Literature & Life

Elegy III: Change by John Donne

“Elegy III: Change” by John Donne is an excellent example of a formal and sustained mourning in verse. It appears that he composed elegies under a variety of life circumstances. The poet’s sardonic defence of women’s transitory love was frivolous at best. When it comes to love, he compares women to flowing water, claiming that they are lovely only when they are able to shift partners without hesitation.

Change or inconsistency in women’s lives is a fact of life, according to the poet. However, he is afraid of his mistress’s erratic behaviour. In his view, women are for all men, just as the sea receives all rivers. In spite of his belief in a variety in love, he nevertheless wants to keep his inherent right to be constant with his mistress and ‘to love not any one, not every one’. “Change’s” philosophy expresses naturalistic beliefs: love is a physical relationship based on the natural law, free of social restraints, according to society’s perception.

The poet uses figures of speech such as metaphor, simile, and analogies to expand the analogical argument presented in the poem. As he begins his argument, he compares women to the arts, which he says are valuable because they are accessible to everyone. When the speaker compares suitors to fowlers and women to birds, the concept is conveyed that much like a bird, a woman is open to anybody with the skill to catch her. This naturalistic belief is reinforced by the comparison of women to foxes and goats, which implies that males are free from society’s moral restraints and are just governed by their desire. In the poet’s view, women restrain males from expressing their individuality. ‘Plow land’ is another metaphor for women, and its owner expects an enormous harvest from it. Defending women’s sexual freedom, the poet compares a woman to the “sea that accepts all rivers.” The Danuby must flow into the sea, but the sea also receives the Rhine, Volga, and Po!

The poet laments his inability to cope with such unbridled sexual liberation. Can she really love him if she lives in an environment where she is free to do as she pleases? In his mind, he is more concerned about whether or not their love would remain steady or change. He is unable to tolerate freedom’s racial sexism. He doesn’t believe in unconditional love, and he’s not the only one. Restricted love, according to him, stagnates just like stagnant water. Love for freedom is like a flowing stream that never loses its purity. Men are represented by the “banks,” whereas women are represented by the “water.”. The sea, rivers, and oceans have long served as symbolic representations of romantic ardour. Even in a large sea, the waters stink quickly if they sit still in one spot. However, when they kiss one bank and leave this, never look back and kiss the next bank, they are at their purest…

Even if his mistress prefers a more stable relationship, the poet understands that “Change is the nursery of music, joy, life and immortality.” This causes him to question the meaning of ‘limits’. Even in the unrestricted love of a person, he argues, there should be limits. For a long-lasting and successful partnership, these restrictions should not be defined in stone. We’re forced to speculate, though, as to just what the poet means when he talks about “changing.”

Elegies are frequently written to express grief at the death of a loved one, but they can also be about other types of grief or despair. A work like ‘Elegy III: Change’ falls within this umbrella. Elegy was made more enjoyable to read because to the employment of irony and humour, paradox, symbols, satire and a wide range of emotions. The elegies composed by him have a unique style because of their use of rhyme breaks, varying stress and pauses, and the employment of the run-on method. “Change is the nursery of music, joy, life, and eternity,” says the poet.

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