'We can love nothing, but that which we do, or think we do understand' : the sacred and the profane in Donne's poetry.
AbstractDonne's dismissal of a dichotomy between the sacred and the profane
in his Elegies, Songs and Sonets, and Divine Poems is fundamental to his
conception of love. Throughout his poetry, and reiterated time and again in
his Sermons, is his conviction that however desirable such a distinction may
be between earthly and divine love, it is at best arbitrary, and often proves
futile. This is because the nature of our love and its expression, whether for
men and women, or God, defies categorisation as discrete secular or sacred
manifestations. Donne's approach to this paradox is best demonstrated by
considering his secular and religious poetry together, which however
obvious it may seem, has not previously been undertaken in any great detail.
As a way of contextualising what Donne is doing, and emphasising his
essential orthodoxy, two complementary literary traditions are discussed.
The first, in Chapter Two, is the exegetical tradition surrounding The Song of
Songs, in conjunction with two mystics, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the
Cross, and the poets, Robert Southwell and Richard Crashaw. Petrarchism is
the second, secular, literary tradition looked at, in Chapter Three. I then turn
to the poetry itself, devoting the rest of Chapter Three to the Elegies, Chapter
Four to the Songs and Sonets, and Chapter Five to the Divine Poems. By
examining the individual groups of poems together like this I want to
demonstrate that in the profane poetry there is a discernable connection
between the sanctification and celebration of earthly love and Donne's use of
religious terminology, which is mirrored in the secular, often sexual imagery
found in his description of his love for God. The result is that however
startling and occasionally uncomfortable readers may believe Donne's
juxtaposition of the earthly and the divine to be, his conflation of these two
apparent opposites is fully considered.
TypeElectronic Thesis or Dissertation