Air and Angels John Donne’s poem “Air and Angels” focuses on the medieval beliefs respecting angels. Angels are commonly seen as messengers of God or appear as a conventional representation of a human form with wings. A popular theory in medieval times assumed angels under certain circumstances did assume bodies of air. The underlying theme of this poem is on love.
John Donne’s theory is that love cannot exist in nothing or in things, but somewhere in-between. The ideal of love expressed throughout the poem takes on a shapeless and physical form, but to John Donne, love takes on the form of air and angels, which is the in-between. Throughout the poem, it shows love taking on two forms, a shapeless and physical form. In the first stanza there are illustrations and clear examples showing the two forms of love.
In the first stanza of the poem the poet remembers a past in which he loved his lady before he knew her face or name; her effect upon him is likened to that of angles which, “so in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,” are worshipped by man. John Donne continues his line of reasoning by remarking that the soul, a soul being the immortal part of a human being, often regarded as immortal or the moral, emotional or intellectual nature of a person, gives birth to love which has “limbs of flesh.” This means love must also assume a physical form. John Donne than proceeds to say, “That it assume thy body, I allow, And fix, itself in thy lip, eye, and brow.” This means that he is asking for love to take the body of the woman.
Again, the ideal of love taking a shapeless and physical form is discussed, but in stanza two. The second stanza a continuation of the first stanza advances, especially using nautical imagery. John Donne discusses the ideal of “ballast love,” ballast meaning anything heavy carried in a ship to give stability.
This ideal of “ballast love” used by John Donne means that he had intended to steady or by so embody love. John Donne discovered instead that the wares which he placed upon his love “would sink admiration,” meaning his love would not please contemplation. Nautical imagery is ended with “I saw I had love’s pinnace overfraught.” Lastly, an interesting line to point out is, “For, nor in nothing, nor in things Extreme and scattering bright, can love inhere.” This line clearly indicates that love cannot exist in nothing or in things, but somewhere in-between. The question to be asked than is, what is the in-between of love? In the last part of the poem, John Donne attempts to prove the in-between of love, which to him is through air and angels.
Where it states, “Then, as an angel, face, and wings Of air, not as pure as it, yet pure doth wear,” indicates that it was thought angels are immaterial, but “assume” a body of air, the least immaterial of the elements when they appear to men. John Donne realizes the inequality between air and angels, as well as between men and women. It is seen as well, that an angel is less material than “love’s sphere,” meaning air, so man is more material than the sphere it takes upon, which is the woman’s love.
Finally, it is apparent to see that in, “As is ‘twixt air and angels’ purity, ‘Twixt women’s love and men’s will ever be,” that relative purity is being represented in angels and man, while the perfection of purity is of the air and the woman. Throughout the poem, than translated into the essay, it is clear to see that love takes on a shapeless and physical form. Stanza one and two provided clear illustrations of these two forms of love. Although love throughout the poem takes on a shapeless and physical form, John Donne’s theory to love is that it cannot exist in nothing or in things, but somewhere in-between. This in-between of love, which was clearly illustrated by John Donne, is in fact air and angels.