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Meaning and Poetic Devices in "Love's Alchemy" by John Donne

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Use this analysis of "Love's Alchemy" to make people think you're smart. You'll find a discussion of what the poem is about and an analysis of the poetic devices used within it.

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    Love's Alchemy by John Donne

    The first step in doing an analysis of "Love's Alchemy" by John Donne is to read and reread the poem.

    Some that have deeper digg'd love's mine than I,
    Say, where his centric happiness doth lie.
    I have loved, and got, and told,
    But should I love, get, tell, till I were old,
    I should not find that hidden mystery.
    O ! 'tis imposture all ;
    And as no chemic yet th' elixir got,
    But glorifies his pregnant pot,
    If by the way to him befall
    Some odoriferous thing, or medicinal,
    So, lovers dream a rich and long delight,
    But get a winter-seeming summer's night.

    Our ease, our thrift, our honour, and our day,
    Shall we for this vain bubble's shadow pay?
    Ends love in this, that my man
    Can be as happy as I can, if he can
    Endure the short scorn of a bridegroom's play?
    That loving wretch that swears,
    'Tis not the bodies marry, but the minds,
    Which he in her angelic finds,
    Would swear as justly, that he hears,
    In that day's rude hoarse minstrelsy, the spheres.
    Hope not for mind in women; at their best,
    Sweetness and wit they are, but mummy, possess'd.

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    What is Love's Alchemy?

    An Alchemist 

    The concept of Love's Alchemy is still being taught today. Go to or any other popular book seller, if you don't believe me. Those of whom Donne writes in line 1, the "Some that have deeper digg'd love's mine than I" believe they understand the secrets of finding a soul mate. Apparently, there are nine soul mate secrets (that seems like an awful lot). Those who profess such knowledge can teach you how to avoid bad love karma, what a soul mate is, and how to keep the faith.

    These are the exact people Donne ridicules.

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    Poetic Devices - First Stanza

    Celestial Spheres 

    1. Rhyme Scheme - aabbacddccee - the near rhyme in lines 5 and 10 add emphasis to "mystery," which is what love is, and "medicinal," which is what love is not.
    2. Meter - lines 1,2, 4, 5, 7, 11, 12 are iambic pentameter. The remaining lines contain iambs with a different number of feet. Noteworthy is the iambic trimeter in line 6 that provides a rhythmic break, emphasizing the poem's theme that this whole soul mate thing is a bunch of garbage; line 10 contains iambic hexameter, a veritable tongue-twisting, verbose "odoriferous," which symbolizes the bag of wind that Donne considers the alchemists to be.
    3. Personification and Alliteration - "Pregnant Pot" in line 8 is an interesting choice of words. The "soul mate" alchemist crowd believed that Platonic, non-physical love, was the ultimate in happiness. Donne mocks that notion by saying they have a "pregnant pot."
    4. Metaphor - Donne compares love's alchemists to alchemists whose life pursuit was turning base metals into gold (with absolutely no success, I might add). In line 1 he compares, love's alchemists to miners digging for truth.
    5. Antithesis - Donne contrasts the claims of the alchemists in lines 1-2 to his own experience in lines 3-5. He concludes in line 6 that the alchemists are "imposture(s) all."
    6. Simile- In lines7-10, Donne describes the alchemists--those trying to turn base metals into gold--as doing nothing more than making their pot fill of chemicals more full and more smelly. In lines 11-12, he states it's just like those seeking for soul mates who "dream a rich and long delight, / But get a winter-seeming summer's night."
    7. OxyMoron - "Winter-seeming summer's night" is an oxymoron. It highlights the ridiculousness that anyone would attempt to understand love.
    8. Repetition - "Our" is used four times in the first line of stanza two. Donne is rallying "us" to combat this onslaught of kooks, who feel that love exists in the sphere and is more pure than love on the physical plane.


  • Donne, John. "Love's Alchemy."
  • Years of Reading and Teaching.
  • Images are in the public domain.