John Donne at the Odeon


by Daniel Tobin

 1. Net

Today because I am sufficiently connected here in my book-glutted home in Boston I have decided to make my little room an everywhere. As it so happens, I am hovering now above an area of greater London known as Mitcham that four-hundred years ago was an outlying village backwater away from the teeming intrigue and bustle of King James’ city and his court. One click, another, and another, and I am a virtual parachutist riding the virtual air down to a knotty maze of suburban streets that look neatly groomed, their names rising amidst the topology along with the names of businesses and landmarks—Body Zest, Merton Pre-School, Seven Island Pond. Another click and I have donned a golden terra-suit to incarnate myself on Donne Place.

Out of the Map Man’s eyes I see four attractive homes, two-family, stucco and brick, though none of them ostentatious or opulent. This is what passes for an upper middle class suburb in one of the great world cities of the 21st century West—no trace of the cottage where the poet moved with his family after years of estrangement from his father-in-law, Sir George More, who was so incensed by John Donne’s elopement with his daughter, Ann, he had his unlawful son-in-law thrown briefly into the Fleet Street prison. Donne, as he wrote to Sir George, had “undone” his daughter in a manner that could not be “undone” and, as such, in a triple entendre, Donne had become “undone” himself. Though Donne was released, it took a long time to undo the personal and professional damage. The couple’s reconciliation with Sir George came five years after their secret marriage in 1601, effectively destroying Donne’s professional life such that he relied on charity until Sir George “agreed to give the couple an income of L80 per year,” as John Stubbs recounts in his magisterial biography, John Donne: The Reformed Soul.[1]  Donne referred to the cottage in Mitcham as his “prison,” “dungeon,” “his hospital” where he kept a first floor study, his “poor Library” that at times filled with “raw vapors… from the cellar below.”[2]  He would live in Mitcham for some six years during which time he composed his two “Anniversaries,” among other masterworks, before moving to Drury Lane and London’s inner sanctum, before Ann died in childbirth with their twelfth child (only seven of whom survived), before he gave up the ambitions of court and acceded after years of refusing to become an Anglican divine and, eventually, famously, the Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral where his likeness in stone, draped in his death shroud, can be viewed today.

Donne’s world-line, as a contemporary physicist might call it, that messy knitting together of the personal life and the wider prospects of time and space, cuts in and through his own historical circumstance and keeps on going:

For of meridians and parallels,
Man hath weaved out a net, and this net thrown
Upon the heavens, and now they are his own.

These lines from Donne’s “First Anniversary” not only speak to the centrality of topology to Donne’s vision they elaborate his profound intellectual and imaginative engagement with the rapidly transforming world of his time. They also telegraph across five centuries to the breakneck transformations of our own moment, and to the place of poetry in a world that appears ever more atomized even as it is more tightly woven together by nets of association that even Donne with his visionary wit could not have wholly imagined but which his work in its own time and idiom foreknew.  No man is an island, Donne famously wrote in his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions.  What could be more emergent than the occasion of our own lives here and now, where a solitary person living in a condominium in Boston can travel virtually in seconds to a site more than three thousand miles away simply by typing “Mitcham” and “Donne” on a search engine?  Man hath weaved out a net, yes, and the earth in a manner has become more strangely though perhaps not more truly our own, if not the heavens.

If anything, from this vantage, the world has become small, an island, flat, built and ever-more premised on connectivity.  While this may be the case in superficial terms it is almost self-evident that the presumably deeper bonds that connect people and peoples have lost cultural affiliation. The binding language of traditional protocols, to borrow from contemporary “net-speak,” appears to be working at cross purposes. From Donne’s time, and before, what Owen Barfield called “the background picture” of human being “as a microcosm within the macrocosm” has been lost. The island, so to speak, has become decentralized, which is a marvelous way to establish exponential “data” exchange but perhaps not so efficacious for obtaining anything akin to a shared vision, if such a thing were possible now. We live, conversely, in a disjecta membra, as Barfield claimed, and that is only more the case in the 21st century, in our “post” modern milieu. We live, in short, with local exceptions, in a dissociated world held together by fragile links of utility and self-promotion underpinned by laws of mutual advantage—a materialist ethos and cosmos that cannot but influence cultural representations and, hence, art, including poetry. This may not be the state of “mental chaos” T. S. Eliot envisioned would ensue once “our traditions” had completely exploded like the Hindenburg,[3] but it may well resonate accurately with Marilynne Robinson’s reflection that such a state contributes to “the exclusion of felt life from the varieties of thought and art.” For her as for Barfield, the prevailing materialist worldview has established itself very nearly to the exclusion of any counter “interpretation of the facts of nature.”[4] It has become “the only possible method” and therefore precludes out of hand any reference to what might be even loosely understood as a metaphysical stance toward life and art. Reading Donne or any poet so inclined would appear to be antiquarian in such a climate, unless there is more to the human place and material reality than an accidental network of matter and energy, without purpose, without end.

Ted Hughes once wrote a poet’s sensibility is shaped ultimately by her or his idea of God, which of course would include the idea of God’s non-existence. Seamus Heaney, despite his own metaphysical reticence, declared that “poetry is a ratification of the impulse toward transcendence.”[5] Both poets from the standpoint of their own exceptional accomplishments are echoing T.S. Eliot, though neither embraces Eliot’s high-flown orthodoxy. In “The Metaphysical Poets” Eliot affirms the central importance of reading the Metaphysicals and Donne in particular, and he affirms reading them with confidence in their relevance for the practice of the art irrespective of a particular historical moment:

When a poet’s mind is perfectly equipped for its work, it is constantly
amalgamating disparate experience; the ordinary man’s experience is chaotic,
irregular, fragmentary. The latter falls in love and reads Spinoza, and these
two experiences have nothing to do with each other, or with the noise of the
typewriters or the smell of cooking; in the mind of the poet these experiences
are always forming new wholes.[6]

Admittedly, these lines have become so often quoted as to be considered nearly reducible to Eliot’s singular sensibility, his own fraught biography. Then again, Yeats’s ideal that poetry should hold in single thought ‘reality and justice,” and Stevens’ “blessed rage for order,” and Frost’s “momentary stay against confusion”  would suggest that there is something to the idea that optimally the poet’s work binds together disparities and creates dynamic unities. What would be the purpose of Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck” if not to bring back from the deep reaches something—a poem—with universal significance beyond any political and cultural redress? Poets like Rich shake the confusion of the given order to create a more encompassing and just order. They do it in order to transform the given conditions, to transcend them.

For Eliot, Donne exemplifies the poet’s ability to “telescope associations,” to bring the disparate into comprehending vision. He also praises Donne’s “mechanism of sensibility, which could devour any kind of experience.”[7] For Eliot, such omnivorous capacity of imagination was somehow more commensurate with the poetry of Donne’s time than his own time. A “dissociation of sensibility,” Eliot believed, had settled into the culture in the seventeenth century—coterminous with the rise of positivism, reductionism, which asserts reality does not track to higher orders of being and meaning. There are only the parts, and the parts do not make a Whole. Meta-physics is a nonsensical term, at face value, since there is nothing above the materials themselves, the constituents of physical reality. Eliot’s dissociation of sensibility originates in a dissociative model of reality. For Eliot, then, language becomes more technically refined as feeling becomes more crudely expressed and embodied. That, of course, is only the immediate outcome. Inevitably the assumption that language makes meaning, or discovers meaning, breaks down into mere self-reference.

William Lynch in his classic study of literary imagination, Christ and Apollo, characterizes this dissociative model of reality and imagination as “equivocal.” For Lynch, the equivocal defines “a mentality which believes that in the whole world in reality and being no two beings are in the same sense; everything is completely diverse from everything else.”[8] In short, to adapt a phrase from theological tradition, for Lynch as for Eliot one might say that we have entered upon a Land of Unlikeness.  The term “unlikeness” as I want to use it here has less to do with any claims about “fallen humanity” and more to do with an underlying vision that sees the world and language as disintegrated, as inherently divergent from each other, from themselves, and from meaning.  Against this idea of disorder, I would emphasize Eliot’s counter position that the ideal poet’s work and the greatest poems do exactly what he says they do: amalgamate disparate experience, hold together contraries, in the complex and dynamic unity of the poem. To borrow again from Marilynne Robinson, at a time, our own time, when “an emptiness is thought to have entered human experience with the recognition that an understanding of the physical world can develop and accelerate through disciplines of reasoning for which God is not a given,”[9] the poet’s work rests on what one might call, with full awareness of the paradox, a sub-tending metaphysics. It rests on the often unstated and unrecognized assumption that one’s efforts in the art require a premise of ordering that outstrips the world understood as the product of accident alone. Without that assumption there is only babble, Bable.  There is something in the net of our history, our traditions, our physical make-up, our time, and our consciousness, that continues to exert its pressure and fuels poetry’s vital directive to form new wholes and, as such, new connections across boundaries of sensibility and time and place.

2. Pattern

In the spring of 1593, as John Heath Stubbs recounts[10], one William Harrington was brought by the anti-Papist authorities under Queen Elizabeth to Tyburn tree where he was tortured and executed.  The executioner cut off his genitals before he disemboweled him slowly and burnt his intestines while the dying man watched.  The crowd cheered, pleased to have a priest and traitor brought to justice. Harrington was a friend of John Donne’s brother, Henry, who would himself die soon after in prison as a traitor to the crown. With a strong Catholic pedigree harkening back to Sir Thomas More, the Donne family lived under suspicion and, at times, in exile. Donne’s ambitions and his conversion to the Church of England reflect both the tumultuous nature of the time and his own deeply conflicted personal life. It would appear, then, that Eliot’s idealized image that Donne the poet “could feel his thought as immediately as the odor of a rose”[11] elides the crucible of how art gets made in often extreme circumstantial and psychically fraught conditions, however it might speak accurately to the achievement on the page.

Though the vast majority of us are shielded from the immediate experience of brutality, none of us are any more than a click away from such horrors streamed into our minds at a screen’s remove—bombings, beheadings, all the foment and terror of our own historical moment. Donne’s time, moreover, not unlike our own, marks a transition in which revolutionary discoveries altered perceptions of reality, scientifically as well as geographically. For all the differences between Donne’s time and our own there is a great continuity of human imagination confronting what Wallace Stevens called “the pressure of reality.”[12] For Stevens, the pressure of reality “exists for individuals according to the circumstances of their lives or according to the characteristics of their minds,” and it ultimately determines “the artistic character of an era.”[13] How does one respond to this pressure? “It is a violence from within that protects us from a violence without,” Stevens concluded. “It is the imagination pressing back against the pressure of reality.”[14]

John Donne’s “The Canonization” vividly exemplifies how a great poet’s characteristic effort of imagination can indeed press back against reality with the result that the poem’s artistry establishes a new and irrefutable “amalgamation,” to use Eliot’s word of the poet’s sensibility, the world, and the work. The poem was written in the spring of 1602 when Donne was awaiting judgment over his secret marriage to Ann More.[15] The barely restrained rage of the opening apostrophe place the reader by proxy in the role of Donne’s, and Ann Donne’s, enemies, and that rage unfolds progressively in an ever more outrageous sequence of taunts:

For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five grey hair, or ruined fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace,
Or the King’s real, or his stamped face
Contemplate; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

“The Canonization” gathers the force of its energy in an act of self-dramatizing speech that calls us up short, and presents a series of mocking alternatives to the violent imposition of reality’s will that so plagues the speaker. The series begins self-referentially by focusing on the poet’s body and his worldly state, but turns on a dime in the fourth line where the shortcomings of his unnamed enemies are targeted for edification in economics, the arts, or any course of study for that matter, before still more immoderately demanding that they go meditate on the King’s face.  Here is poetry willing to approach treason as well as risk blasphemy.

The essence of Donne’s brilliance in this opening stanza, as well as throughout the poem and in all of his greatest works, is his ability to bind dramatic speech, syntax, and structure into a single dynamic form. That Donne’s “The Canonization” rides vibrantly along as spoken word is self-evident from the start: “For God’s sake,” a phrase that is at once idiomatic and carries inside it theological implications that the poem toys with as it unfolds. At the same time, this stanza’s single sentence moves through its right-branching clauses in a manner that progressively shifts and enlarges its perspective and intensifies the urgency of the affront the poet feels. The poem enforces its dramatic vitality and its syntactical complexity within a highly elaborate stanza frame that epitomizes the importance of structure for creating imaginative pressure, the very pressure by which the poem with a barely contained violence of its own answers back. Donne’s stanza structure alternates iambic pentameter lines with tetrameter lines and ends on a final trimeter line. It does so by rhyming abbacccaa.  As such, “The Canonization” stanza unifies the expansive with the intensive. Donne’s structural intensity is particularly noticeable in the three “c” rhyming words, lines 5-7 in each stanza.  The compression of these three rhyming lines creates an intensive core to the stanza structure. To create still more compression and intensity in the first stanza and those that follow, Donne end-stops nearly every line. In turn, the final trimeter line in its relative brevity carries the force of a summation.

At the same time, as the first stanza moves through its vocal, syntactical and structural paces it embodies overall the pattern of a circle, a very tight circle, off rhymed but doubly rhymed, and every stanza of the poem following the imprint of the first begins and ends with the word “love.”  In short, Donne’s stanza inscribes an arc of thought and feeling such that one ends where one had begun, but one does so having undergone a passage that involves the dual sharpening and enlarging of perception as well as the expansion and intensification of felt knowledge. The four succeeding stanzas of “the Canonization” repeat this pattern and elaborate its compass of effects and implication, the way fractal patterns repeat even as they evolve into more elaborate versions of themselves.

The five questions that carry through the first two thirds of the second stanza modulate the near taunts of the first stanza into a string of hyperboles that mock in turn the conventional imagery—sailing ships, floods of tears—of Petrarchan love poetry. By its end the poem establishes the lovers in an alternate reality from the reality of soldiers and litigious men—in other words the violent and self-advancing powers of the world. Having been a soldier and having studied law, Donne knew where of he spoke, and he marshals his experience into the poem’s developing argument. The question “Who is injured by my love?” shifts the tone from the aggressively aggrieved to the clever litigator, and the rest of the stanza elaborates that shift in tone and perspective. It is the third stanza, however, where Donne encodes most intensively the poem’s core conceit, its imaginative DNA. The stanza begins with a directive, “Call us,” and this call invites a kind of primal naming suggestive likewise of a calling, commingling in one stroke the double sense of invocation and vocation in both the religious and poetic senses of those terms. Love makes them such, for love itself is the truest maker, the truest poet. Now, in a string of leaps that dovetail the litigator’s logic and the poet’s imaginative powers the poem enacts the very metamorphosis by which art seeks to best the pressure of reality by transfiguring reality into the new reality of the poem:

Call her one, me another fly.
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And in us we find the eagle and the dove,
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us; we two, being one, are it.
So in one neutral thing both sexes fit
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

Fly, candle, eagle, dove, phoenix—Donne’s string of metaphors moving from the lowliest to the figural to the mythic elaborates the physical union of the lovers. It does so, however, through a barely encoded metaphysics in which mythology elides to theology, the dying and rising phoenix to the dying and rising unnamed God in whose presiding pattern the lovers also die and rise. “To die” in Elizabethan parlance was code for sexual intercourse, and Donne is surely playing on this pun throughout the stanza and at the start of the next. Yet it is precisely this down and dirty wit in Donne’s poetry that enables him to fit together the sexual and the metaphysical, the low and the high. The stanza constitutes a veritable knot of statement, metaphorical slippage, and allusion that is as reverent in its muted theological assumptions as it is in its transgressive brashness. The declaration, “we two, being one, are it” could just as easily be spoken by the Father and the Son in the Holy Trinity, without the sexual implications of course. Theologically speaking, the stanza embeds this reading when the lovers are bedded in the manner in which Donne beds them, as they die and rise, and rise simultaneously into mystery. Here, the ultimate metaphysical mystery of Love (if one is so inclined) becomes recapitulated in the physical mystery Donne evokes as the vehicle of the lovers’ transfiguration, and that recapitulation moreover is perfectly orthodox. God, after all, has become incarnate for the orthodox Christian. Donne’s wit is far more than light-minded cleverness; it is a capacity that exhibits the height of human invention and models a capacity native to the human condition at its most realized.

Of course, Donne’s conjoining of apparent opposites—sex and spirit, sacred and profane—is precisely what Samuel Johnson objected to so famously and vigorously. The “metaphysick style” Johnson declared originates in the kind of wit that combines “dissimilar images,” discovers “occult resemblances in things apparently unlike,” and through which summarily “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions.”[16] Donne’s “The Canonization” exults in such imaginative violence, and does so for the very reason Stevens identified four centuries later: reality exerts enormous pressure on the poet as on any person, but in the poet’s case reality’s violent imposition finds its answer in the transfiguring force of the imagination. “The Canonization” is audacious in its enactment of the poet’s presumption to trump the powers of dire circumstance. The last two stanzas of Donne’s poem perform exactly this office:

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tombs and hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse…

Here to die is to die, the lovers having died already for each other’s pleasure and self completion, and thus they rise into poetry, that well-wrought urn—surely one of the most famous metaphors for art that we have, thanks to John Donne and Cleanth Brooks by way of John Keats. It is crucial that in Donne’s vision the urn “becomes the greatest ashes.” Here again we discover Donne’s genius for telescoping surpluses of meaning (rather than absences) into a single word or image.  The urn, the poem, as a memorial makes death, the hardest of reality’s hard edges, more becoming, less its ugly self; more than this, the urn literally becomes that which it contains, and as such what is contained becomes the urn, the poem. Art, Donne affirms, has transfigured even death by swallowing it whole. The poem enacts a metamorphosis by which phoenix and Christ are but two figures within a still more fundamental pattern that the poem embodies. From this vantage, the smallest urn equals a half-acre tomb and the lovers’ metaphysical “canonization” via their physical communion promises something more than a mere subversion of religious categories.

The poem’s final invocation, spoken by the very powers of reality that plagued the lovers in life, bears witness to their dual sainthood. A poem that begins in enraged apostrophe by the aggrieved ends in an earnest apology by the powers whose injustice martyred them.  This final move of the poem draws back from asserting an idea of poetry according to some belated model of art for art’s sake. Donne’s poem ultimately gestures from its rarified vantage back to the world, for in its final invocation the whole world’s soul contracts into the glasses of the lovers’ eyes as they look at each other. It is a stunningly dynamic image of perfect relation. That this contraction is “driven” into the lovers’ eyes itself suggests violence, at very nearly the cosmic level, like a star going supernova. Donne’s poem, however, reverses the polarities of even this black hole–had the poet known of such realities. Rather, the world which is a fractured one of countries, towns, and courts, has in the lovers’ eyes become two, and those two become one through their responsive gaze, which is “peace” at once a worldly and otherworldly ideal. “We two, being one, are it,” not only the mythic phoenix or any figure theological or otherwise, but the aching world entire. The pattern of an unexpected redemption is established at every level of scale, above and below, intensively and extensively, in flesh and spirit, in microcosm as in macrocosm. Is it all hyperbole? Of course, though if it is nothing but hyperbole where does that leave the world and poetry?

3. Figure

Between Donne’s at once subversive and lofty argument on behalf of poetry in “The Canonization” and the premise in Wallace Stevens premise that art must assume the role of religion since the notion of God itself is nothing other than “the supreme poetic idea,”[17] there appears to be a vast gulf.  In his essay “Symbol as Revelation,” Yeats concurs in spirit with Stevens:  “How can the arts overcome the slow dying of men’s hearts that we call the progress of the world and lay their hands upon men’s heartstrings again without becoming the garment of religion as in old times.”[18] Donne took the garment of religion as a given; indeed, he eventually donned the garment of an Anglican priest despite his youthful wild nights.  As John Heath Stubbs astutely observes, Donne’s whole life composes a quest for “the right eternity” and hence the right worldly expression of that eternity.[19] Contrary to Yeats and Stevens, Eliot regards art as a poor substitute for religion, and one must believe Donne would agree with his view. By further contrast, the next starkly visible station on the long journey away from anything like Donne’s brilliantly engineered communion arrives when W.H. Auden declares “poetry makes nothing happen” in his famous elegy for Yeats. It is hard, finally, not to hear in the last lines of Philip Larkin’s “An Arundel Tomb” a tired echo of Donne’s own invocation affirming poetry’s triumph over reality and death. Witnessing the lovers on this tomb—neither urn nor half-acre—the begrudgingly resolute, skeptical Larkin concludes:

Only an attitude remains:

Time has transfigured them into
Untruth. The stone fidelity
They hardly meant has come to be
Their final blazon, and to prove
Our almost instinct almost true:
What will survive of us is love.

That Larkin steals Donne’s off-rhyme “prove / love” from “The Canonization” is a profound gesture of respect and imaginative commerce engendered over three and a half centuries, even as he begs to differ from Donne’s triumphal conclusion. Larkin’s transfiguration is the inverse of Donne’s—the world is the physical world, death wins, and to think otherwise is at best to hedge your bet. Religion in the end for Larkin becomes “that vast, moth-eaten musical brocade / created to pretend we never die.”  Still, the unspoken assumption underlying Larkin’s dissent, and even his sad resignation, is that he would not have it so. It is this “almost instinct” on the poet’s part that in fact enables the concourse between himself and his bygone, gratefully less “dissociated” forebear. Larkin writes under the assumption that poems mean, language means, and are reflective of the world and not merely their own adumbrated reality, even if death does hold the trump card. “Work,” as he says at the end of his unsparing poem, “Aubade,” nonetheless “needs to be done.”

Larkin’s echo of Donne notwithstanding, the world in which Donne lived was at least as violent and unjust as our own, even if our scale of violence and the speed with which we can apprehend its effects defies comparison, and our injustices find at times more subtle and amenable expression. Nevertheless, the old-time garment of religion, somewhat vaster and not quite so institutionally moth-eaten as it is today, afforded Donne something more than Larkin’s musical brocade. It afforded him a matrix of emblems, figures, typologies, and most vitally a supreme idea, incorruptible, however corrupt the world was, however corrupt human institutions became, especially those founded and sustained in service to a supreme idea: that God had become present not only as an Actor in history but in the body of the world as a human being. Donne was no fool.  He saw the world for what it was, saw its violence, its injustices, experienced them, compromised with them, committed his own, and feared for worse to come. Nonetheless, the real presence of God incarnate, the ultimate mystery of the Divine double life (indeed, a treble life) such as Dante could barely begin to figure at the end of the Paradiso, provided the template for human possibility.

The medieval imprint of the imitation of Christ pursued so that one might encounter the image of Christ in the individual soul, sustained as it was through a vital contemplative tradition, remained strong in Donne’s time despite the fracturing of European Christianity, despite as well the mounting precedence of science in shaping humanity’s vision of its place in the universe.  Louis Martz, the greatest scholar of seventeenth century English poetry, convincingly and definitively shows that the metaphysical style of Donne and his contemporaries George Herbert and Henry Vaughn, among others, finds its template in methods of meditation still current at the time.[20] For Donne in particular, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola afforded a practice conducive to the making of poetry, despite the fact that he wrote a tract, the Pseudo-Martyr, excoriating the Jesuits in which St. Ignatius himself appears prominently in Hell beside Satan himself.[21] The Ignatian method requires a powerful exercising of the imagination through acts of “interior dramatization” in which one visualizes scenes from the life of Christ as though one were literally present. As Martz summarizes, the aim of meditation “is to apprehend the reality and meaning of the presence of God with every faculty” under human command,[22] and as he underscores further: “meditation points toward poetry in its use of images, in its technique of arousing the passionate affections of the will.” In the case of such poets as Donne the meditative poem “represents the convergence of two arts upon a single object.”[23] There is something of Stanislavski’s method of triggering “sense memory” in the Ignatian method as well as in Donne’s poetry. One can see also how Martz rightly links this same approach to the self-dramatizing poetics of W.B. Yeats and to Wallace Stevens’ “poem of the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice.” The same urge to write a poetry that joins the mind to the sense of felt embodiment underwrites the poems of Emily Dickinson—“My life it stood— / a Loaded Gun”—and countless other poets whether concerned explicitly with matters of metaphysics or matters wholly of worldly experience.

There is something deep in the Western intellectual tradition that binds meditation and poetry to a vision of language itself that is nothing short of incarnational in the broadest sense. Typology, the tradition of reading historical events and mythic figures as “types” of one another (America as a “New Jerusalem,” as “a shining city on a hill’) has its roots in biblical exegesis. Jonah’s liberation from the whale thus becomes a type of Christ’s resurrection in view of the gospels. Reading typologically, however, does not mean the pre-figuring event loses its particularly significance.  Rather, “there is a mutuality of forces for insight operating between the two events. Each is borrowing light from the other.”[24] Similarly, in Donne’s “The Canonization,” the phoenix “figures” as a type of Christ, dying and rising the same like the lovers who themselves become conjoined figures of Christ likewise dying and rising in flesh and then in spirit.  Figure, from the Latin figura, has its origins in predictive typology—the Old Testament read to foreshadow the New.  Yet, figuration of this kind need not be unidirectional or bound to the privileging of one religious dispensation over another.  Figuration involves ramification. Figures by their nature ramify, creating surpluses of meaning. Wordsworth’s evocation of the Power of Imagination as he crosses the Alps in Book Fifteen of “The Prelude” represents a shift in the orientation of typology and figuration from the historical to the natural.  As the poet’s senses become filled with the overwhelming presence of nature all things become “fellow- travelers” and every heightened perception from the “woods decaying,” to “the blasts of waterfalls,” to the “winds thwarting winds,” to the rocks muttering “close upon our ears” become:

… like workings of one mind, the features
Of the same face, blossoms upon one tree;
Characters of the great Apocalypse,
The types and symbols of Eternity,
Of first, and last, and midst, and without end.

In short, Wordsworth seizes upon the fundamentally relational dynamics of typology and figuration, of symbol-making, of tuning one’s imagination to the emblematic nature of reality. Nothing is islanded apart from any other thing. All things exist at once as themselves and All-in-All: first, last, midst, and without end. Though later in the century Gerard Manley Hopkins can describe the flight of a windhover and see in it the action of “Christ our Lord,” his recognition of the relation between these two apparently distinct actions owes everything to the premise that language binds us to the world just as the world is bound to language. Language and reality together enact a fordable distance. Out of this binding assumption emerges a vision of reality, forged out course through Hopkins’ Catholic faith but at the same time entirely his own:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked strong tells, each hung bell’s
Bow strung finds tongue to fling our broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes no his
To the father through the features of men’s faces.

As, as, myself it speaks and spells, acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is: what Hopkins’s great sonnet exemplifies so utterly is the work of the analogical imagination which, in addition to any theological relevance or foundation, remains a necessary assumption for the poets work. As William Lynch reflects, “We must look for an order that orders indeed, but leaves reality, every iota of yours and mine intact—multitudinous, different, and free, but together at last.”[25] This is analogical order, which is the foundation also of metaphor. Poetry at root is metaphor, and there can be no metaphor without the assumption of analogy, for without the dynamics of analogy the world is islanded into discrete fragments, bearing no relation to each other. David Tracy observes in The Analogical Imagination, analogy most fundamentally articulates “similarity-in-difference.”[26] In the work of poems like “The Canonization” and “As Kingfishers Catch Fire,” metaphor performs the alchemy of transforming itself into mimesis[27] such that the lamp of the poem’s imaginative dynamics articulates itself into a mirror of reality, the figure of a world and not just a single poem.

In Faith, Hope and Poetry, Matthew Guite helpfully locates the origins of this kind analogical seeing in what he calls “the old culture” that had “inherited the notion that the two great books we are given to read are the Word and the Works of God,” the bible and the book of nature, and both according to Guite are “polysemous”—they are inherently figural, relational, given to symbolic or emblematic readings.[28]  Hence Hopkins, still a resident of the passing culture though current with the intellectual climate of his day, sees Christ playing in ten thousand places, lovely in eyes not his. Hopkins’ world is polysemous; it is charged with “the grandeur of God” that flames out “like shining from shook foil.”  The parts of the world are more than themselves while remaining nothing other than what they are. Their haecity, to use Duns Scotus’s term—the “thisness” of any thing’s being, its unrepeatable uniqueness—is precisely what allows that thing to exist in relation, in full participation, with all other things through the one of which it is a part:

The one is not a dead, monotonous fact; it only becomes itself
by articulating itself into many jointing and members, and it
has not become itself until, in its advance, it has created the last
member, the last jointing to itself.[29]

What is good for the order of reality is good also for the order of the work. It is the loss or elision of this polysemous, analogical dimension of reality that marks the great transition into the modern and postmodern world. This transition, moreover, can be characterized as the product of nominalism’s prevailing succession over realism in how one conceives reality. The disagreement between realism and nominalism in medieval philosophy turns on the fundamental difference in how one understands the resemblances of things.  For the realist, there are two categories of the real—the particular and the universal. We see patterns, relationships, resemblances, because everything not only exists as its particular reality; it exists also with reference to the universal. The lamp is red. In that sentence “redness” constitutes a universal category. Other things are red beside the lamp such that a variety of particulars share the universal attribute redness. Herein rests the philosophical basis for imagination’s analogical nature. For the nominalist, however, there are no universal categories. Particulars have qualities that reflect only our own representational powers—how we think of things, the structures of human thinking, culture, language. There is no universally binding pattern; they manifest to use Wallace Stevens’ words only “the precious portents of our own powers.” This is where we are in what is broadly portrayed as the postmodern milieu, where as Owen Barfield observed in Saving the Appearances our representations have become our idols.[30] We cannot extrapolate to any underlying much less overruling universal, what Lynch called a “univocal” order of reality (155ff).  Both the univocal and the equivocal are reductive, since both elide the essential fact of reality’s analogical nature—that delicate balance of vision in which the one and the many hold together in dynamic relation through an interwoven architecture binding together all-in-all. In our time the equivocal has become univocal in its singular claims for how and what the world is. In poetic practice, regardless of the deeply vested cultural conflicts, or disaccustomed ideas about reality and art, most poets assume the realist perspective as a working model, recognizing implicitly if not explicitly that to follow the thoroughgoing nominalist, the equivocalist down the path of atomized particulars, is to bind all things into their own isolate realities—their poems along with language, the world–everything and everyone inhabiting its own impermeable box of discrete existence.

To live as though we inhabited such impermeable boxes is impossible. “There world is everything that is the case,” Wittgenstein famously wrote, but even Wittgenstein sought escape in his thinking from the view that locks each thing and language itself in its respective case. Like a philosopher, a poet need not call on the traditional emblems and figures of faith to locate their powers of analogy and imagination within the wider compass of particulars bound ineluctably to universals.  Take for example Mark Strand’s “A Piece of the Storm”:

From the shadow of domes in the city of domes,
A snowflake, a blizzard of one, weightless, entered your room
And made its way to the arm chair where you, looking up
From your book, saw it the moment it landed. That’s all
There was to it. No more than a solemn waking
To brevity, to the lifting and falling away of attention, swiftly,
A time between times, a flowerless funeral. No more than that
Except for the feeling that this piece of the storm,
Which turned into nothing before your eyes, would come back,
That someone years hence, sitting as you are now, might say:
“It’s time. The air is ready. The sky has an opening.”

Through its vivid cadences and its descriptive powers and its attentive movement of mind Strand’s “A Piece of the Storm” captures brilliantly the reality of one particular thing, however transient, in a world of things bound by the necessity of reality to the universal. It does so in space, in its one little room in the city of domes, and it does so in time with the prospect of some eventual return, not unlike an eternal return. Christ is not playing in ten thousand places, there are no types and symbols of first and last and midst and without end, but there is the blizzard of one, which cannot be the one without being a part of the many, nor can there by the many unless there is indubitably the one, and it must be so into the future until the idea of the future itself comes to feel like an aspect of eternity. In its “time between times” Strand’s poem resonates profoundly with those of a meditative tradition shaped by an analogical imagination that only seems of another time because we have become less adept at reading the signs because the signs themselves have fallen from their worldly as well as their otherworldly readiness into the separate domains of our dissociated sensibilities, into of the merely signified[31] where language itself succumbs to difference without any unifying end and as such without meaning—one unlikeness calling absently to all the wholly other others.

4. Knot

“Midwinter spring in its own season / Sempiternal though sodden toward sundown, Suspended in time between pole and tropic,” so “Little Gidding” places the reader at the beginning of the last of Eliot’s Four Quartets. This meditative caesura offers like Mark Strand’s “A Piece of the Storm” the vision of a time between times.  It is the time and space of the poem itself, though not impermeable, the well wrought urn of the poem as unassailable artifact. Poems are inter-textual, they partake of their moment in history, of the evolution of culture and ideas, and of course they derive in part from the poet’s experience, though it is wrong to say that poets are merely processors of their times through their work as some versions of literary study would have us believe. Poems are made things, hopefully well if not greatly made, and the discoveries and choices poets make to make poems shape the poems they make. To pit such mutually accommodating views against each other has been one of the longstanding betrayals of the academic study of literature. From another perspective, poetry has become less and less about the impact of reality on the poem or the poet’s work as maker in relation to the world and more about a spectrum of orientation that runs the gamut from self expression to identity politics to the idea of the poem as nothing more than a compendium of signifiers. Ron Silliman affirms the latter view succinctly when he observes “a resurrection of the realist or pre-modern paradigm can only represent our despair at our own impact on the world, [and] any retro-modern reunification of the sign merely reduplicates this backward-facing utopianism in a different guise.”[32] Ironically, Silliman’s statement is a statement of faith rather than objective truth since according to his own lights no bedrock of meaning. One might call such a vision a forward facing utopianism into an endless hall of mirrors mirroring nothing. In this view, the poetry of polysemous reality, at once worldly and linguistic, has been “blown apart.”[33]

Charles Bernstein contends, in turn, that the influx of immigrants in the late nineteenth century forward has so “radically subverted the language environment” in America that what he calls etymologic English—symbolic and connotative English—has been supplanted by associational English, which he defines as “a lateral glissade into mishearing,” emphasizing “sound rather than root connections.” In either case the poem rides along the shallows rather than finding in and through language an encounter with ranges of thought and feeling that exceed the limits of the literal. If there are surpluses in the poem they are composed of such surface currents as might have caught the poet’s eye “disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose leaves” to no knowable purpose. By contrast, it would seem not entirely unreasonable to hold that poets can still pursue without fear of nostalgia the kind of deeply rooted poetics that Donne practiced, and with no slight to the pressing impact of reality in our time, culturally, intellectually, artistically. To do so, poets should pursue what John Barth called astutely “the writer’s investiture in as many aspects of the text as possible with emblematic significance.”[34] That Barth, a novelist with a distinctly post-modern sensibility, abides and abets such practice is, I believe, a significant directive for poets, and a directive that compliments Eliot’s understanding of poetic amalgamation.  Both aim to wrestle order from disorder by intention and artistic means, or as William Lynch again astutely observed “dissociation is not helped by anything but true association, and we have always to question when we have the latter.”[35]

Certainly Donne some four hundred years ago practiced the kind of thoroughgoing artistry for which Barth’s word “investiture” feels uniquely apt, the kind of true associative practice necessary for a twenty-first century poet as for a seventeenth century poet, despite the obvious developments in practice and evolutions in culture and tradition. All of Donne’s poems and certainly his greatest poems have this quality, but perhaps none more exemplary so than his Holy Sonnet 14.  Donne’s Holy Sonnets were composed between 1609 and 1617, and cover the period in his life where the rakish “Jack” Donne of his youth, womanizer, ambitious courtier, soldier, slowly and painfully began to recede in favor of John Donne the great religious poet, thinker, and preacher. Of course, even his lustiest poems appear equally invested with the metaphysical as well as the physical, as we saw in “The Canonization.” Donne’s renunciation of “Jack” was complete by the time of Ann’s death in 1617, which very nearly brought Donne himself to suicide.[36] The Holy Sonnets as a sequence indeed track the path of his conversio, or conversion, to use a word from the contemplative tradition that so infuses their imagery and their arc. They are deeply invested with the meditative practice so influential in Donne’s day. That practice reaches the height of poetic application in the Holy Sonnets and especially in number 14. The depth and pervasiveness of Donne’s emblematic investiture can seen principally in his use of meter, his use of metaphor, his diction, his structure, his figuration, and his syntax.

Like “The Canonization, “Holy Sonnet 14 is an apostrophe dramatically articulated, now to God of course and not the poet’s worldly enemies. In fact, the sonnet establishes the intensity of Donne’s tone and perspective by reversing the polarity of the rage he expresses in the earlier poem. The poet turns on the self as the focus of his rage, and as such the poem’s conceit of the soul as “usurped town” transmogrifies the “countries, towns, courts” of “The Canonization” that plead for a pattern of enduring love into the corrupted property of the soul separated by its own actions from God, the source of its existence. The stakes could not be higher for the soul or they poet dramatically rendering the soul’s desperate cry. One feels that urgency of emotion irrespective of one’s own religious leanings in the rhythm of the first four lines:

Batter my heart three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Emotional content should be felt primarily in a poem’s rhythm, and that is nowhere truer than in these crucial opening lines. The investiture here is so metrically vivid, in fact, that as an exercise one can change a single foot and, in effect, ruin the poem. One can, for example, in a thought experiment verging on pure perversion envision a nightmare poetry workshop where the well-meaning but rather conservative group finds the first word of Donne’s poem offensive. It requires a synonym, they suggest, something less volatile–“molest” or the even softer, “unlock.” Either word, of course, will ruin the poem by removing the physicality of “batter” which expresses the speaker’s emotional state with uncompromising passion. The real matter, however, is that the first foot of the poem has been altered from trochaic to iambic. This reversal of metrical polarity effectively alters the rhythm of nearly every foot and all four lines that follow.  “Molest my heart three-personed God, for you” changes Donne’s impassioned speech to the metronomic clap-trap of a robot with a personality disorder. Donne’s trochaic initial foot, combined of course with the physical and tonal energies of the word “batter,” has the effect of “springing” the rhythm of the first line and the lines that follow. The syllables “heart three-per” all carry stresses with Donne’s trochaic opening, as therefore do the syllables “knock, breathe, shine” and finally “break, blow, burn”—a pattern of three stresses in a row that tune the poem to the three-personed God and to God’s begged for action upon the soul by the soul that is in thrall to all that is not God. Change the first trochee and you change the entire electrical change and temperature of the poem. There is an iambic back beat to these lines as to the whole poem, but this single initial move conditions the lines for maximum dramatic expression, maximum intensity. The disruptive force of “O’erthrow me” in the third line after the caesura gains still greater energy because of it and the torque one feels in the enjambment “and bend / your force” carries an even more vital charge. Why? It is because the metrical charge of the word “batter” flicks a kind of switch that engages the poem’s emotional warp-drive.

One could track Donne’s complex metrical scheme throughout the rest of Holy Sonnet 14—for example the pattern of trochaic substitutions in the front foot of certain lines—but suffice it to say that Donne’s investiture in this area has supercharged the poem with passionate speech.  What about his use of metaphor and simile? The poem’s entire conceit of the soul as a captive to its own passions and thus to God’s enemy, of the soul therefore as gendered and female, originates in a long contemplative tradition practiced by both men and women, and harkening back to the biblical Song of Songs. The metaphoric pattern, somewhat altered, also has non-Christian associations. Gods descending from on high to rape human women is standard fare in Ovid, though Donne’s vividly physical rendering of the pattern in this poem remains spiritually inflected.  Yet it is no less intense for being so.  In fact, the violence of the soul’s petition to be ravished, to be subsumed in spiritual ecstasy, in mystical union, increases its strangeness and its power because of those disruptively antithetical echoes that lie outside the tradition of Western contemplation.

Donne’s word choices add to the effect, as with the word “labor” in line six which puns work and the labors of birth. For the speaker to “labor to admit” God into the womb of the soul would be, in another reversal, for the God to give birth to the soul in its potential fullness, which can only be in and through the action of God. Thus the word “labor” here bespeaks the dual action of the human soul coming to fullness in God by God’s action in and through the soul.  “Viceroy” is another such word.  Reason as “viceroy” places that crucial power of the soul in the forefront of the soul’s army of defenders, but as “viceroy” it is also “the king of vice” and therefore is the very power that enables the enemy to besiege the soul in captivity. It is, one might say, the enemy itself.  Finally, according to the poem the soul’s labors to admit God come to “no end.” Here, as with his secret marriage, Donne has undone himself through the anagram of bringing his own spiritual liberation to nought through the limitations of reason and the will. Donne on his own comes to no end, his name and hence his true self scrambled into an absence, or the kind of spiritual emptiness. Only by surrender to God will Donne be fully Donne, fully completed having reached identity in every sense, his end ongoing in eternal life.

The formal arc of Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14 develops through the conceit of the soul’s captivity and ends in the soul’s desire for a new imprisonment in God which is, paradoxically, its ecstatic fulfillment, from the Greek ecstasis, to “move out,” to go forth. Structurally the sonnet joins a Petrarchan octet to a Shakespearean sestet, the former affiliated with courtly love poetry and the latter enabling the sonnet to end on the strong argumentative closure of the final couplet. Even in his structure Donne yolks contraries, or at least differently inflected formal variations, together. In a sense, everything Donne marshals to express his condition as well as the nexus of his intellectual as well as emotional life contributes to the entire poem as metaphor, as the poet’s figural expression which in this case happens to be the fleshy and spiritual reality of all humankind. Nothing could be more emblematic. It is important, then, to recognize that the three-personed God to whom the speaker addresses his plea is also figural. More accurately, Donne addresses himself to his ultimate reality at the threshold where the analogical transmogrifies into the anagogical—the “world of complete insight,” where “the inner life of the Trinitarian God” reveals itself “as the total communication of self by different Persons to one another:”[37] In short, the very ground of the analogical order of reality, its dynamically personal architecture and foundation.   Donne believed in this Trinitarian God, the dynamic embodiment of an eternal difference-in-unity, unity-in-difference, and applies that vision of ultimate reality to develop the figural, the analogical vitality of his poems.  In Holy Sonnet 16, for example, he evokes the Son’s “jointure in the knotty Trinity.” Notably, the word “knot” appears in line eleven of Holy Sonnet 14, just before the poem makes its final turn: “Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again.” The full meaning of Donne’s sense is elusive, unless one recognizes other instances where the figure of the “knot” appears in his poetry. For example, in “The Ecstasy” Donne writes:

As our blood labours to beget
Spirits, as like souls as it can,
Because such fingers need to knit
The subtle knot which makes us man:

So must pure lovers’ souls descend
T’affections, and to faculties,
Which sense may reach and apprehend,
Else a great prince in prison lies.

In these lines human identity is itself intimately and essentially tied to the figure of the knot. Moreover, in “The Ecstasy” the very same language of labor and imprisonment as we find in Holy Sonnet 14 is used to articulate the necessity for carnal love—to what purpose? To beget spirits. All human life for Donne, as for Keats, is a veil of soul-making.  In “The Progress of the Soul” Donne invokes God again as the “knot of all causes” that binds all evolving reality, “the commissary of Destiny,” to the one ultimate reality which is God alone. That God, however, to whom Donne in longing calls out, is “three-personed,” “knotty,” and in that very knottiness resides the “subtle knot” of God’s own image in human being, the imprint of God’s own multiple singularity, God’s singular multiplicity at the crux of which, theologically, is the Son.

The Son is also poetically the crux in Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14, the crux of the matter gains full figural expression syntactically in the poem’s final dramatic gesture, its final outcry:

Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

For the Divine Image to be restored to Donne as to anyone the very knot that makes us human— a created thing— must be undone. Hence, the speaker’s impassioned plea to be “ravished” even unto nothingness. Theologically, such ravishment has its fullest expression in the figure of Christ on the cross, Christ who joins in his very being the knot of divinity and humanity through the incarnation. Donne expresses this reality, and his desire to be wholly inhabited by the figure of Christ, in the syntactical chiasmus that ends the poem: “for I / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free, / Nor ever chaste unless you ravish me.” The syntactical term chiasmus means “to cross,” and as such the poet as the sonnet comes to its end makes the sign of the cross in the very language by which he seeks to cross into the fullness of his human spiritual potential, and Christ’s cross knotted with his own life in that ecstasy.

John Donne liked to compose on horseback,[38] and one can see and hear that skillful manipulation of the reigns in the intricacy of his pacing as well as in the emotional and intellectual leaps he takes in Holy Sonnet 14—his effort to transcend the barriers, not the least of which are flesh and spirit. The image of the poet composing on horseback is an analogue for the activity of the poet’s mind at work amalgamating disparities. In setting and following his mind and heart, the whole person having been brought into activity in his work, Donne accesses depths of meaning that enrich the poem immensely and our reading of it. Nonetheless, one does not need to know an entire cultural nexus to feel the poem’s impact or understand its terms in that immediacy. The poem’s collective dynamics have transfigured those sources into its own unique necessity. Charles Bernstein might well regard Holy Sonnet 14 as a prime example of what he calls “etymologic poetry,” the very kind that is being supplanted by the associative poem.[39]  What Bernstein misses, however, in this too neat opposition, his divestment of opposing ideas, is that the etymological is inherently associative.  The gravitas of Donne’s poem hits us because of the associative leaps it makes through its guiding conceit, its structural innovation, and its syntactical complexity—true association mindfully and artfully accomplished with utmost emotional force.

Holy Sonnet 14 also associates with other of Donne’s poems through its figural imagination and its choice of diction. The poem in its capacity to range associatively and deeply in its compositional make-up gives the lie to the idea that associative poetics is somehow a relatively new phenomenon. The immigrant populations Bernstein cites to make his point—that the associative in poetry (at least in America over the past hundred and fifty years) has arisen through mishearing—assumes that these populations brought nothing with them apparently except their lack of listening skills.  On the contrary, whole paradigms of life were carried across from countless locales as much in consciousnesses as travel bags. Such ways of life and thinking never existed in wholesale isolation, it is delusional to think so, but evolved in patterns of crisscrossing webs of historical and geographical encounter at once material and, one dares to say, spiritual. Our very DNA is not only rooted it is routed, at once etymological and associative in its origins and its history, harkening back to African savannahs and back further to the shaping forces of the planet and the physical universe itself. Our individual lives are composed of associations, encoded with etymologies, are nexuses of relation rife for metaphor, rife for analogy, rife for transfiguration. Poems are no different. However seemingly dissociative an associative poem may be, it must have the ultimate goal of meaning, as Carl Philips has observed, lest, being nothing more than babble, like the city of Bable it fail to last.[40] The challenge is to make every new mutation, every new metamorphosis, something that contributes vitally to the body of the poem and, ideally, to the body of the tradition. That requires more than Bernstein’s “lateral glissando” on the playfully littered littoral of the moment; it requires a purpose of meaningfulness and depth by the most incisive and capacious means possible.  It requires, to borrow a phrase from the late Jewish-American poet, Stanley Kunitz, the risk of living in the layers.


[1] John Stubbs, John Donne: The Reformed Soul (New York: WW Norton, 2006) 207.

[2] Ibid.

[3] T.S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London: Faber and Faber, 1933) 124.

[4] Owen Barfield, The Rediscovery of Meaning. (Oxford: Barfield Press, 2013) 13ff.

[5] Dennis O’Driscoll, Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) 470.

[6] T.S. Eliot, Selected Prose of T.S. Eliot. Ed. Frank Kermode (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1975) 64.

[7] Ibid.

[8] William Lynch, Christ and Apollo: Dimensions of the Literary Imagination (New York: Intercollegiate Studies, 2003) 176.

[9] Marilynne Robinson. Absence of Mind (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010) 23.

[10] Stubbs, 44-45.

[11] Eliot, Selected Prose, 64.

[12] Wallace Stevens, The Necessary Angel (New York: Vintage, 1951) 22.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Stevens, 36.

[15] Stubbs, 174.

[16]  Quoted in Louis Martz. The Poem of the Mind (New York: Oxford, 1966) 44-45.

[17] Stevens, 31.

[18] W.B. Yeats, Essays and Introductions (New York: Collier Boos, 1961) 162-3.

[19] Stubbs, 95.

[20] Louis Martz, The Poetry of Meditation (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954) 33.

[21] Stubbs, 92.

[22] Martz, Mind, 35.

[23] Martz, Mind, 39.

[24] Lynch, 252.

[25] Lynch, 148.

[26] David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination (New York: Crossroads, 1986) 408.

[27] John T. Shawcross. John Donne’s Religious Imagination (Arkansas: University of Central Arkansas Press, 1995) 183.

[28]  Matthew Guite. Faith, Hope and Poetry: Theology and the Poetic Imagination (Farnham: Ashgate , 2012) 103.

[29] Lynch, 195.

[30] Owen Barfield, Saving the Appearances: A Study in Idolatry (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1946) 58ff.

[31] Ron Silliman, “Postmodernism: Sign for a Struggle, Struggle for a Sign” in Conversant Essays: Contemporary Poets on Poetry. Ed. James McCorkle (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990) 79ff.

[32] Silliman, 95.

[33] Silliman, 93.

[34] John Barth, Further Fridays (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1996) 332.

[35] Lynch, 228.

[36] Stubbs, 329.

[37] Lynch, 60.

[38] Stubbs, 286.

[39] Charles Bernstein, “Time Out of Motion: Looking Ahead to See Backwards,” in Conversant Essays (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1990) 421.

[40] Carl Phillips, Coin of the Realm (St. Paul, MN: Graywolf, 2007) 112.

About the Author:

Daniel Tobin is the author of six books of poems, Where the World is Made, Double Life, The Narrows, Second Things, Belated Heavens (winner of the Massachusetts Book Award in Poetry), and The Net (2014). His seventh book of poems, From Nothing, is forthcoming in 2016. He is the author of the critical studies Passage to the Center: Imagination and the Sacred in the Poetry of Seamus Heaney and Awake in America, and the editor of The Book of Irish American Poetry from the Eighteenth Century to the Present, Light in Hand: The Selected Early Poems and Lola Ridge, and Poet’s Work, Poet’s Play: Essays on the Practice and the Art. His awards include the “The Discovery/The Nation Award,” The Robert Penn Warren Award, the Robert Frost Fellowship, the Katherine Bakeless Nason Prize, and fellowships in poetry from the National Endowment for the Arts and the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation.