The Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Oct 1995 v94 n4 p513(17)
"miserrimum dictu": Donne's epitaph for his wife.
Hester, M. Thomas.
Abstract: Poet John Donne was a master in the topic of romantic love. This fact is nowhere more evident than in his epitaph for Anne, his wife of 15 years whom he met around 1598, illegally eloped with in 1601 and who died of puerperal fever in 1617 at the age of 33. The Latin epitaph, which described Anne's lineage, her qualities and the circumstances of her demise, made use of the tensions, paradoxes and fears usually found in Donne's 'lyrical-sermonic-meditative valedictions.'
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 1995 Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
The love poet, as Anne Ferry has reminded us, is always in war with time. And no love poet, Anthony Low has pointed out, is more instrumental to our modern, postfeudal concept of romantic love than John Donne, whose "solution ... to the threats of time, death, and political treason [is] the little kingdom of love"(1) One of the central tensions of that "solution," however, is Donne's admission to the temporal, contingent character of that "solution" - "Love['s] ... first minute, after noone," he never forgot to remind us, "is night" ("Lecture upon the Shadow").(2) Central to all Donne's love poems, Louis Martz points out, is "the problem of the place of love in a physical world dominated by change and death."(3) One might conclude, in fact, that the majority of Donne's lyrics are feasibly designated as epigrammatic valedictions, for the center around which their compass of daring and provocative wit most frequently turns is the inevitability of the absence, loss, or death of the speaker's beloved. It is the consciousness of this grim reality, of course, that challenges as well as instigates the inventions of the love poet - hence the reader's inevitable questions about the reality (psychic, poetic, and historical) of the poet's inventive "solutions" to the "threats of time, death, and ... treason." As the Dean of St. Paul's was to phrase it in his funeral sermon for Lady Danvers, "God hath implanted in every naturall man, ... an endlesse, and Indeterminable desire of more, then this life can minister unto him" (Sermons, VIII, 75).(4) Preached ten years after the early death of his own beloved wife, this observation in the Danvers sermon raises again the question about whether the sermon (preached on 2 Peter 3:13 - "Nevertheless, we, according to His promises, looke for new heavens, and new earth") - like the frequent mention of his "love of more" in his poetry - recalls again the absent presence of Anne (nee more) Donne. Indeed, many modern readers of Donne's lyrics have concluded or wish to concede the possibility of these sermonic(5) "dialogue[s] of one" ("The Extasie") being "cypher[s] writ, or new made Idiome" ("Valediction of the booke") of his love for Anne More, whom he met sometime around 1598, with whom he illegally eloped in 1601.(6) Although Dayton Haskin points out that such a critical predilection may, in fact, evince more the influence of Izaak Walton's biography on our readings of Donne's poems than the "presence" of Anne in poems such as "The Canonization,"(7) yet it seems certain that the Holy Sonnet beginning "Since she whome I lovd, hath payd her last debt" and probably the poem modern editors have entitled "A Nocturnall upon S. Lucies Day" illustrate Donne's inventive attempts to deal with the death of Anne in 1617 after fifteen years of marriage. But such readings are always hedged with a "wise" doubt (Satyre III) regardless of how convincing their discovery of the origins and authorial intentions of these poems.
There is one work, however, which we know for certain that Donne wrote for his wife - his epitaph upon her death at age thirty-three from puerperal fever. For this reason alone it merits more attention than we have given it, especially in light of the ways in which it (inevitably) confronts the grim realities of death - especially the death of this femina lectissima as possibly the result of his love for her - and for the ways in which its response to that event would seem to underscore the contrarious psychological tensions endemic to all those claims about the "power" and "wonder" of love that were central to the bold assertions of Donne's lyrics. The following remarks aim to open discussion of this one work whose subject we know for certain to have been his wife and to suggest some of the ways in which this Latin epitaph for Anne evinces many of the tensions, paradoxes, and fears that animate the poet's better known lyrical-sermonic-meditative valedictions.
One consistent note of Donne's works, regardless of genre or time of composition, is the expression of his "wonder" at the divine Creator, as he phrased it in his Devotions, "in whose words there is such a height of figures, such voyages, such peregrinations to fetch remote and precious metaphors, such extensions, such spreadings, such Curtaines of Allegories, such third Heavens of Hyperboles"(8) - a God of incredible wit, one might dare to suggest, not unlike his own "metaphysical" Muse. "The Word" of La Corona, we might recall, who "but lately could not speake, ... / ... sodenly speakes wonders" "blowing out those sparks of wit." (More than one reader has noted, in fact, the nearly metaphysical "conceit" - in the modern sense of the term - of Donne's opinion of his own wit even in an era in which poetic theory speculated about the authority of the poet as "a little god."(9)) This admiration and awe for the "figures" of the divine Author must have been painfully called into question for the poet in 1617, however, when his beloved wife of fifteen years died shortly after the stillborn death of their twelfth child.(10) The mother of seven surviving children, named Anne (like the Madonna's mother, and like her own mother who had also died in childbirth, 19 Nov. 1590), she died of puerperal fever on August 15 (the Day of the Assumption of the Madonna, who at age fifteen bore Christ), after fifteen years of marriage to John Donne, at the age of thirty-three (the age at which Christ died), seven days after the death of her stillborn child, who was buried with her at St. Clement Danes Chapel. Dr. Donne paid Mr. Nicholas Stone the sum of "15 peces" to engrave her tombstone ("a letell tomb in a wall"(11)) with the epitaph that the poet-preacher had composed during the week before her funeral. This essay explores some of the meditative, confessional, and inventive wit of this poignant epitaph - what might best be called the "curtains of Allegories" of the poet's typically daring tribute to his "divine" Anne. However much this delineated prose poem tells us about his wife, that is, the compressed, riddling inscription of Donne's troubled wit in his epitaph for her (not entirely unlike Petrarch's revision of the figures of Laura in the Hymn to the Blessed Virgin which concludes the Rime sparse) presents not only another of the "metaphysical" poet's testaments to the shaping presence of human passion but also another avowal of how even the "witty ruin" (The First Anniversarie) of human love remains an enigmatic analogue for the Passion which rewrites all in the "New Marriage" of the Resurrection.
One copy of the epitaph for his wife in Donne's handwriting survives among the Loseley manuscripts housed at the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS. L.b.541) - "apparently sent," R. C. Bald points out, "to Sir George More for his approval" (p. 325). Other manuscript copies of the epitaph survive in Lansdowne MS. 984, Lansdowne MS. 878, Harleian MS. 3910, Luttrell, and O'Flaherty. (The latter two versions omit line 8 and vary the capitalizations.)(12) As Wesley Milgate and Ernest W. Sullivan II point out, it was first printed in John Stow's The Remains or Remnants of Divers Worthy Things added to his 1633 The Survey of London, where it is given "the cruciform shape" of the Loseley manuscript holograph (Sullivan, p. II). This "cruciform shape" is most evident, most emphatic, in fact, in the most reliable surviving copy of the epitaph - the holograph. Milgate says the epitaph occupies "a position mid-way between prose and verse" (p. v), but, as Sullivan explains, like his epitaph on himself, Donne's epitaph on his wife "seem[s] more verse than prose: their seventeenth-century printers set them off from their prose context by spacing and font, generally followed the verse convention of capitalizing the first word in each line, and sometimes treated the epitaphs as shaped verse", (p. II). In this sense, these later printers seem to be following the direction that the holograph would provide.
Here is the Loseley version of the epitaph, followed by my attempt to translate as fully as possible "the height" of Donne's exploitation of the copious variety of the Latin idiom in order to figure forth his "wonder" at the life and death of Anne More Donne.
Georgij More de Filiae
Roberti Lothesley Soror:
Willemj Equit: Nept:
Christophorj Aurat: Pronept:
Faemina(*) Lectissimae dilectissimaeque;
Coniugi charissimae, castissimaeque;
Matri Piissimae, Indulgentissimaeque
Xv annis in coniugio transactis, Vii post [xii.sup.m] Partum (quorum vii superstant) dies
Immani febre correptae
(Quod hoc saxum farj iussit
Ipse, prae dolore Infans) Maritus (miserrimum dictu) olim charae charus
Cineribus cineres spondet suos Nouo matrimonio (annuat Deus) hoc loco sociandos
Sacr: Theolog: Profess:
A[degrees] xxxiii[degrees] AEtat: suae et sui Iesu
CI D C xvii[degrees]
(*) In the Loseley holograph Donne wrote "Faeminae," which is repeated in the Luttrell, Harleian, and O'Flaherty manuscripts; but Stow, who may have seen the monument before its destruction, prints "Foeminae" (the more usual spelling), as do the two Lansdowne manuscripts.
Daughter of [Sir] George More, of Loseley, Gilt/Golden Knight,
Sister of [Sir] Robert More,
Granddaughter of [Sir] William More,
Great-granddaughter of [Sir] Christopher More;
A woman most choice/select/read, most beloved/loving/well-read,
A spouse most dear, most chaste, A mother most loving/merciful/pious/dutiful, most self-sacrificing/indulgent;
Fifteen years in union/covenant completed,
Seven days after the twelfth parturition (of whom seven survive)
By a savage/immense/ravishing fever hurriedly-carried-off/seized
(Wherefore this stone to speak he commanded
Himself, by/beyond grief [made] speechless [Infant/infant])
Her husband (most miserable/wretched to say/designation/assertion) once
dear to the dear
His own ashes to these ashes pledges [weds]
[in a] New marriage (may God assent) in this place joining together,
Doctor of Theology.
In the 33rd year of age, hers and Jesus's
The opening tetrad of the "poem" describes Anne's natural lineage as Anne More (b. 27 May 1584): daughter of Sir George More (1553-1632) of Loseley Manor, the Gilt or Golden Knight, Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, the sister of Sir Robert More (1581-1625), M.P. for Surrey, the granddaughter of Sir William More (1520-1600) whose "zealous" support of the Protestant cause helped him become High Sheriff of Surrey and Sussex, and Vice-Admiral for Sussex under Queen Elizabeth (and earned him the means and opportunity to build the magnificent Loseley mansion in 1562); and the great-granddaughter of Sir Christopher More (1483-1549), Remembrancer of the Exchequer who had purchased Loseley, near Guildford in Surrey, by 1509.(13) This conventional inscription of his wife's aristocratic paternity is not surprising in the work of a man as concerned about his own descent from the Dwns of Kidwelly and the family of Sir Thomas More as Donne was. This reminder of the prestigious, wealthy family which his wife had in effect deserted when she eloped with Jack Donne fifteen years earlier might well have stirred more than a slight recollection of the "debt" she had paid for her devotion when she withdrew from the world of Loseley Manor for a life characterized by financial and social insecurity, for a life in some ways dominated by her husband's lost professional future, which often seemed to be "nothing, or so little."(14) As he himself was to call it in one of his letters to Henry Goodyer, their life was "like a tree, which once a year beares, though no fruit, yet this Mast of children" (Letters, p. 272). The epitaph does, in fact, seem to reiterate eventually Donne's remark in another letter (in 1608) that he had "transplanted [her] into a wretched fortune" (Letters, p.137) But at the same time, this opening record in the epitaph of Anne's impressive paternal lineage is still remarkable, in the work of a poet as fond of a "height of figures" as Donne, for its absence of poetic resonance. If that pun on more as "foolish" or "additional" is present - a pun of which the poet, the great-grandnephew of the famous Catholic martyr Sir Thomas More, was so fond - it is present only in the sense that, as Anne More, the daughter of Sir George More was less than Anne Donne, or that she seemed not even to exist before the "foolish" error by which she "put on perfection, and a womans name" ("Epithalamion made at Lincolnes Inne") when she eloped with John Donne in 1601. Augustly enclosed and anonymously surrounded by the names and paternal titles of her male family members, Anne More, if she exists at all in this tetrad, might just be in the seam between the first two columns, in a sort of nominal state of stillbirth anonymity. (Such a reading would accord, in fact, with the humanist tradition of the dignity of women which Graham Roebuck and Dennis Flynn have shown Donne to have inherited from the learned circle of his great-granduncle.(15)) In fact, even though the epitaph passed the inspection of Sir George More (a man not known for his wit), it might allude to Anne's potential existence and her eventual assertion of her self only in the shadowy potential puns on "Equito Aurato" that the poet singles out for mention - if, that is, when read into English as "golden night" or "g(u)ilt night," the Knight of the Garter's title recalls that moment when Anne was translated herself into more than the circumscribed girl-child of the gilt knights of Loseley Manor: John Donne-Anne Donne-Vndone.
Such a reading of her personal translation is supported and suggested by the striking change in the texture of the epitaph in the "aureate" triad of lines which follow, in which she is described as the resonant text, subject, and source of the speaker's love and loss. More literally becomes most in the vivid grammar of the epitaph when this second movement of the seven-line summary of her life recalls what she was, what she did, and what she gave as Anne Donne: the most choice and most beloved woman, the most dear and most chaste spouse, the most loving, merciful, pious and indulgent mother - a type of the madonna angelicata described in Augustine's confessions as the perfect reader and text of God's gifts to this world (XIII.xv.). The three vertical columns of paternal titles which enclosed Anne More in lines 1-4 are here transformed into three full lines of three words each (lines 5-7), each entirely devoted to her perfections as Anne Donne. These lines, that is, precisely rewrite and reread the opening paternal boundaries, just as Anne was "recreated" through her marriage to the young poet-lawyer (an invention the saucy bridegroom had audaciously inscribed in his first letter to his father-in-law as "irremediably donne"(16)); and the results of this "rebirth" are precisely recorded when the private and public virtues she achieved as woman, as wife, and as mother replace/rewrite the private and public titles of her male relatives that formerly determined her, the first adjective naming her private, the second adjective her public virtue as Anne Donne. And the vibrant resonance of this most "golden" woman is reflected further in the texture of these three lines as they come alive poetically with internal rime, assonance, consonance, repetitions, and a variety of fertile puns. As confirmed by the view of Anne in line 7 as "Matri Piissimae" (an application of the epithet of the Blessed Virgin/Mother in the Salve Regina as "pia"), the description of her in line 5 as Donne's best reader and text lector), for instance, also offers in "dilectissimaeque" the first view of her as a type of Mary in its recollection of her as the most select, the chosen, the delight of the gods.(17) The trinity of threes in these three lines of twelve syllables each suggests how and why, in fact, Anne Donne reread and rewrote the author's life and lines. This traditional feature of the rhetoric of an elegy (by which the reflection comments as much on the as on the subject of the poem) is perhaps best conveyed in the male author's status as the presence of these lines - a rich reversal of her role in the open-ing for lines of her life, and perhaps the best indication of his view, of her as a form of female perfection, what Donne would figure in other poems is a sort of "patterne" "from above" ("The Canonization"), a "wonder" or "miracle" of which all other "pleasures fancies bee" ("The good-morrow").
But the momentary, balanced harmonies of this mirror of perfected order - the lines and the woman they reflect - are disrupted harshly by the implied re-presentation of the author (and the divine Author) in lines 8-10, when the poem falls into Donne's disjunctive account of the effects of time's mortal cadences on Anne Donne. The uneven line lengths, the flat matter-of-fact diction, the disruptive parenthesis, and the troubled syntax rewrite the previous three lines' reading of her womanly perfection when/as Father time abruptly enters the picture. In line 8 the female name Anna is displaced by the masculine noun annis; the superlatives that generated Anne's perfection are rewritten as the deadly record of fifteen years; and the marriage of perfect affection and chastity becomes a transaction/"transactus." The line does record literally fifteen years of complete union, of course; for one meaning of transaction/ "transactus" in both Latin and seventeenth-century English is covenant. But the ebullience has gone out of the verse - whether because of the first appearance of that ominous number fifteen,(18) or the implicit appearance of the speaker, or even the possibility that death-in-giving-birth could be one of the wages exacted sub lege for all those edenic nights in the mortal transactions which rule this world. Transactus is the participle of transigo; and the physical, literal meaning of transigo in Latin, after all, is to stab, to penetrate, or to pierce through, an intimation of the eventual consequences of Anne's commitment to their marital covenant that are to be explicitly inscribed in line 10 describing her death and line 19 pointing out her age of thirty-three at her death. The Christic figure of her marriage as a covenant - analogous to that made with the merciful Mother of Christ, which was fulfilled through His "piercing" on the Cross, by which He sealed His marriage to His Bride-the-Church and promised the "New Marriage" of Heaven - as signaled in the choice of "transactus" is the burden of much of the remainder of the epitaph, in fact. (The other meaning of transigo - "to complete, to settle, to finish," often in the sense of time - might also come into play here in the sense of the Christic typology of Anne's marriage bringing to completion the "loving/merciful" mission her life fulfilled; and, of course, the suggestion that the husband-speaker's sexual "penetration[s]" of his wife and the twelve pregnancies led to her death is central to the complex of grief and guilt which the epitaph seems inclined to confess.) The ninth line clarifies the predicament of the husband/author and the situation of Anne somewhat when it rewrites the marital transaction by which the Anne of line 7 becomes, Niobe-like in the convoluted, belabored syntax of the line, the object (as indicated by "superstant") of seven witnesses and twelve labors. "Partum" - literally from pario, "to give birth," but sharing roots and a homonym with pareo, "to submit," "to obey," or "to indulge" - ominously changes Anne's merciful, pious indulgence (and loving self-sacrifice) into both a labor worthy of praise by twelve witnesses (like Mary on August 15(19)) and a fruitfulness (from parturitio) painful and life-threatening. This typology is also encouraged by the repetition of the number of completion (seven) in this rewriting of the seventh line of the epitaph. Even as lines 8 and 9 record Anne's transacting physically the real "Idea of a Woman"(20) praised in the first seven lines, their dissonant cadences seem to threaten the luxurious pleasures which those trinities of superlatives created. The mortal terms of this menacing shift in tone and texture are realized in line 10, when Anne is described as being furiously ripped from life (and, as it turns out, from the poem itself) in a sort of terrible parody of the image of creativity she embodied in the first nine lines.
In a letter to Henry Goodyer, Donne described his regret at any separation from his "dear children" and his "utterly devoted wife" whom he calls "hujus aurea," "[of] this golden one."(21) But in the epitaph the potential of "Aurato" as a trans-lingual pun on "guilt" seems realized when he figures Anne's death as "Immani febre correptae." In fact, the poem begins to engage a sort of trans-lingual transaction in which the rich variety and conciseness of the Latin begin to drift into English puns, its timeless stability seemingly infected with the current and timely multivocal puns of the living tongue in imitation of the poem's confronting the mortal consequences of Anne's devotion. Especially troubling in this sense is the choice Immani, for it not only invokes a trans-lingual pun on man (or, if we should recall the classical Latin version of immani which is inmani, "in man I"), but also introduces the specter of mortality and the presence of the speaker into the poem. The three words which name the medical cause of Anne's death suddenly infect the entire process of interpretation, in fact. If we read im-man/in-man here, should we also hear the confessional in-man-I? Should we hear corrupt in "correptae"? Should we thereby return to the last word hanging precariously at the end of line nine and reread the Latin "dies" as the English dies? As Anne is hurriedly carried off, ravished, or pierced through by a savage, immense, and vast fever, disappearing from the text, the epitaph seems to lose its precision and Latinate harmonies. "Immani febre correptae," is the most savage and unpoetic line in the poem, a masterpiece of discordant and clashing sounds: these three words might recall Pliny's description of one of the major threats to Roman civilization as febre corrigi,(22) or even faintly recall that the Romans turned Febris into a god to be worshipped on the 15th; but even without such allusive support these three words manage to erase the harmonies of Anne from the poem, leaving the husband-poet-father alone to meditate the effects of this immense/savage/ravishing (and manly;) fever on him.
As metaphor for an intense sexual passion for Anne, the immense, corrupting, ravishing, penetrating, mortal fever of this line reiterates that ambiguity about sexual passion that runs throughout Donne's works - recalling his paradoxical figurations of sexual love both as an incarnate "mystery" to which one must "descend" to express one's soul ("The Extasie") and as an Ovidian ravishment that constantly threatens to metamorphose one into a "pseudo-martyr" to Cupid instead of a lover of Christ. As he preached at the wedding of Goodyer's daughter (12 Feb. 1619/20), "this conjunction, this desire of propagation, though it be natural in man, as in other creatures, by [God's] creation, yet,... [as] S. Hierome [warns], Nihil foedius, quam uxorem amare tanquam adulteram, There is not a more uncomely, a poorer thing, then to love a Wife like a Mistress.... He is a miserable creature, whose Creator is his Wife" (Sermons II, 336, 345).(23) But in several ways, the epitaph confesses,this was precisely the case with Dr. Donne in August 1617. And in the five lines following his ambiguous, troubling, disturbing diagnosis of her death as a type, a result, or a consequence and mirror of sexual passion - the wages of his sin, man: I, the poem seems inclined to suggest - he graphically describes himself, within the enclosure of the parenthesis, as "prae dolore Infans." Now he by the grief of her death from childbed fever has been made an in-fans, a speechless creature of her death and his own passionate grief. And in imitation of the process of self-creation she once embodied, he strives to recreate their "golden nights" by pledging a "new marriage" with her, a new epithalamion to be forged in these five lines by a reading (and thus a rereading) of her death in terms of its divine pattern. In this sense lines 13-15 therein recreate his figure of her earlier as a sort of "dilectissimaeque," a loving reading and text of the Truth and the truth about Dr. Donne in 1617. He proposes, that is, to read not more but the most that can be made of God's enigmatic handwriting in her (and figuratively their) life and death.
Before turning to the incredible verbal gymnastics and typological wit of Donne's portrait of himself as mirror and doppelganger of the divine Infans - and the ways in which he reiterates St. Jerome's warnings about the misery of the man who is created by his wife - it is worth mentioning one final feature of the poetic decalogue devoted to Anne: the manner in which it applies one version or possible translation of the motto of the More family to this daughter who deserted it for love of John Donne - "Morus tarde moriens morum cito moriturum": "that which dies slowly from fashion or custom, will die quickly from character or moral action," or "The fool afraid of dying dies slowly; while his morals die quickly or daily" (Kempe, p. xv).(24) Certainly, the wise foolishness she exemplified in deserting family custom to marry Donne fulfilled ironically, the family pledge: her moral commitment to that marital pledge led subsequently to her early death; the dutiful submission to the immani febre of her husband and the folly of yearly pregnancies serve only to bespeak her commitment to the "folly" of that love. In fact, this motto of Sir George More's family seems now more appropriate to him, as the descendant of Sir Thomas More's vastly different "More" family tradition, than to her as he struggles in the second half of the epitaph to achieve a wise folly which will bespeak a meaningful response to the slow years of her absence looming in his future without misreading the meaning of her death from a quick fever.
Lines 11-15 trace the changes, in imitation of Anne's own rebellion against submission to the law of family and tradition, that the devastated speaker undergoes in response to her being overwhelmed by that immani febre. In one sense, these five lines meditate the personal and allegorical significances of the Infans motif, by which the bereaved husband, without qualifying the deadly effects of her absence on himself, finally accepts her death as a figure for what The Book of Common Prayer calls "the excellent mystery" by which marriage "signif[ied] unto us the mystical union, that is betwixt Christ and his Church."(25) Focusing attention once again on the idea of Anne as a model text for imitation, a sort of ideal reading of the relation of Mary and Jesus in the Incarnation, the contentious speaker as infans of Anne - as the "dead" husband-child whose immediate response to her death was a sort of Old Testament parody of Christ's humility in Luke 19:40 ("iussit") - finally prays that this tomb stone (as well as his heart, his heart as witness to the divine Love she mirrored) become the site of reunion with her, in imitation and fulfillment of the New Marriage she now enjoys. Enclosed within the womb/tomb of the parenthesis, Donne-as-infant transforms the inexpressibility topos (infans = speechless) into a public pledge which professes their marriage to be a figure for that eventual reunion in which he, like Hannah and Mary, will be joined to the Infans.
As with the surviving children of their earthly marriage who are presented within the parenthesis of line 9 and the description of his own title as "miserrimum dictu" (a parody of mirabile dictu) within the parenthesis of line 13, so his hope for the creative union of Love in the future is expressed within the parenthesis of line 15: "(annuat Deus)." Such emblematic punctuation thus identifies his hope for the "new marriage" as a word or blessing conceived in love and born in the Grace of God the Father, "Deus." Such visual emblematics - by which the poem imitates the stillborn child who lies with Anne within the tomb and the divine Infant with whom they are reunited ("sociandos") - are reiterated by the manner in which the poem-as-child strives in its grammatical superlatives to assume the verbal features of its most dear mother. The speaker-as-infans now becomes the most miserable utterance, a grieving "Maritus" - but a "charae charus" which is only a shadow of the "charissimae" embodied by Anne, at best "Cineribus cineres," able to express the rich textures of her text only in the dirge of the consistent consonance of these broken lines. Nevertheless, as the echo of the burial rite suggests ("ashes to ashes"), this stillborn child of a poem, this fifteen-line mirror of their fifteen-year marriage, yet manages to submit Donne's will to a Will beyond their expression, "in sure and certain hope of resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who shall change our vile body that it may be like to his glorious body" (Book of Common Prayer, P- 310), through faith in the resurrection of the "golden" body.(26)
Once he has made his solemn vow the husband-father-child-text-reading of Anne is named for the first time: "Iohannes" (deriving from Hebrew for "The Lord is gracious") "Donne" (deriving from Latin [donum] for both "last honors or rites" and "a present, sacrifice, or offering to a god"). Named only after he has vowed to sacrifice himself in order to imitate the Gracious blessing from God which Anne embodied, he is verbally realized in the poem after fifteen lines of meditation (and confession) on the steps to the eternal temple, immediately after five lines which develop the terms of an epithalamic pledge(27) which promises to transform death into life, imitatio christi, vowing to die for the local Presence (hoc loco) which the holy Anne and their child have assumed, "annuat Deus."
Sacr: Theolog: Profess:
To be Iohannes Donne on August 15, 1617, is to sacrifice oneself to Anne, to "God's blessing," to die for the truth of the eternal Marriage that she and their fifteen years of loving union mirror.
And in this case, unlike the contrasts between the Latin and English senses of the words which named the mortal cause of her death, the English senses of the poet's christened name provide an emblematic mirror of his present and future states. Anne is literally inscribed in the body of his name. The name that is "cut into" ("transigio") the tomb/stone/ poetic body of the woman pierced through (transigo) by childbed fever in her thirty-third year, the name that is generated in the last rites of the epitaph by the poet's submission of his will to that of the Father - in imitation of Anne's own indulgent, self-sacrificing submission to the laws of love and marriage - is "Iohannes Donne": John and Anne Donne, John and Anne done or dead, John and Anne un-done by their mortal (or his manly) passion - but also John and Anne conjoined in "Iohannes - "hoc loco sociandos, " renamed or redeemed as one once again by the husband's epithalamic pledge renewed in imitation of the "Nouo matrimonio," the New Marriage of the Resurrection. And to recall the figure of Anne as model throughout the poem, his signature - as text and as reading, as public pledge and private meditation, as the site of the reunion of the publicly grieving "Maritus" and the parenthetical angry infant/infans within, the joining of the husband seeking a new marriage and the infant whose grief at the loss of Annae is replaced by faith in God's annuat - becomes one of those "Fruits of much griefe,... emblemes of more" ("A Valediction of weeping"), an "all confessing" "Glasse" ("A Valediction of my name, in the window") of their marriage. This covenantal union and spiritual oneness is immediately embodied with the arrival of the verb of the long sentence of this epitaph: "Secessit." For the inflection of the Latin verb, to recall another of Donne's poetic descriptions of mutual love, "Difference of sex no more [knows] Then our Guardian Angells doe" ("The Relique"): "Secessit" means both "She withdrew" and "He withdrew." The doubleness of the verb, with its suggestion of a finality of separation, accentuates the effects of her death on the grieving speaker - in recalling Christ's "doctrine" to the multitude in Matthew 22:30-33/Luke 20:34-36 that "in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage," for there shall be no marriages in heaven; the resurrected are the children of God," filii resurrectionis, "like the angels of God," sicut angeli Dei.
This inscribed vow does not mean, however, that the new Donne is not also in some ways the child of the old Donne, the earthly father whose fever ravished her; for "hoc loco sociandos" hints at the persistence of that fire. "Sociandos" could refer to the eternal society, but might suggest an intercourse more than social; and "hoc loco" sounds curiously like the fiery, rebellious Jack Donne of his mother's Catholic More family, those recusant martyrs for Love who insisted on the local presence, the heir of that martyr who opposed King Henry VIII's new marriage, the "father" of those compelling poems about the immense anarchic power of the physical and its claim for "a little stay" ("The Relique") even on Judgment day. For even when (in lines 11 - 15) he becomes as a little child desirous of the eternal Marriage, Donne cannot totally yield up his own identity. Disinclined to submit even to the divine Bridegroom - or to assume he identity of the stillborn girl-child present with Anne - Donne cannot help commanding the stone to speak the "masculine perswasive force" ("On his Mistris") of his name, even though the name has etched Within its stony contours a compelling visual reminder of his grief at the loss of Anne's presence. And this spark of the old fever is not entirely dismissed by the choice of "Secessit" to invoke her Marian departure on August 15- Standing isolated on the line, surrounded by nothing, this matter-of-fact term could record, that is, the husband's dismay that she has rebelled once again, deserting him this time for another lover, the divine Infans whom she like Mary has joined. But, as indicated by the date on the last line - the only instance in an epitaph composed by Donne in which the day of the subject's death is given - "secessit" also asserts the simple truth of Anne as Marian analogue: she "withdrew" on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. (And Mary, Voragine's Aurea legenda would remind us, was assumed when her "longing for her Son burned fervently in her heart."(28) However, the contrarious interpretations of terms applied to Anne, that when applied to him indicate his limitations, continue through the last lines: line 19 associates her one final time with the divine Child/husband who was also pierced through at age thirty-three, while line 20 returns the earthly husband to the cold numbers of the deadly present - it is 1617; it is August 15, annae mortus Annum, the death year of "Annae More de."(29)
But he also "withdrew" on August 15- As a reminder of the imitatio christi by which the infans-husband might assume the eternal Presence of that most dear text that reads and rewrites all mortal lovers, "Secessit" recalls Christ's death, as refigured in that of Anne in her thirty-third year and as sympathetically suffered by Donne in her physical withdrawal. In fact, one of the unexpressed ironies of the epitaph is the way in which it reads the revealed truth of that epithalamic motto he coined on their night of-elopement - "John Donne, Anne Donne, Vn-done."(30) For Dr. Donne was undone by her death, and he did withdraw: he kept his vow to his children never to remarry. And even those hymns in praise of the divine Father and Son which he composed in her absence after 1617 are rebelliously, pierced through with his unremitting, dolorous, feverish desire for what he calls "loving more" ("A Hymne to Christ, at the Authors last going"). If he finally did manage to sustain a "heroic" castitas made possible only by Anne's physical absence-and therein to achieve a type of the loving "martyrdom" which was the "dear" subject of both his poems and prose works - it might have been generated in part by the submission enclosed within the equivoques of Anne's epitaph, that it was she who became "Loves martyr" ("The Funerall") - another victim of the ravishing moms of mortal passions and sexual desire.
The cunningly made little world of Donne's epitaph for his beloved wife survives, then, long after the stone on which its "curtains of Allegories" were cut in St. Clement Danes Chapel has turned to dust and disappeared. It remains one of his most eloquent testaments to the "vex[t] contraryes" ("Oh, to vex me") of that immense, powerful and penetratingly painful desire for "more love" - that feverishly egocentric desire for the irresistible folly of human love - even while it confesses his devotion to and his desire to express his devotion to the eternal Passion that rewrites all desires hoc loco. After all, it is Donne's compelling expresssions of that witty paradox that has generated the survival of his words and texts - his desire to express our love for more than life can bear.
(1) Ferry All in War with Time: Love Poetry of Shakespeare, Donne Jonson, Marvell (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1975); Low, The Reinvention of Love: Poetry, Politics and Culture from Sidney to Milton (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993), p. 63.
(2) Citations of Donne's English poems are to The Complete Poetry of John Donne, ed. John T. Shawcross (News York: Doubleday & Co., 1967); titles of the poems are listed in my text after these citations.
(3) The Wit of Love: Donne, Carew, Crashaw, Marvell (Notre Dame Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1969), p. 35. On the ways in which these topics in the lyrics relate to Donne's situation as the heir of a Catholic recusant tradition, see M. Thomas Hester, "`this cannot be said': A Preface to the Reader of Donne's Lyrics," Christianity & Literature, 39 (1990), 365-85; and Low Reinvention of Love, Chapter 2.
(4) All citations of Donne's sermons are to the ten-volume edition of George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, The Sermons of John Donne (Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1953-62), and will be identified in my text by volume and page number.
(5) John T. Shawcross, "The Concept of Sermo in Donne and Herbert," John Donne Journal, 6 (1987), 203-12.
(6) The fullest accounts of the early relationship of Donne and Anne More are provided by R. C. Bald, John Donne: A Life (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), to which I am indebted throughout this essay. For a corrective to some of Bald's views of the significance of Donne's Catholic heritage, see the essays of Dennis Flynn and his John Donne and the Ancient Catholic Nobility (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1995), to which I am greatly indebted. Complementary to Flynn's work and to my own readings of the residue of Donne's Catholicism in his lyrics is Maureen Sabine's Feminine Engendered Faith: John Donne & Richard Crashaw (New York: Macmillan Press, 1992). For an interesting investigation of the "scandal" of Donne's marriage, see Edward Le Comte, "John Donne: From Rake to Husband," in Just So Much Honor: Essays Commemorating the Four-Hundredth Anniversary of the Birth of John Donne, ed. Peter Amadeus Fiore (College Park: Penn State Univ. Press, 1972), pp. 9-32.
(7) "A History of Donne's `Canonization' from Izaak Walton to Cleanth Brooks," JEGP, 92 (1993), 17-36. On the Holy Sonnet, see especially Theresa M. DiPasquale, "Ambivalent Mourning: Sacramentality Idolatry, and Gender in `Since she whom I lovd,'" John Donne Journal, 10 (1991), 45-57; on "A Nocturnall" as a poem on Anne's death, see Helen Gardner, ed., John Donne: Elegies and Songs and Sonnets (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965): Martz, The Poem of the Mind (Oxford: Oxford Univ Press, 1966), pp. 17-20.
(8) Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, ed. Anthony Raspa (Toronto: McGill-Queen's Univ. Press, 1975), p. 99.
(9) See, for instance, Peter L. Rudnytsky, "`The Sight of God': Donne's Poetics of Transcendence," TSLL, 24, (1982), 185-207, for an appraisal of the "divine" wit of Donne's lyrics.
(10) At the time of their mother's death, Constance (b. 1603), John (b. 1604), George (b. 1605), Lucy (b. 1608), Bridget (b. 1609), Margaret (b. 1615), and Elizabeth (b. 1616) were still alive; Francis (b. 1607) and Mary (b. 1611) had both died in 1614, Nicholas (b. 1613) in infancy; and one child had been stillborn in 1612.
(11) John Stow, Survey of London (1633), p. 889. See also the descriptions in Ernest W. Sullivan, II, The Reputation of John Donne (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1993); and W. Milgate, ed., The Epithalamions, Anniversaries and Epicedes of John Donne (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1978).
(12) I am grateful to the editors of the Donne Variorum project, especially Gary Stringer, general editor, for sharing with me their collations of the epitaph. Bald prints a version of the epitaph for which there is no textual basis, substituting inmani for "immani." It is an understandable slip, given that inmani is the classical Latin form - and not necessarily an insignificant association, as I suggest below.
(13) See Alfred John Kempe's introduction to his transcription of portions of the Loseley manuscripts: The Loseley Manuscripts. Manuscript and Other Rare Documents.... (London John Murray, 1836).
(14) John Donne, Letters to Severall Persons of Honour (1651), intro. M. Thomas Hester (Delmar, N.Y: Scholars' Facsimiles & Reprints, 1977), p. 51. Subsequent citations of this volume will appear in text, identified as Letters.
(15) Flynn, "Donne's Female Coterie," LIT, 1 (1989), 127-36: Roebuck, "Glimmering Lights: Anne, Elizabeth, and the Poet's Practice," forthcoming in Donne's "desire of more": The subject of Anne Donne in his Poetry, ed. M. Thomas Hester (Univ. of Delaware Press).
(16) This letter is preserved in the Loseley. MS., f. 526. (The collected prose letters of Donne, edited by Ernest W. Sullivan, II, Robert Sorlien, and M. Thomas Hester, are forthcoming from Duke Univ. Press.)
(17) Donne, Sabine reminds us, "had been nurtured in a Thomistic totality of faith which was not threatened by spiritual identification with Mary [and] had implied sporadically in his religious verse that Mary's motherhood lay the human foundations of Christ's divinity" (p. 109). Part of the satire which animates some of his earliest elegies, I have suggested, derived from his "brave scorn" for the Protestant appropriation of Mariology by what Roy Strong and Frances Yates have aptly called the "cult of Elizabeth": "Donne's (Re) Annunciation of the Virgin(ia Colony) in Elegy XIX," South Central Review, 4 (1987), 49-64; see also R. V. Young, "`O my America, my new-found-land': Pornography and Imperial Politics in Donne's Elegies, "South Central Review, 4 (1987), 35-48. For a most helpful survey of the history of Marian iconography and symbolism, see Marina Warner, Alone of All Her Sex:
(18) Ominous to Donne, that is. Fifteen, according to St. Bellarmine, was the number of steps by which the "ladder" of the contemplation of creatures leads to the ascent to God - complementary to the fifteen steps of the Temple of Solomon, and the fifteen Gradual Psalms, according to his De ascensione mentis (1616); the Virgin ascended fifteen steps in the Presentation in the Temple. Thus, as Alastair Fowler points out, fifteen was the number of "approach to [a] throne": Triumphal Forms: Structural Patterns in Elizabethan Poetry (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970), P.227.
(19) See Jacobus de Voragine, "De assumptione ste marie virginis," Aurea legenda sanctorum (Lyon: Gilbert Villiers, 1514), fol. lxxxv-ix.
(20) Attributed to Donne, according to Drummond, by Jonson, to describe The First Anniversarie, of which Jonson is reported as having said, "if it had been written of ye Virgin Marie it had been something." See Frank Manley's introduction to his edition of Donne's Anniversaries (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1963); and Edward Taylor, Donne's Idea of a Woman (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1992). Sabine suggests that Jonson's remark was keenly to the point, as Louis Martz also suggested in The Poetry of Meditation: A Study in English Religious Literature of the Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1965).
(21) This Latin letter appears in the first edition of Donne's Poems (1633), p. 369.
This letter is the first reference to the trip to the Continent Donne was to take with Robert Drury, during which Anne miscarried, that event about which Walton says the poet suffered his "dreadful vision" of her with their stillborn child.
(22) Historia naturalis, 26,11,71, and 116 id. 7 (Lewis and Short, A Latin Dictionary [Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 18791, p. 732).
(23) For a compelling appraisal of the marriage sermons and some of the lyrics, see Lindsay A. Mann, "Misogyny and Libertinism: Donne's Marriage Sermons," John Donne Journal, II (1992), 111-32.
(24) Among the Loseley MSS are numerous "punning allusions, anagrams, &c.;" to the More family name. The family rebus of the Mores, in fact, is a mulberry tree (Latin: morum; genus Morus); Kempe suggests that the family motto implies that the family should "like the mulberry tree, be of long endurance, but that its individual descendants, like the fruit, should by the common lot of mortality be subject to speedy decay" (pp. xiv-xv). "R.G." offered this representative play on the family name:
... yor name yet calls for more
More shall yo' neede to have, while ye in earth remayne
Therof more must you crave, and more must be yor geyne.
But when this lief shall end, and you attain more blisse,
More then ye need not mind, when no good wanting is.
There no man can wishe more, where more cannot be thought,
So full is there the store of joye Christ for us bought;
Who bringe you to the same where more you shall not neede.
(Kempe, p. xv)
One might be reminded of Donne's similar play on "more" in his Hymns. As for his wife's family as a mulberry tree, Anne was the third of Sir George's five daughters, all of whom (except Anne) married "country gentlemen of wealth and assumed position" (Bald, p. 130); of Sir George's four sons, only Robert survived to marry and beget children. But, then, Anne's father lived into his seventy-ninth year, her grandfather died at eighty, her great-grandfather at sixty-six.
(25) The Book of Common Prayer, ed. John E. Booty (Washington D.C.: Folger Library, 1976), pp. 296, 290.
(26) On the significance of the "golden body" of Resurrection to Donne's poetry, see A. B. Chambers, "Glorified Bodies and the `Valediction: forbidding Mourning,'" John Donne Journal, 1 (1982), 1-20.
(27) On five as the number of epithalamions, see Fowler, pp. 148-51.
(28) Fol. lxxxv: as in Voragine, The Golden Legend, tr. G. Ryan and H. Ripperger (New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1941), p. 449. Caxton's translation (London, 1527) says she was "gretly ... embraced with desyre to be with her son Jesus chryst" (fol. CCiii). John of Damascus in a sermon says that Mary's death was but "a migration to another country, a departure" (Voragine, Golden Legend, p. 453).
(29) The witty turn by which the end of the epitaph for Anne returns to its opening, to its beginning, is recalled by the same kind of witty turn at the end of the epitaph he wrote for his own death, where he rewrote moriens as "Oriens," in hope and faith of the Resurrection.
(30) On the likelihood that Donne did coin the motto, see Ernest W. Sullivan, II, "'John Donne, Anne Donne, Vn-done' Redone," American