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Greene, J. Padel, J. (1989). James Greene in Conversation with John padel: John Donne's ‘The Extasie’. Free Associations, 1R(17):29-38.

(1989). Free Associations, 1R(17):29-38

James Greene in Conversation with John padel: John Donne's ‘The Extasie’

James Greene and John Padel

James Greene (JG): There are three current interpretations of ‘The Extasie’. One is that it is a typical for-the-time seduction poem dressed up as something else. A more sophisticated version of this is that the first part of the poem is a parody of the usual seduction poem of the time — talking about souls instead of bodies — and that the second half is a parody of a parody. The orthodox view is that the poem is Donne's way of stating and vindicating the relation of soul and body, of showing how the dualism is transcended.

John Padel (JP): And nobody seems to take it straightforwardly — as a first experience of being in love, spoken or written after the experience, when possibilities of parody and all the rest are there. But that it is a real experience. A fourth view, Helen Gardner's, is that the poem is a kind of proof that ecstasy, the meeting and union of two souls, in which the lovers discover the truth about their love, requires of them that they proceed to live a corporeal, non-ecstatic love later, a love which will be no less real to them and will convince other people of the goodness and purity of love; soul and body are interdependent, and souls can and must meet and mingle in ordinary ways as well as in ecstasy.

JG: ‘Aire and Angels’ is usually taken to be a poem about his feelings for his wife, Ann. I don't know why ‘The Extasie’ isn't, unless because of the cynical neo-Platonist Italian poems of the time which some people think ‘The Extasie’ is similar to.

JP: Seduction is, of course, a possibility. Donne did accept the physical side of love.

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