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John Donne: A misogynist, or grieving husband?
In canvas, on the John Donne forums I saw a lot of people talking about how romantic and loving his poems are, but I have to disagree with that. I interpreted his poems as a loss of love rather than a new kind of love, because we have to remember that his wife died very early with giving birth to a stillborn, so Donne definitely has some trauma there. I had said all this in the forum and Mr.Chisnell responded with more or less; "remember that not all poems are being said by the poet, but sometimes a character." Which I thought was a good point, but even if it was a character, I still think his wife would have an affect on his poetry. In "go and catch a falling star" Donne says the following; "Nowhere lives a woman true and fair." I interpreted this as "now that my wife is gone, there is nobody as true and fair as her," but if it's true his wife passing has nothing to do with his poetry, that would just make him kind of sexist. So my question is; Is Donne a sexist, or a grieving husband?
I did a little more reading into Donne's other works, and I found this one called "Love's Alchemy". To me it seemed to be about the mystery of love, and what actually makes the connection work. Perhaps this is just reading it at a surface level, but the final lines are
Hope not for mind in women; at their bestSweetness and wit, they'are but mummy, possess'd.
I agree with @persephone, although Donne's poems have a theme of love, that does not necessarily mean it's a new love- like they said it could just as easily be about a loss of love as well. I think his poems could very easily incorporate both. I had no idea about Donne's wife though, that definitely had to of had some impact on his life and writing.
@salmon I'd have to agree with you. Though he sounds like a definite grieving husband, it doesn't mean he couldn't have also been sexist. His mindset represented in his poetry is interesting and maybe even a bit contradicting in this regard, but one thing to keep in mind is that he probably didn't realize this was a bad thing at the time because most people thought this way anyways.
I definitely agree with everyone on this that he is more reminiscing on love or what love he used to have instead of building on it.
I think that Donne definitely had some sexist themes in his poems, however I felt upon reading the poems, that there was almost a contradiction in his messages of love. On the one hand as others have said, Donne heavily implied in some of his poems that women weren't smart, and that women weren't faithful either. I thought that these themes of portraying women as almost lesser than men were almost contradicted by the way that Donne talked about love being a combination of the two people involved. I don't mean this as a way of overlooking any sexism from Donne, however I just thought it was strange that someone would imply that women weren't smart, and then talk about how love meant him and the other person becoming two things combining into, or hemispheres of a world as Donne refers to it. I struggled to try and figure out this contradiction, because why would someone belittle a person that he later talks about as literally his other half.
@leinweber I also found a contrast in Donne's thoughts of love. I agree that the sexism and misogyny was seen, however it toned down as life went on. His work "The Flea" was written well before his poem "Go And Catch a Falling Star" which seem to have some of the contradicting thoughts you bring up. While the first poem shows themes of peculiar seduction and thoughts on love, the later poem shows love as rare and valuable. My view is that his wife altered his meaning of love. The period between these poems was when he met his wife up until she passed. She may have been the one who showed him what true love truly is, hence the change of heart and meaning of love in "Go And Catch a Falling Star."
@salmon That's a really great interpretation! To be honest, I hadn't even thought of the idea that he could be both, but it makes a lot of sense. Perhaps he is a sexist who happened to find someone that he loved... It's possible even that my original quote could mean both! As in there's not another woman like her, and even she wasn't that great.
@salmon I think that Dunne was a grieving man, but I'm not sure he is sexist. Maybe to a point you could argue it, but to me he seems to just be grieving his relationships with women in general not only his wife. What I mean by this is that his poems certainly do contain potentially sexist things in them, but to me it more sounded like he has been hurt by women so many times that he doesn't believe there are any good ones out there. For example in the quote @persephone provided,
"Nowhere lives a woman true and fair."
, he just seems to be hurt by women so many times to the point where he does not believe in a good one (other than his wife). So I wonder whether this was ill intentioned sexism or if he genuinely was hurt and conditioned to think this way
I would have to say that he is a bit of both at the same time. Although, first we must take the era of this writing into consideration. Was he writing in a way that people of his time would be repulsed by? Or was he writing in a fairy similar tone compared to others of his time? We would have to dive deep into other writings of love written in that time to truly understand, but I don't think we would able to make a just decision without doing so. Obviously if you compare his writing to the beliefs of society today, yes he is clearly sexist, but times have changed over the years to reach a point that we are at today. Maybe he was simply missing his wife, but in a style of writing that we are not used to.
@a2m0n2 I think it's an important point that even if his writings were written with an intentional sexist undertone, that may have been considered normal for Donne's time period. I don't think this makes him less sexist, but it's also unfair to judge someone from the past based on today's standards. What we would consider downfalls of his era can still be recognized as what we generally agree is wrong while assessing and appreciating his work in the context of his time. That being said, I think Donne's poem show a grieving husband. I think his poems clearly show his love for his wife (I think "The Flea" is a great example of this), and when he loses her, his heartache can also be seen in his work. Despite his love for his wife, he can still be sexist, though (and based on the time period in which he lived, he probably was). I think it's fair to say that his poems show this sexist mindset, but I think there is also merit in saying that he is grieving his wife. So certain lines (such as "No where/ Lives a woman true, and fair") can be read both ways--from the point of view of a misogynist and from the point of view of a grieving husband. I think this is a great example of our discussions about what is more important, what the reader interprets or the what the author intended? I think both interpretations are valid and equally "right". I don't think it's an either/or situation, it can be both!
Honestly, I think he's a bit of both. Clearly, his poems have sexist and misogynistic undertones, but I think that given the period of his writings they weren't quite as controversial. Of course, though, as a grieving husband, the pain and trauma of losing his wife so suddenly shines through in his work. How could it not?
@madams43 I agree with you, while in todays society these messages would be interpreted very poorly I think at the time what he was doing was being looked at as normal behavior. Although the undertones came out more obvious than I thought, Do you think there is some passive aggressive thought that is being interpreted on the page?
@klynnph I wrote about this in my last forum, but I think there is a level of hidden meaning in the text and love would be a good fit. I was thinking it was a more passive aggressive message though, like he was trying to make others feel sorry for him without showing any real form of weakness. Possibly because of the time period? Possibly because he was confused with his emotions? I see a lot here that we may be overlooking because of an obvious theme in the text that has caught our eye.
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