John Donne was an English poet, sermonist
and essayist born in 1572 in London into a Roman Catholic family, which was a
problem at a time in which England was divided by religion. He died in 1631
from a stomach cancer at the age of 58. His work has current themes such as
love – both physical
and spiritual – devotion, faith and
the idea of true religion. The works of John Donne are noted for their strong style
full of unusual
verse forms and complex figures of speech. It represented a shift from
classical forms to more personal poetry, a reaction to the conventions of the
Elizabethan poetry. His contradictory spirit met many criticisms. He is
considered to be one of the first metaphysical poet, this label was given to
him after his death. “The Apparition” is one of his poems from the book Songs and Sonnets of 1633. This is a 17
lines poem written in fluctuating meter with a surprising rhyme scheme (ABBA B
CDCDC EFFE GGG) in which John Donne delivers the story of a broken-hearted man
coming back from the dead to take revenge on his former love. To what extend is
this poem representative of Donne’s poetry? First and foremost, this is a poem
is representative of John Donne’s poetry since it is based on emotions, and more
importantly it is representative because this is a religious poem.



In the first place, the main
theme of the poem is pertaining to emotions. The narrator is seeking revenge for
his broken heart and his dishonour, this term implies feelings such as anger
and resentment. Moreover, the tittle itself implies emotions. More importantly,
“The Apparition” is a ghost, it is supposed to includes feelings such as
doubt and fear.


In this poem, the author thinks about
his own death, he speaks as if he were  already
a ghost, he is a threat for his past love who betrayed him, on the first line
he says that “…by thy scorn, O murd’ress,
I am dead” it suggests that the rejection of the woman killed him, it is
like an accusation but calling her a murderess seems like an extrapolation, he
is not dead yet, although he is dying inside from the suffering, there is a lack
of subjectivity because of the anger and the bitterness. Considering it is a
poem based on emotions, those seem to dull the neutrals thoughts of the poet. He
is planning to haunt the woman in her own bed now she thinks she is “free, from all solicitation from him”
as said on line 3 and 4, to make her realize firstly that she is not done with
him but also that she made a mistake when she rejected him.


The author is describing his
plan, just like a fantasy, with a type of sado-masochistic pleasure, from line 5
to 10, she was cruel, and he wants to be crueller to her, he tells that he
wants to see the woman with another man, as proof that she is a liar and she
was just using the excuse of virginity to reject John Donne even if she is not
a virgin. He refers to her as a “feigned
vestal” on line 5 it means she is a false pretender of some devotion, this
detail also indicates that the “solicitation”
of the poet is not about him begging for her pure platonic love, it implies
that is about sex. She kills him by refusing sex with him.

In his plan, the writer says that
frightened by the apparition, she will wake up her new man, but exhausted by
the sex he would think she wanted more and would pretend to sleep, leaving her
alone, “neglected” (line 11) shaking
in the dark. To talk about the woman, he uses the expression “poor aspen wretch”, there is a
comparison with the aspen tree and her to describe her as thin and not
resistant. The leaves of the tree are so thin they are moving even when there
is no wind. It underlines the weak aspect of the woman. In addition, when John Donne
says on line 12 – 13 “Bathed in a cold
quicksilver sweat wilt lie A verier ghost than I” it means she will be
so frightened and so alone that she will look more like a ghost than the poet
himself. But he might also predict her death when he says she will become a
ghost. In addition to that, the “cold
quicksilver” refers to the cold and poisonous mercury, it was also used to
cure STD’s, in all cases he talks about her future death or her future illness.
Which is probably deserved, according to his bitterness.

On the last 4 lines, Donne is
mysterious about a secret he keeps from his lover, he keeps it to let her feel
fear and says he is no longer in love with her, the idea of his beloved painfully
repenting is more delightful than the idea of her being in love with him. This
bring us to another important emotion in the poem, the pleasure. The poem
suggests the writer is enjoying his revenge despite the scene he is watching – the woman he wanted, sleeping with another man –  there are some mixed feelings.


Again, this underlines the idea
of sado-masochistic pleasure, also the irony resides in the fact he says he is
over his lover, but he does not act like it is true, he uses his time to make
her repent painfully.



The term “repent” can recall the religious
field. As we shall go on to examine, this text appears to be a religious poem.
Firstly, the lexical field of religion can be seen on line 4 with “ghost”, on line 5 with “feigned vestal” which refers to Vestal
Virgins, the priestesses of Vesta, the goddess of the heath in the ancient Rome,
also “taper” line 6, which is the type
of candle burned in the churches, the verb “repent”
on line 16 and the noun “innocent” on
line 17.

“The Apparition” can be interpreted as God warning mankind of his sins. The woman who dishonoured
and broke the hearth of the ghost might be Eve committing the original sin, turning
her back to religion and condemning the whole mankind to repent. It makes sense
since in the Bible all humans have to pay, suffer and repent for Eve’s sin. Many
details can be understood in a religious way. For instance, the expression “in worse arms” line 5 may refers the
devil’s arms. Becoming a “verier ghost”
than the narrator, may mean becoming a holy spirit once the sins have been
forgiven – after the pain and the fear. The apparition might be a judgement,
and the sentence might be repent for what has been done.



The Apparition is both a religious
poem and a poem full of complex emotions. The emotions described in the poem
might be real and not just invented or romanticized for the poem because John
Donne was known for his numerous love stories with women, some of them were
very shorts and some of them were very long, the frustration and the disappointment
towards his former love might be an expression of something that truly happened
to him. All these feelings are mixed and at the end the idea of his beloved painfully
repainting is more delightful than the idea of her being in love with him.  On the symbolical level, God might be enjoying
suffering the mankind because it means humans are on their way to become free of
their sins. The theme of religion is also linked to the personal life of the
author, he was born in a Roman Catholics family, which had some repercussions
on his life and became Anglican in 1597. To conclude, since the themes of the
poem are linked to his private life and his main themes, The Apparition
is representative of John Donne’s work, even though it is less metaphysical than
his other poems.