Donne's Anticipation of Experience
HARDY has a poem, 'The Self-Unseeing', in which he records a scene that appears in retrospect as one of the moments of value in life but was not at the time experienced vividly at its worth--'Yet we were looking away!' In Donne's work there occurs curiously often, in several different forms, an attempted insurance against some such failure of experience. In one of its forms it shows as a prolonged effort of anticipation, as though to ensure full responsiveness to the event when it did come. In the early work, of course, the long-drawn-out anticipation is of sexual experience; and this gives the broad pattern of the zestfully sensual poems, 'To his Mistris going to bed' and 'Whoever loves, if he do not propose The right true end of love'. The Epithalamions also served him well (apart from their social and pecuniary value) because they invited this process of leading up to the experience with an 'impatient' anticipation that allows him to dwell longer and more vividly on the idea of sexual union, and because they justified by the conventions of the occasion the onlooker's rather mental preoccupation with sexuality that goes with such anticipation. But in later poems, as I must come to consider, the same anticipation is applied to the act of dying.
Another form of insurance against failing of full response to the significant event is seen in Donne's fantasy that the moment of experience can be immensely protracted:
All day, the same our postures were,
And wee said nothing, all the day.