deeply rooted in his personal experiences.

There are mainly three strains of his love poetry:

(a) First, cynicism as we find in the song " Go and Catch a Falling Star".

(b) Secondly, the strain of conjugal love in the poems like "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning", is addressed to his wife, Anne Moore.

(c) Third, the Platonic strain of love as in " The Canonization " in which love is treated as a holy passion.

The Petrarchan poets sang about the pains and sorrows of love, the sorrows of absence, and the pains of rejection by the cruel mistress. But in Donne's poetry, love is considered to be mutual and self-sufficient. 

Further, Donne's treatment of love is both sensuous and realistic. Love merely of the body is not love but lust. But at the same time, he is realistic enough to realize that it cannot also be of the soul alone. It must partake both of the soul and the body.

One of the striking qualities of Donne is his use of language. Discarding the ornamental and artificial language of the Petrarchan poets, he uses colloquial speech and often gives it a dramatic form. This dramatic quality of his love poems enforces the mission of his love.

To conclude, we can say that, the dominant note in Donne's love poetry is neither sensual passion, gay and cynical wit, nor scorn and anger. In fact, his love poetry deals with the infinite quality of passion. His greatness as a love poet lies in the fact that his experience of passion covers a wide range from its lowest depth to its highest reaches.


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