John Donne “Elegy 19: To His Mistress Going to Bed”

This is going to be a short post, because I am writing about a short poem, which is followed in the NAEL by a rather long Satire 3, so it makes no sense for me to start reading it today. “Elegy 19” is exactly what it says on the tin: the lady undresses herself and the impatient lover hurries her on. Being a 17-th c. lady, her undressing involves a bit more than just slipping out of her T-shirt as you can imagine: her girdle, glistening like the zodiac belt, her breastplate, unlacing herself, taking off her coronet, her shoes, and finally taking off her gown leaving only her white shift on. The white robe makes her look like an angel, but she’s more like an angel from Mahomet’s paradise, and although scary ghosts also are prone to wear white sheets, the difference is that the ill spirits set our hair and the angels our flesh upright. This is not the only erection joke in the poem: earlier on, the speaker complained about his being tired with waiting for her, comparing himself to the army which is tired just by having to stand in the field. Now the lady is finally in bed and the poet exclaims the famous line “O my America! my new-found-land”. The next stage is getting naked: women’s jewellery are like Atalanta’s balls (or to be more precise, Hippomenes’ balls [hee hee], but Donne reverses the roles here), thrown in order to lead the gaze of the viewers from what is really important. Women’s clothes are also compared to books’ coverings: their contents are like the mystic books, whose contents can be revealed only to the elect, says Donne, playing again with mixing sex and religion. The poet is already naked and at this moment the poem stops but we can pretty well imagine what happens next.

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