Present in Absence, John Donne: Summary, Analysis & Themes

Introduction: "Present in Absence" by John Donne is a love poem that explores the paradoxical relationship between absence and presence. Through intricate metaphors and paradoxes, the poet argues that absence can intensify and strengthen love, making the beloved more present in the mind and heart. This poem is a must-read for anyone interested in the themes of love, longing, and the power of imagination.

Table of Contents
Present in Absence Poem: Text

Absence, hear thou my protestation
Against thy strength,
Distance, and length;
Do what thou canst for alteration:
For hearts of truest mettle
Absence doth join, and Time doth settle.

Who loves a mistress of such quality,
His mind hath found
Affection's ground
Beyond time, place, and all mortality.
To hearts that cannot vary
Absence is present, Time doth tarry.

My senses want their outward motion
Which now within
Reason doth win,
Redoubled by her secret notion:
Like rich men that take pleasure
In hiding more than handling treasure.

By absence this good means I gain,
That I can catch her,
Where none can watch her,
In some close corner of my brain:
There I embrace and kiss her;
And so enjoy her and none miss her.

Stanza by Stanza Summary

Stanza 1: In this stanza, the poet passionately addresses Absence, personifying it as a powerful entity that keeps lovers apart. He challenges Absence, stating that even though it may try to keep them apart, the love between them is so strong that it will only become stronger with time. He believes that true love is unbreakable and that Absence cannot weaken it in any way.
Stanza 2: In this stanza, the poet talks about the kind of love that transcends time and space. He believes that true love is not bound by the constraints of physicality and mortality. If a person loves their beloved with a pure heart, their love will never fade, no matter how much time passes or how far apart they are. Even though Absence may make the lover's heart ache, their love remains constant and everlasting.
Stanza 3: In this stanza, the poet talks about the power of hidden love. He believes that true love should not be displayed openly, but should remain hidden within the lover's heart. The poet compares this to the pleasure that rich men take in hiding their wealth, rather than flaunting it. When love is kept hidden, it becomes more powerful and intense. The poet believes that his love is so strong that it does not need to be displayed outwardly.
Stanza 4: In this stanza, the poet talks about the benefits of Absence. He believes that when lovers are apart, they can still be together in their thoughts and imagination. The poet says that he can keep his beloved close to him in his mind, where no one can see them. He can embrace and kiss her in his thoughts, and their love remains strong and unbreakable. Even though they may be physically apart, their love is always present and they do not miss each other. The poet believes that Absence is actually a blessing in disguise, as it allows lovers to keep their love pure and intense.

Critical Analysis

The poem "Present in Absence" by John Donne is a beautiful expression of the power of love and its ability to transcend distance and time. The speaker of the poem addresses Absence personified and challenges its ability to keep true lovers apart.

Donne's use of personification creates a sense of powerlessness in Absence, which is contrasted with the strength of true love. The repetition of the phrase "Absence, hear thou my protestation" in the first line of the poem sets the tone of defiance and determination. The speaker asserts that even though Absence may try to separate lovers, it cannot overcome the truest form of love.

The second stanza emphasizes the power of love that goes beyond time and place. The lover who loves someone of "such quality" has found a love that transcends all mortal limitations. This love cannot be diminished by distance or time and will always be present even when the lovers are physically apart.

The third stanza explores the internal nature of love and how it can be just as powerful as external expressions. The speaker says that his love is controlled by reason and that he does not feel the need to outwardly express it. He compares this hidden love to a rich man's hidden treasure, which brings him pleasure just by its existence. The speaker suggests that keeping love hidden can actually make it stronger and more powerful.

The final stanza brings together the themes of the previous stanzas and expresses the benefit of absence. The speaker suggests that absence allows him to keep his beloved close in his mind, where he can embrace and kiss her whenever he desires. This secret meeting is a source of pleasure for the lovers and will always remain hidden from the world.

Overall, "Present in Absence" is a beautiful expression of the power of love and how it can transcend distance and time. Donne's use of personification, repetition, and comparison creates a sense of defiance and strength in the face of Absence. The poem emphasizes the internal nature of love and the idea that sometimes keeping love hidden can make it stronger. The final stanza brings together all the themes of the poem and suggests that absence can actually be a source of pleasure for true lovers.

Stylistic Analysis of the Poem

The stylistic analysis of John Donne's "Present in Absence" reveals several poetic devices and techniques employed by the poet.
Firstly, the poem employs apostrophe, where the speaker addresses absence directly as if it were a person. This technique humanizes the abstract concept of absence and gives it a personal quality.
The poem also features a regular rhyme scheme of ABABCC, which gives it a sense of musicality and harmony. Additionally, there is a consistent iambic pentameter throughout the poem, which adds to its rhythm and musicality.
Donne also uses metaphorical language throughout the poem. For example, "hearts of truest mettle" represents true and loyal hearts, while "rich men that take pleasure/ In hiding more than handling treasure" represents those who derive more pleasure from the idea of possessing something than actually possessing it.
The poem also employs paradoxes, such as "To hearts that cannot vary/ Absence is present, Time doth tarry." This paradox highlights the idea that absence can bring people closer together and can even make the presence of the loved one more intense.
There is also an element of imagery in the poem. The line "Like rich men that take pleasure/ In hiding more than handling treasure" creates a visual image of wealthy individuals hoarding their wealth and not using it. Furthermore, the idea of embracing and kissing someone in a "close corner of my brain" creates an image of intimacy and closeness despite physical distance.

Literary Devices

Here are some of the literary devices used in the poem "Present in Absence" by John Donne:
  1. Apostrophe: The poem begins with an apostrophe, where the speaker addresses Absence as if it were a person, "Absence, hear thou my protestation." This literary device is used to give the poem a conversational and emotional tone.
  2. Personification: The speaker personifies Absence by describing its "strength, distance, and length" as if they were physical attributes of a person. This personification helps to emphasize the impact that absence has on the speaker's emotions.
  3. Alliteration: The repeated use of the "t" sound in "strength," "distance," and "length" creates an alliteration. This device is used to create a musical effect and to emphasize the importance of these qualities.
  4. Metaphor: The poem contains several metaphors, such as "hearts of truest mettle" to describe the strongest hearts, and "rich men that take pleasure in hiding more than handling treasure" to describe the speaker's pleasure in his imagination. These metaphors are used to create vivid imagery and to convey complex ideas in a concise way.
  5. Repetition: The repetition of the phrase "Absence is present, Time doth tarry" creates a memorable and rhythmic refrain. This repetition is used to emphasize the paradoxical nature of absence and time.
  6. Conceit: The speaker's comparison of his lover to a hidden treasure is an example of a conceit, a literary device that creates an extended metaphor between two seemingly dissimilar objects or ideas. This conceit emphasizes the value of the speaker's imagination in sustaining his love for his absent lover.
  7. Enjambment: The use of enjambment, where a line of poetry continues into the next without punctuation, creates a sense of flow and continuity in the poem. This device is used to create a sense of forward momentum and to emphasize the interconnectedness of the poem's ideas.

Theory of Metaphysical Love by John Donne

The Theory of Metaphysical Love is a term coined by literary scholars to describe John Donne's approach to love poetry. Donne, who lived in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, was known for his innovative style and his exploration of complex philosophical and theological ideas in his work. His approach to love poetry, which has come to be called "metaphysical love," was characterized by its intellectual depth, its use of elaborate conceits, and its exploration of the spiritual dimensions of love.

Donne's theory of metaphysical love is based on the idea that love is a complex and multifaceted emotion that involves both physical desire and spiritual longing. He believed that true love involves a deep connection between two souls, and that this connection is not limited by time, space, or physical proximity. For Donne, love was a transcendent force that could overcome the limitations of the material world and connect human beings on a spiritual level.

Donne's approach to love poetry was characterized by its use of elaborate metaphors and conceits, which were used to explore the many different aspects of love. In his poem "The Canonization," for example, he compares the love between two individuals to the worship of saints, arguing that their love is just as deserving of reverence and respect as the love of religious figures.

Donne's poetry also frequently explored the tension between physical desire and spiritual longing, highlighting the ways in which these two aspects of love could come into conflict. In his poem "The Flea," for example, he uses the image of a flea to suggest that physical intimacy between two individuals is a natural and inevitable part of love, while also suggesting that this intimacy is ultimately insignificant compared to the spiritual connection between the two lovers.

Overall, Donne's theory of metaphysical love was characterized by its intellectual rigor, its use of elaborate metaphors and conceits, and its exploration of the spiritual dimensions of love. Through his poetry, he sought to elevate love from a simple emotion to a complex and transcendent force that could unite human beings across time and space.

Major Themes in Present in Absence

  1. The Paradox of Absence and Presence

    The poem explores the paradox of how absence can make the heart grow fonder and bring two hearts closer together, even as it separates them physically. The speaker protests against the strength of absence and its ability to create distance and separation, yet paradoxically acknowledges that absence can join hearts of truest mettle and make their love transcend time and place. The theme of absence and presence is further explored through the idea that absence can make a lover's presence even more tangible and real in the mind.
  2. Love and Mortality

    The theme of love and mortality is explored through the idea that true love can transcend time, place, and even mortality. The mistress of such quality is not just a physical object of desire but represents a deeper, more spiritual connection that goes beyond the limitations of the physical world. The poem suggests that true love can be found beyond the physical realm, in a space that exists beyond time and mortality.
  3. The Power of Imagination

    The poem also explores the power of imagination and its ability to bring the absent lover closer to the speaker. The speaker describes how, by imagining his lover in a close corner of his brain, he can embrace and kiss her, and enjoy her as if she were physically present. This idea reflects the power of the imagination to create a world that exists beyond physical reality and to make the absent present.
  4. The Role of Reason

    The theme of reason is also explored in the poem, as the speaker suggests that his senses want their outward motion, but reason wins out over the senses. Reason, in this case, represents the rational mind that can control and discipline the passions of the heart. The idea that reason can control and discipline the passions is a common theme in Donne's poetry.

    Overall, the poem explores the paradoxical nature of absence and presence, the power of imagination and reason, and the transcendence of true love beyond the limitations of time, place, and mortality.
    Related Posts
    How did john donne die?

    John Donne died on March 31, 1631, at the age of 59. The exact cause of his death is not known, but it is believed that he died of stomach cancer. Donne was an English poet, satirist, lawyer, and a Church of England cleric who is considered one of the greatest metaphysical poets.

    How john donne is a metaphysical poet?

    John Donne is considered a metaphysical poet because of his use of complex and unconventional metaphors, his exploration of philosophical and spiritual themes, and his incorporation of paradox, wit, and intellectualism into his poetry. Metaphysical poetry is characterized by its focus on abstract ideas and the use of elaborate conceits, or extended metaphors, to convey those ideas. Donne's poetry often addresses theological and philosophical issues, such as the nature of God, the afterlife, and the human soul, through the use of unconventional comparisons and analogies. Additionally, Donne often plays with language and challenges traditional poetic conventions, reflecting the characteristics of the metaphysical poetry movement.

    What did john donne do?

    John Donne (1572-1631) was an English poet, cleric, and scholar who is considered one of the greatest metaphysical poets. He is known for his complex, intellectually challenging poetry that often deals with themes of love, death, and religion. In addition to his poetry, Donne served as a priest in the Church of England, held several important positions in the government, and wrote numerous sermons and theological treatises. His works had a significant influence on the development of English poetry and literature, and his poetry is still widely read and studied today.

    major works of john donne?

    Some of the major works of John Donne are:

    1. "Songs and Sonnets" (collection of poems)
    2. "Holy Sonnets" (collection of religious poems)
    3. "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (poem)
    4. "The Flea" (poem)
    5. "The Sun Rising" (poem)
    6. "Meditation XVII" (essay)
    7. "Devotions upon Emergent Occasions" (collection of meditations and prayers)
    8. "Biathanatos" (essay)
    9. "An Anatomy of the World" (poem)
    10. "Of the Progress of the Soul" (essay)

    Was john donne catholic?

    Yes, John Donne was a Catholic. However, during his lifetime, England was a Protestant country and Catholics faced persecution. In order to avoid persecution and advance in his career, Donne converted to Anglicanism in 1615 and became a prominent member of the Church of England. However, he maintained his Catholic beliefs and this tension between his personal faith and his public religious identity can be seen in some of his works.

    Did John Donne have children?

    Yes, John Donne had 12 children with his wife Anne More: Constance, John, George, Francis, Lucy, Bridget, Mary, Nicholas, Margaret, Elizabeth, Beatrice, and Anne.

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