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John Donne: Poem analysis » The Extasie » Synopsis of The Extasie

The Extasie is one of Donne's best known and most important love poems, and has been widely discussed and analysed by various critics. It is certainly a poem you should know and understand, since it deals fully with Donne's metaphysics of human love. It is also one of the longest of his love poems, and you need to see how the argument is structured.

In an ecstatic state

This does not mean it is just a philosophical poem. Far from it. The word ‘ecstasy' means a very heightened experience so that you feel almost out-of-body, which is presumably why the name was given to the drug. True ecstasy does not need to be drug-induced, however, and Donne describes fully the ecstatic state he experienced through true love, just as another metaphysical poet, Richard Crashaw, describes spiritual or religious ecstasy in his Hymn to St Teresa.

The branch of knowledge which deals with issues of being and knowing.

Where, like a pillow on a bed,
A pregnant bank swell'd up, to rest
The violet's reclining head,
Sat we two, one another's best.

Our hands were firmly cemented
By a fast balm, which thence did spring ;
Our eye-beams twisted, and did thread
Our eyes upon one double string.

So to engraft our hands, as yet
Was all the means to make us one ;
And pictures in our eyes to get
Was all our propagation.

As, 'twixt two equal armies, Fate
Suspends uncertain victory,
Our souls—which to advance their state,
Were gone out—hung 'twixt her and me.

And whilst our souls negotiate there,
We like sepulchral statues lay ;
All day, the same our postures were,
And we said nothing, all the day.

If any, so by love refined,
That he soul's language understood,
And by good love were grown all mind,
Within convenient distance stood,

He—though he knew not which soul spake,
Because both meant, both spake the same—
Might thence a new concoction take,
And part far purer than he came.

This ecstasy doth unperplex
(We said) and tell us what we love ;
We see by this, it was not sex ;
We see, we saw not, what did move :

But as all several souls contain
Mixture of things they know not what,
Love these mix'd souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this, and that.

A single violet transplant,
The strength, the colour, and the size—
All which before was poor and scant—
Redoubles still, and multiplies.

When love with one another so
Interanimates two souls,
That abler soul, which thence doth flow,
Defects of loneliness controls.

We then, who are this new soul, know,
Of what we are composed, and made,
For th' atomies of which we grow
Are souls, whom no change can invade.

But, O alas ! so long, so far,
Our bodies why do we forbear?
They are ours, though not we ; we are
Th' intelligences, they the spheres.

We owe them thanks, because they thus
Did us, to us, at first convey,
Yielded their senses' force to us,
Nor are dross to us, but allay.

On man heaven's influence works not so,
But that it first imprints the air ;
For soul into the soul may flow,
Though it to body first repair.

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can ;
Because such fingers need to knit
That subtle knot, which makes us man ;

So must pure lovers' souls descend
To affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

To our bodies turn we then, that so
Weak men on love reveal'd may look ;
Love's mysteries in souls do grow,
But yet the body is his book.

And if some lover, such as we,
Have heard this dialogue of one,
Let him still mark us, he shall see
Small change when we're to bodies gone.