A comparative study of conceptual metaphors of "circle" in the poetry of Rumi and John Donne

The classic view of metaphor, defines it as a figure of speech used by poets and intellectuals only for aesthetic purposes; Up until the late 18th century and early 19th century when the Romantic view changed that and took metaphor out of literary language boundaries and made it a means of thought and reflection of world. By the end of 20th century, George Lakoff and Mark Johnson suggested the "conceptual metaphor" theory in a book titled Metaphors We Live By. Metaphor, the authors explain, is a fundamental mechanism of mind, one that allows us to use what we know about our physical and social experience to provide understanding of countless other subjects. Their most important claim is that metaphor is not just a matter of language, that is, of mere words; But they argue that on the contrary, human thought processes are largely metaphorical (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980, p. 6). As such, by examining the metaphors, we can reach authors' world-view and ways of thought.


Love in the most important and most frequent subject in poetry, especially in the poetry of Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Balkhī , also known as Mowlana, 13th cent. Persian Poet). He uses a varieties of metaphors to describe love which can be inspected in various aspects and methods. In this paper, we narrowed those metaphors down to those which only talk about love as a circle or compass and compared them to the same ones in John Donne's (16th cent. English poet) poetry. Therefore, the 3 main objectives of this paper are: extraction and examining of the metaphors in Rumi's and John Donne's poetry, analyzing them based on conceptual metaphor theory and finally, comparing the results.


This study is based on the descriptive analysis method by using library research and extracting poems by two poets and investigating backgrounds and elements. Then we will be able to answer that are there any similarities between metaphors' use in the poetry of these two poets (considering their 300-year time gap)? If so, what cultural and intellectual fields does it show?


Lakoff and Johnson categorized conceptual metaphors into 3 main groups: "orientational", "ontological" and "structural" metaphors. The circle and compass metaphor are both orientational and ontological metaphors. Love is spoken of as a thing or an abstract that is used in math but its qualities help the speaker to talk about love. Circle is the most complete shape in the universe. It is the symbol of perfection. The circular movement and circle itself are constantly used to show senses and concepts that have associated semantics; for instance, movement of the skies, the degrees of existence, the verse and the divine, etc. In his great Diwan-e Shams, Rumi uses the circle metaphor in 3 ways. First,  Love is a circle that Beloved is its center: 7 lines in his book uses the metaphor in that way. The indicators of these lines are "circling around a point", "the beloved being the center of reliance" and " repeating the circular movement by lover". The picture in these lines is the same as pilgrims circling around Ka'ba, the beloved being in center and lovers circling around. To describe love, Rumi used a state which is familiar for the reader. It was familiar for Rumi, too, who saw his Beloved as the center of his world. In A Valediction: forbidding mourning John Donne compares the two lovers' souls to feet of a compass. At the beginning the lovers are a whole; united like two feet of a stiff compass. The beloved is the fixed foot and the lover moves around; Finishes where he started, united, no beginning and no end. But what is the circle resulted from lovers' union? Is it anything other than love itself? Perfect, beautiful and tying lovers. So the end of love is perfection and harmony. From a comparative view, Rumi and Donne both see the beloved the center of circle and the lover as the moving foot of compass. Both used this metaphor to show the lovers' dependency to one another. Other point is the contradictory nature of compass; moving while being firmly placed in one point. Both poets define love as a circle which comes to existence only around the beloved; being the whole world of lover. Other than this circle, there is none. In Donne's poetry we see that beloved hearkens after the lover who roams in far; which shows beloved's fondness of the lover; a point that we do not see in Rumi's metaphor. "The lover coming back to the starting point" is also seen in both poet's work. Second group of poem lines, Lover is a compass and moving around in a circle. In these lines, lover is both stiff and moving at the same time, always wandering around and is shocked by it. The lover himself is the whole compass. The object is a plaything in the beloved's hands. And made him dizzy and wandering. Lover is both consistent and moving at the same time. The same contrast is observed in Donne's poetry as well; in lines 26 to 28 and 36. The third group of lines love is circular. In sonnet 169 of his great Diwan, Rumi describes love as a circle which is spinning the lovers all over the world round and round. And he says that "this spinning is mandatory for such a circle" the center of this circle could be Saaqi (the cupbearer) or either lover or beloved. The circular movement comes from drunkenness, being out of sound mind or the spree resulted from being in love. Love moves you, from one place to another, not showing the right way; like a compass, it takes you back to where you started. We see something similar to this use of circle in Donne's poem as well. The circle resulted by the cooperation of the lovers, is love itself. The circle of love is perfect, showing solidarity of a world in which the lovers and compass have such a relationship. (Hawx, 95: 39). So what does these differences show? Rumi talks about a compass as it's moving very fast. Sometimes the beloved is at the center, sometimes the lover is the compass itself. As if Rumi thinks the best way to describe the lovers' behavior is spinning and circling. But Donne's compass moves slowly. It only draws one circle and returns to the starting point safely. His most emphasis is on the lovers' dependency to one another; like a compass's feet. Love is a circle, as an ontological and orientational metaphor, shows some aspects of a circle and a compass and hide some other qualities at the same time. This metaphor has a visual basis – the shape of a circle – and a physical basis – the compass- at the same time. The cultural background of this metaphor is probably based on the two poets' religion. Rumi is a Muslim. His love is for the one and only Beloved. He has the picture of haj in his mind. He saw the Hajis spinning around the Kaaba with such a love and devotion. Donne was a Christian scholar, too. He describes love in a way that it could be diverted to God. As a member of Metaphysical poets, Donne wanted to take the lyrical poetry of that time out of its rot and materialism and insert new and farfetched conceits into it.


Although there are no common cultural similarities between the two poets, but we can consider religion, love for God, using mortal love to reach God and centering Beloved in life, the reason for use of "love is a circle" metaphor by them. Also visualization of the circumstances of lovers' in the way of unification with each other and their love towards one another is done by the two poets based on the physical body of compass. But this metaphor is used differently by them. In Rumi's poetry it is more frequent and more mystical and with more immediate impact. John Donne uses this metaphor only in one poem and the impact takes longer to take shape.

Article Type:
Research/Original Article
Journal of Comparative Literature, Volume:11 Issue:20, 2019
145 - 163
روش‌های دسترسی به متن این مطلب
اشتراک شخصی
در سایت عضو شوید و هزینه اشتراک یک‌ساله سایت به مبلغ 300,000ريال را پرداخت کنید. همزمان با برقراری دوره اشتراک بسته دانلود 100 مطلب نیز برای شما فعال خواهد شد!
اشتراک سازمانی
به کتابخانه دانشگاه یا محل کار خود پیشنهاد کنید تا اشتراک سازمانی این پایگاه را برای دسترسی همه کاربران به متن مطالب خریداری نمایند!