Helen Gardner (ed.), John Donne: The Elegies and The Songs and Sonnets

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Aire and Angels

  • 15  Whilst thus to ballast love, I thought,
  • 16  And so more steddily to have gone,
  • 17With wares which would sinke admiration,
  • Editor’s Note18I saw, I had loves pinnace overfraught,
  • 19  Ev'ry thy haire for love to worke upon
  • 20Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;

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Notes

Critical Apparatus
Aire and Angels. L 74, Cy, A 25 omit. Title from 1633, Σ: Fire an Angells P: no title H 40, B.
Critical Apparatus
1 lov'd] loved 1633
Editor’s Note
ll. 1–2. Cf. 'The Good-morrow', ll. 6–7.
Editor’s Note
l. 3. in a shapelesse flame: not a steady but a sudden flaring light. Cf. the old saying, 'By this fire, that's God's angel'.
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4 bee;] bee, 1633
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5 came,] came 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 5. still: always.
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6 see.] see, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 6. lovely glorious nothing. Cf. 'Negative Love' and notes (pp. 177–8).
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7 since] since, 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 9. subtile: delicate, fastidious.
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11 who,] who 1633
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13 assume] assumes C 57, H 49, HK 2, P, JC: assures S
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14 lip] lips Dob, O'F, S 96, B
Editor’s Note
l. 18. pinnace: a light scouting vessel.
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22 scatt'ring] scattring 1633
Editor’s Note
l. 22. Extreme: extremely.
inhere. Like 'assume' this word has theological connotations. The redeemed 'inhere' in Christ. Love cannot inhere in nothing or in things that however beautiful are still material, but only in love.
Editor’s Note
l. 23. Then as an Angell, &c. Grierson cites Aquinas, S.T., pars, Ia q. li, art. 2: 'Utrum Angeli assumant corpora.' All matter consists of the four elements.. Since angels appear and, as suddenly, vanish their bodies cannot be made of earth or water; neither can they be made of fire which burns all it touches or of air which is invisible. They make for themselves bodies of air condensed into cloud: 'Angeli assumunt corpora ex aere, condensando ipsum virtute divina, quantum necesse est ad corporis assumendi formationem.'
Editor’s Note
l. 24. not pure as it, yet pure. Though pure, that is, simple and unmixed, air is still a material element and has not the purity of spirit.
Editor’s Note
l. 25. so thy love may be my loves spheare. Cf. 'The Ecstasy', l. 52, where souls are equated with Intelligences, ruling bodies as they rule spheres. Throughout the poem the lover is the active, or masculine, principle seeking a proper passive complement. Cf. 'Love's Deity' where Love's proper object is 'to fit actives to passives' and make 'correspondencie'. His love is regarded as soul seeking a body, that is, form seeking matter to inform; and here it appears as an intelligence finding the sphere it can animate and rule.
Editor’s Note
ll. 26–28. That women's love is less pure than men's is orthodox doctrine. Cf. the Homily 'Of the State of Matrimony' (Second Book of Homilies, 1563) and Orsino in Twelfth Night, II. iv. 96–98:
  • Alas, their love may be call'd appetite—
  • No motion of the liver, but the palate,—
  • That suffer surfeit, cloyment, and revolt.
Even those who take a less low view of women's love than this have to come to terms with the universal assumption of the superiority of all things masculine. Philo, the lover, in Leone Ebreo's Dialogues, apologetically explains to Sophia that his love is superior to hers:
Suffer me to say, O Sophia, that the love of man, who gives, is more perfect than that of woman, who receives (p. 181).
A. J. Smith quotes from Sperone Speroni (Opere, Venice, 1740, i. 33) a passage to the same effect.
Franciscus Georgius Problemata in Sacris Scripturis, Paris, 1574, asks why men and women naturally desire each other and replies:
Nonne (ut Plato inquit) cum alter sit dimidium alterius, uterque appetit dimidium sui? … Sed curfoemina magis appetit virum quam e converso? Quod innuere videtur Arist. dum ait. Materia appetit formam, sicut foemina virum. An, quia vir perfectior est: et imperfectum magis appetit perfectum, quam e converso? Propterea materia appetit formam, et non forma materiam. An (ut alii opinantur) foemina appetit virum, id est esse virum, ut sortiatur meliorem sexum et statum? Est itaque mutuus amor inter eos: quamvis ardentior sit in minus perfecto.
In the light of the universal assumption of the superiority of masculine love Donne's close seems aimed to diminish the distinction between man's love (which is pure spirit) and woman's (which is the most rarefied of material things).
Critical Apparatus
28 'Twixt] T'wixt. 1633 uncorrected
love] loves Dob, 0'F, S96,HK2, P, JC, S
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