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Donna Wright
04-12-2006, 01:17 PM
I'd like information as to the bottom-line meaning of the metaphysical conceit contained in this poem.

The Unnamable
04-12-2006, 02:07 PM
“If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth if th’other do:

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam
It leans and harkens after it,
And grows erect as that comes home.”

If the lovers do not share a common soul, Donne argues, then their individual souls are firmly joined together, like the legs of a pair of compasses (the instruments we now call dividers). Donne extends and develops this initial idea by arguing a series of parallels between the spiritually linked lovers and the joined legs of the compasses (including a sexual pun on ‘erect’). This image initially seems inappropriate: what has a compass to do with love? It demands close attention and analysis is repaid with an insight into one man’s view of the nature of his love.

ShoutGrace
09-10-2006, 05:36 AM
There is another metaphysical conceit to be found in this poem. In the sixth stanza, Donne begins arguing that the lovers two souls have become one, and that as such their parting is not a "breach", but rather, an "expansion".

He then validates this statement by offering up the image of their souls as the element gold, which, when beaten, does not break, but instead spreads outwards into an "airy thinness".

The next line he concedes:

"If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;"

The Unnamable pointed out and explained the most famously revered and reviled conceit in this poem, and certainly the one most worth mentioning.

I do, however, have a question (one which, sadly, must now be open):

There is a question in some people's mind as to whether or not the word "erect" in the second to last stanza is a sexual pun, and if it is, what it's meaning is exactly. The compass which becomes "erect" is the female's; it is she who becomes erect as he (the other compass point) comes home. Which is why I am wondering . . . is that a sexual pun? Donne was surely capable, and it is in keeping with his other poems.

I personally think that this was a mature, "grown up" John Donne; the poem reads truer to me when I leave that sexual entendre out of it.

Hyacinth Girl
09-12-2006, 02:35 PM
I do, however, have a question (one which, sadly, must now be open):

There is a question in some people's mind as to whether or not the word "erect" in the second to last stanza is a sexual pun, and if it is, what it's meaning is exactly. The compass which becomes "erect" is the female's; it is she who becomes erect as he (the other compass point) comes home. Which is why I am wondering . . . is that a sexual pun? Donne was surely capable, and it is in keeping with his other poems.

I personally think that this was a mature, "grown up" John Donne; the poem reads truer to me when I leave that sexual entendre out of it.

While I do have a tendency to find sexual innuendo everywhere in Donne, the use of "erect" in this instance is rather complicated. As you point out, it seems the female half of the compass comes erect, which would not allow for a pun. I think of the lady growing erect in the sense that she becomes more alert - her head is up, her eyes are shining, and she is en pointe looking for her other half's return.
Donne could also be punning on a deeper level in that erection is a sign of sexual excitement, so as the man draws closer, the woman is getting worked up into a state. . . as there is no real term for that (other than green sickness), Donne may be using the male equivalent in order to hint at her state while continuing the conceit

Admin
09-12-2006, 05:35 PM
Plus erect wasn't as sexual a term in Donne's time as it is in our time. You wouldn't assume if he uses the word "gay" that he is talking about homosexuals.

In anycase, this is one of my favorite poems.

I do disagree with ShoutGrace's interpretation. I take that portion to mean that once joined no distance can sever the true love between two individuals. I see the next stanza, the compass, as a direct continuation, that they're seperated, but still attached through their love.

mono
09-12-2006, 10:34 PM
Plus erect wasn't as sexual a term in Donne's time as it is in our time. You wouldn't assume if he uses the word "gay" that he is talking about homosexuals.
Precisely! Language, through time, has changed astoundingly! Once upon a time, the word 'gay' meant happy, and, even within my lifetime, the word 'shag' once referred to a type of carpet, and 'thong' referred to type of shoe.
Please, pardon my language, as I quote from one of history's greatest writers, but I recall in middle school laughing at one specific line from The Cask Of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe:

"The Amontillado!" ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from his astonishment.
I think I have stated enough on the changing of language with time. :D

ShoutGrace
09-12-2006, 11:37 PM
While I do have a tendency to find sexual innuendo everywhere in Donne . . .

Isn't it funny? I do the exact same thing. When I read one of his poems I just can't help but assume that any word that could have the vaguest sexual connotation is being punned upon sexually. :lol:


I think of the lady growing erect in the sense that she becomes more alert - her head is up, her eyes are shining, and she is en pointe looking for her other half's return.

That was the other idea that I considered. I actually had a vision of her getting out of her chair and watching her lover ride up the path towards the hourse . . . or watching her get up off a train station bench in anticipation of the train coming in (wrong time period but same idea :D). Both mentally and physically becoming more aware and rising up to meet him after their period of separation.



Donne could also be punning on a deeper level in that erection is a sign of sexual excitement, so as the man draws closer, the woman is getting worked up into a state. . . as there is no real term for that (other than green sickness), Donne may be using the male equivalent in order to hint at her state while continuing the conceit

I wouldn't put it past him. :D Thank you so much for the help. :)


Plus erect wasn't as sexual a term in Donne's time as it is in our time. You wouldn't assume if he uses the word "gay" that he is talking about homosexuals.

The OED (http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=erect&searchmode=none), if we can trust that at all, claims that "erect" was first used in this manner in 1594. Elsewhere, in his Elegy XX: To His Mistress Going to Bed, Donne says that the lady in question "sets" his flesh "upright."




In anycase, this is one of my favorite poems.

It's definitely become one of my favorites as well. :D





I think I have stated enough on the changing of language with time. :D

I always use that word to describe exactly what the dictionary says it ought to:


e‧jac‧u‧late 1. to utter suddenly and briefly; exclaim.

I also use it synonymously with "eject."

I just like to watch the expression on people's faces while they go through the processes. It's a good word to know! :D

yomouge06lal
01-24-2007, 02:06 PM
[QUOTE=The Unnamable;188354

the lovers do not share a common soul, Donne argues, then their individual souls are firmly joined together, like the legs of a pair of compasses (the instruments we now call dividers). Donne extends and develops this initial idea by arguing a series of parallels between the spiritually linked lovers and the joined legs of the compasses (including a sexual pun on ‘erect’). This image initially seems inappropriate: what has a compass to do with love? It demands close attention and analysis is repaid with an insight into one man’s view of the nature of his love.[/QUOTE]

to add to that:
there is an extended conceit throughout the whole poem that connects "melt" "element" "refin'd" and "gold"
more simply put gold is an element which can be melted down and refined (also spread out in an "airy thinness" such as gold leaf, but still a pure element) and then he goes on to talk about the compass which forms a circle, a circle being symbolic of forming unity between the two of them, also symbolic of a WEDDING RING which is made from GOLD. so thats just another little hidden thing he throws in there

lilmamimurda
05-13-2008, 08:59 AM
i would suppose it would be the deep love that that he has fo his wife because thought out the whole poem he compares their love to gold and compass with signify great meaning (excuse my grammer )