Donne shows great originality in using imageries in his poetry. Imagery means the making of pictures in word. An imagery may consist of conceit, simile, metaphor, hyperbole, allusion and other figures of speech. Donne draws his images from various fields of knowledge such as –astronomy, geology, chemistry, physiology, law and theology. Most far fetched objects and concepts are juxtaposed in his imagery. It is through the use of imagery that Donne achieves the unification of sensibility.
Examples of imagery are to be found in 'The Flea', 'Good Morrow', 'Sunne Rising', 'Canonization', 'Twickman Garden' and 'A Valediction Forbiding Mourning'.
In 'A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning', for example, we get the imagery of compass. Here the parted lovers are compared to the two legs of a compass. Then Donne compares the two souls of the lovers with the unity of a lump of gold. When the gold is beaten it does not break into pieces, but spreads out. Similarly their separation from each other does not mean a break in their love. Moreover, it will make their love more spiritual, refined and eternal.
Donne’s most popular poem The Flea is famous for extraordinary uses of Imagery. Donne compares the body of the flea to a “temple” and “Marriage bed”. The bloods of the lover and beloved have been united together in its body as they are united through marriage in a church. So its body is a temple in which they have been married. The respective blood of the lover and the beloved mingle through the sexual intercourse. Now they have become mingled in the flea, so its body is their marriage bed. So, she must not kill the flea, as it will be a sin, a sacrilege and triple murder. Through the imagery we see how argumentative Donne is.
In Good Morrow image like-“snorted we in the seven sleepers den” takes us to the cave in which seven young Christians because of the fear of persecution, took refuge in a cavern where they fell asleep and woke up about two centuries later. Then we find the images of “sea discoverers”, traveling to new worlds, and two hemispheres. Donne sees the macrocosm in the microcosm-the great in the small-and the geographical discoveries of his day are pressed into services to establish the superiority of the world of love.
The novelty of images may also be noted in The Sunne Rising also. The sun here is imagined to be a saucy, pedantic wretch who is called upon to go and scold late school boys, court huntsmen and country ants. Our days, months are here regarded as the rags of time.
In Canonization the poet and his beloved are canonized. As the saints are canonized for their devotion to God and renunciation of worldly pleasures, so also lovers will be canonized for their devotion to each other and renunciation the world for each of them. The other imagery consists in the analogies where the lovers are liked first to flies and tapers and then to eagle and Dove and finally to the Phoenix.
There are secular images drawn in Twickman Garden. The poet’s love is compared to a spider that converts manna to gall and his jealousy is the serpent that makes his garden(twickman garden)an equivalent of Paradise, where Eve was tempted to taste the forbidden fruit by Satan in the guise of a serpent. Secondly, the poet would like to be changed into a mandrake so that he can continue to groan in his distress as mandrakes were supposed to cry out in agony when uprooted. The poet also fountain, the water of which falls continuously in the form of shedding tears. Thirdly, the poet’s tears are the wine of love. Lovers are asked to taste the poet’s tears and then taste their mistress’s tears. If the taste is no the same it means that their mistresses tears are false.
Donne’s imagery reveals the width of his intellectual explorations. However, not all imagery of Donne is so far-fetched, abound and fantastic. Much of Donne’s imagery is drawn from the world of every day commerce, trade and industry.