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Featured Poem: Lovers’ Infiniteness by John Donne

Written by Lisa Spurgin, 12th September 2011

It is one of the prevailing and often mindboggling marvels of literature that it manages to inspire people in a veritable myriad of ways. Each book, novel, short story and poem has its own ‘fanbase’ – some are read on a very wide scale, others a well-kept secret shared amongst a select few, a number whose ravenous readers border ever so slightly on the obsessive in their appreciation (not to say that’s a bad thing – certainly not according to recent research). For many of us it’s enough once we’ve read something special to consider it, talk about it with others who have also read it, pass it on to friends and family to share the wonder around. But there are people who become so incredibly involved in a reading experience that they take it to the next level – and then some…

There are literary monuments and memorials a-plenty around the globe – so many you could quite easily (in an ideal world where each of us had a never-ending supply of money to do what we wanted with) take a year-long trip, taking in a new reading-related attraction each day. Italy in particular has a reputation for containing such sights; of course it is home to fair Verona, already immortalised forever in the minds of literature lovers as well as in the swooning hearts of millions of hopeless romantics the world over. Now in the country of amoré the latest literary landmarks have appeared, arousing a ferocity of feeling that is more commonly found amongst teenage fans of pop groups or flash-mobs than by passionate but relatively reserved bookworms. Inspired by Italian novelist Federico Moccia’s 2006 tome Ho Voglia de Te (translated as ‘I Want You’), a story centred on the romantic pursuits of some young Romans, an outpouring of young lovers and book lovers have descended upon bridges up and down the country, including the Milvian Bridge in Rome (where the novel is set) and the Rialto Bridge in Venice, armed with padlocks. Mimicking an act fabricated as legend by one of Moccia’s characters, those enchanted by the novel are rushing to perform the ritual of fixing their personalised padlocks onto the bridges and then throwing their accompanying keys in to their river below, ensuring that the lock – and as a result, their love – can never be removed. Despite the fury of city officials, who are having to contend with collapsing lampposts and crumbling stonework, the craze of the ‘love locks’ cannot be stopped, spreading with the book’s popularity to other cities across the world – although the novel has not yet been translated into English, so unless tourists decide to leave their mark there won’t be any popping up on Tower Bridge just yet.

Although some would surely say that the actions of these thousands of devotees of this particular book are over-the-top - and certainly have a disregard for the preservation of sensitive centuries-old constructions – it is heartening to see such a dramatic reaction being provoked from the page into the hearts of so many, especially amongst younger people who are often thought to be apathetic about any variety of things, not least literature. Soppy, sure; over-sentimental, yes maybe that too; but an overwhelming demonstration of the power of literature to engage, involve and call to universal emotion (as well as being rather amusing that books, more now than ever, can create a ‘groupie’ following many musicians would be envious of). Embracing their optimistic spirit of belief in eternal love (poetry will have to replace padlocks in this instance), and to extend that love to reading as well as relationships, a poem about lovers’ infiniteness from Donne – whose words surely must spark off similar impassioned responses in his readers.

Lovers’ Infiniteness

If yet I have not all the love,
Dear, I shall never have it all,
I cannot breathe one other sigh, to move,
Nor can entreat one other tear to fall.
All my treasure, which should purchase thee,
Sighs, tears, and oaths, and letters I have spent,
Yet no more can be due to me,
Than at the bargain made was meant.
If then thy gift of love were partial,
That some to me, some should to others fall,
Dear, I shall never have thee all.

Or if then thou gavest me all,
All was but all, which thou hadst then;
But if in thy heart, since, there be or shall
New love created be, by other men,
Which have their stocks entire, and can in tears,
In sighs, in oaths, and letters outbid me,
This new love may beget new fears,
For, this love was not vowed by thee.
And yet it was, thy gift being general,
The ground, thy heart is mine; whatever shall
Grow there, dear, I should have it all.

Yet I would not have all yet,
He that hath all can have no more,
And since my love doth every day admit
New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards in store;
Thou canst not every day give me thy heart,
If thou canst give it, then thou never gav'st it;
Love's riddles are, that though thy heart depart,
It stays at home, and thou with losing sav'st it:
But we will have a way more liberal,
Than changing hearts, to join them, so we shall
Be one, and another's all.

John Donne (1572-1631)

2 thoughts on “Featured Poem: Lovers’ Infiniteness by John Donne

Sue Garner-Jones says:

Lovely, Lisa, as always. You work SO hard on these: thank you.

Sue Garner-Jones says:

You are all being very silly – if you won’t post my comment please pass on my compliment to Lisa, she deserves more recognition than she gets.

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