There are several themes present in the poem “Air and Angels” by John Donne and each carries a particular meaning. While giving a summary of all of the themes in “Air and Angels” by John Donne is nearly impossible given the multiple possible interpretations, at the least, it is best to identify the themes that are most prominent, including love and the world of the flesh versus spirit worlds. The influence of Shakespeare, particularly his sonnets, are clear in “Air and Angels” as many of the same themes are explained and explored. In the poem, “Air and Angels" love is represented as being something higher than human thought and comprehension.
In “Air and Angels’ love is something that transcends the flesh and the human body is merely a vessel for this potent emotion. Love in this poem is not represented as a feeling that is strictly based on outside or shallow perceptions of beauty but rather, it is projected onto the object of the affection in a pure and spiritual sense. Through using specific images and compounding themes and meaning throughout the poem “Air and Angels” by John Donne, the reader gets the sense that even though the speaker seems to have a notion of the power of love, he is not quite able to grasp it or give it the form and shape he seems to desire.
These ideas of form and shapelessness as a theme in “Air and Angels" by John Donne are interwoven by language that is at once “earthly" and heavenly. This poem accomplishes its task of questioning the relationship between the ethereal and intangible nature of a “pure" emotion by placing the idea of love in a number of different contexts. It is at once compared and contrasted and interposed onto the human form, then is placed in connection with the heavy connotations associated with ballasts and boats, and then, by the end, it is “freed" because it is associated with angels who are thought to be in their most pure form when appearing as air.
The mix between this world of the flesh and the world of the pure spirit of love are constantly playing off and one another as earthly and heavenly or supernatural images are juxtaposed. The form that a pure emotion like love takes is the central question and is explored in different ways throughout the poem. The best way to examine this meaning would be to look at the very structure which is at once a unified thought process yet is broken into two distinct ideas. There are two sections to the poem, each with its own separate theme and use of language. The first fourteen lines encapsulate the need for emotion to be placed in flesh and relies heavily on the use of “earthly" terms such as “limbs of flesh" and “parent" as well as the fuller sense that the poet is attempting to “ground" his thoughts to the mere earth-bound before launching into a discussion of higher things as the poem moves forward and branches out to include the metaphysical.
At the beginning of the second set of fourteen lines, the poem still retains a beginning that is firmly rooted in the “real" by invoking nautical terminology such as “ballasts" and “pinnace" which at once puts the poem in a sort of grounded and earth-bound context yet all the while is developing the idea that love cannot be attained through such average modes. The images of heavy “human" items such as the ballasts and boats are set against the following lines, which are important quotes from “Air and Angels” the poem by John Donne, “Extreme, and scattering bright, can love inhere; /Then as an angel face and wings." The narrator goes on to speak of love and angels as something that are of the air and not bound to the weighty matters of the flesh and society.
The beginning of the poem is rather difficult to decipher, which is in many senses, the meaning of the poem; that beauty is difficult to grasp and put into form. By the end of “Air and Angels" however, there seems to be a resolution to the question of such formlessness when the narrator decides in one of the quotations from “Air and Angels” by John Donne, “As is ‘twixt air’s and angels’ purity, / Twixt women’s love, and men’s, will ever be" since here he concludes that love is just what he thought it was from the beginning—an idea without boundaries, much like air—formless and supernatural even though we may try to put it into the terms of flesh and reality. In some ways, there is actually a conflict and resolution to the poem since the narrator at once declares in the first section quote, That it assume thy body, I allow/And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow" yet by the end of his thoughts he is left with the resolution that there is no way to fix the flesh to the formlessness or “shapelessness of flame" which is, in this case, love.