Studies in English Literature, 1500-1900, Wntr 2000 v40 i1 p81

John Donne and Scholarly Melancholy. TREVOR, DOUGLAS.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2000 Rice University

Donne is in a sense a psychologist.

-T. S. Eliot

Throughout his life, John Donne's prose and poetry are filled with references to, as well as accounts of, his self-understanding as a melancholic. [1] If we take his self-professed depressive tendencies as seriously as his devotional meditations, we find that the two are interlinked: Donne often describes ecstatic religious experience with the same metaphors of earthly instability and material metamorphoses he uses to catalogue his melancholic, self-destructive inclinations. Like Soren Kierkegaard, who will praise Christian belief in part because it entails great suffering, Donne is inclined to equate unhappiness with spiritual redemption.

Modern thinkers interested in depression have often commented on the circular nature of religious despair. According to Julia Kristeva, "the implicitness of love and consequently of reconciliation and forgiveness completely transforms the scope of Christian initiation by giving it an aura of glory and unwavering hope for those who believe. Christian faith appears then as an antidote to hiatus and depression, along with hiatus and depression and starting from them." [2] Donne uncovers a similar pattern in Holy Sonnet III ("O might those sighes and teares returne againe"):

To (poore) me is allow'd

No ease; for, long, yet vehement griefe hath beene

Th'effect and cause, the punishment and sinne. [3]

It is perhaps not surprising to see Kristeva diagnose religious despair as a form of narcissistic depression; and we might well be tempted to characterize Donne's melancholy in such a way, particularly if we are willing to read the emotions expressed in Holy Sonnet III as self-disclosure on the part of its author. Reading Donne as a "narcissistic depress[ive]" would mean emphasizing the degree to which his melancholy seems to be perpetually re-invigorated, principally by his own self-involvement rather than by bereavement over lost objects. Depressives, Kristeva claims, "do not consider themselves wronged but afflicted with a fundamental flaw, a congenital deficiency... For such narcissistic depressed persons, sadness is really the sole object." [4]

The recourse to modern psychoanalytic categories to come to terms with Donne's melancholy is not necessary, however; early modern English writers, notably Robert Burton and--before him--Timothy Bright, provide us with ample schemata and examples of the causes and symptoms of depression as it was understood in the period [5] Moreover, Donne complicates the relationship he posits between melancholy and religious belief, complicates it in such a way as to transcend Kristeva's notion of what it means to be narcissistically depressed. While he is mindful that his inordinate self-interest sometimes provokes and contributes to his dejection, sadness is not Donne's "sole object." He is occupied by other matters, other concerns, even other worries: spiritual, professional, and ecclesiastical. In this piece, I argue that Donne's scholarly melancholy--grief stimulated specifically by learned endeavor--forms an integral part of his religious melancholy. Donne's self-perceived, melancholic disposition thus manifests itse lf both in his approach to learning as well as in his articulations of his experiences as a Christian. Bereavement, as we have already seen, is, at times, desired in the devotional realm. Donne prays at the beginning of Holy Sonnet III:

O might those sighes and teares returne againe

Into my breast and eyes, which I have spent,

That I might in this holy discontent

Mourne with some fruit. (lines 1-4)

As John Calvin himself admits, despair associated with Christian doubt--in the context of Reformation theology, whether or not one could count oneself amongst the elect--is hard to avoid: "One of Satan's deadly weapons is to attack believers with doubts about whether they are among the elect, and then incite them to look for answers in the wrong way... There is hardly anyone who does not think sometimes, 'If my salvation comes only from God's election, what proof have I of that election?' When this thought dominates an individual, he will be permanently miserable, in terrible torment or mental confusion." [6] For the male scholar in the early modern period, as Juliana Schiesari has shown, melancholy "appears as a privileged but also perilous condition," potentially designating its sufferer as a genius while also indicating that he is easily subject to distraction, even madness. [7] Although depression, for devout and studious souls alike, prompts concern, it can also validate the claims advanced by its suffer er--claims of intellectual as well as spiritual worth.

As we will see in Holy Sonnet XIX ("Oh, to vex me, contraryes meet in one"), Donne often turns to his volatile humoral makeup to explain his religious devotion (p. 447). At the same time, however, by insisting so vehemently on an intimate, even inseparable, relationship between the learned and the devout life--by claiming, as he does in his Essayes in Divinity, that "Reason is our Sword, Faith our Target" [8]--Donne knowingly exacerbates his humoral imbalance, for scholarly pursuits in particular were thought in the seventeenth century to invite despondency and depression. [9] Donne not only recognizes that melancholy lurks behind--and in a sense authenticates--his thirst for knowledge, he transforms what Jaques, in As You Like It, calls "a melancholy of mine own" into a subject for intellectual inquiry, writing Biathanatos, a tract that defends the right to self-slaughter. [10] Donne's interest in dark themes--decay, misery, guilt, loneliness--is not limitable to a certain set of texts or to a given period in his life, although certainly his years at Mitcham, roughly from 1607 to 1609, were especially fraught with professional uncertainty and personal dissatisfaction. [11] Rather, as John Carey has argued, Donne's "grasp of the world did not basically change" during his life, although of course his opinions and social attitudes evolved. [12] As a poet, controversialist, and preacher, his most persistent thoughts were often his most morose and despairing ones.

Donne's obsession with decay, sickness, and degeneration is not limited to his Anniversaries, although in them we see a particularly vivid assessment of the world as "rotten at the hart," likened to "a Hectique fever [that] hath got hold / Of the whole substance, not to be contrould" (First, pp. 324-71, lines 242, 243-4). Donne's tendency to produce such graphic representations of material transformations--in The First Anniversarie not only the world but mankind as well "decayes," while the whole universe "[i]s crumbled out againe" (lines 143, 212)--has been examined most thoroughly by Carey. [13] Rather than read these descriptions symptomatically, however, Carey suggests that Donne viewed "change" with equanimity, as "an ally." [14] Related to Donne's probing, at times disturbing, examinations of metamorphoses and loss is his skepticism, which compels him to press his investigations and analyses further and further. Hamlet, perhaps the exemplary embodiment of the early modern fusion of melancholy and skept icism, shares Donne's curiosity as well as his fascination with mutability; indeed the prince's tracing of Alexander's dust to the stop of a beer barrel calls to mind, in abbreviated form, Donne's Metempsychosis, in which the reader is led through human history by following the soul of the forbidden fruit first plucked by Eve. [15] Particularly attuned to Donne's inexhaustibly intellectual nature, although unfortunately distanced from any consideration of his melancholy, have been those critical readings that emphasize his skeptical predilections. Indeed, it is tempting to see in what Joshua Scodel describes as Donne's "skeptical mean between the extremes of positive and negative dogmatism" not merely the skeptic's desire to find a middle ground but the melancholic's desire to attain humoral stability. [16] Donne's emphasis on the via media, in other words, carries with it a psychological corollary: his desire for moderation in ecclesiastical affairs mirrors the melancholic's yearning for emotional balance an d mental tranquillity. The evidence provided by his poetry, devotional prose, letters, and sermons reveals how Donne--throughout his life--read his body, faith, and the world-at-large humorally.

Scholars have increasingly sensed the degree to which Donne's self-analyses resist an exclusively Christian template of interpretation, particularly in relation to his divine poems. John Stachniewski, for example, regretted "[t]he reluctance of literary critics to face the [Holy] [S]onnets squarely as productions of the early seventeenth century by a self-confessed melancholic," while--without elaborating--David Norbrook has identified a "manic-depressive element" in Donne's writings. [17] Before either Stachniewski or Norbrook, Donald Ramsay Roberts argued that "[t]he persistence, in one form or another, of the idea of a death instinct in Donne's intellectual life may be attributed to the fact... that a wish for death was a permanent and constant element in his psychic life" and that this wish reveals "something more than appropriate Christian resignation." [18] Donne himself resists a strictly religious understanding of his melancholy by continually testifying to the potentially strained--if always eventua lly reconcilable-- relationship between the learned and the devout life. Indeed, it is through his studies that Donne understands and conceptualizes his devotion. He comes to read himself as he does his books, with insight, persistence, and considerable anguish--anguish that he sees saturating the world around him, and on which he continually draws regardless of the genre in which he writes.

When Donne, in the Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, imagines himself in a losing duel with death, he considers for a moment one possible cause of his illness: "But what have I done, either to breed, or to breath these vapors? They tell me it is my Melancholy: Did I infuse, did I drinke in Melancholly into my selfe? It is my thoughtfulnesse; was I not made to thinke? It is my study; doth not my Calling call for that? I have don nothing, wilfully, perversly toward it, yet must suffer in it, die by it. [19] As Donne describes it, his melancholy is caused by thinking and studying, the quint-essential activities of the scholar. But, to what extent is Donne responsible for these inclinations, these tendencies that seem to lead inevitably to sickness? Initially he proposes two alternatives: the vapors that constitute his melancholy are either bred by his humors or absorbed--breathed in--by his lungs. By the end of this passage, however, Donne chooses neither scenario, deciding instead to absolve himself of all re sponsibility, in the process punning on his name ("I have don nothing"), and presenting himself as an acted-upon, pitiable subject of adversity. Donne's melancholy, figured as the consequence of scholarly inclinations he can neither control nor resist, is also revealed to be ineluctably interwoven with his responsibilities as a preacher. Scrupulously working through counterarguments, in the process demonstrating the very intellectual rapaciousness he laments, Donne makes it clear that even if one were to attribute his illness to the studies that he himself has undertaken, these studies are in fact necessitated by his calling, by that profession that God has selected for him. At other times, as in Holy Sonnet VIII ("If faithful soules be alike glorifi'd"), Donne reads his melancholy in less mediated terms, as a kind of despair that God not only imparts but also lifts away: "Then turne / O pensive soule, to God, for he knowes best / Thy true griefe, for he put it in my breast" (p. 439, lines 12-4). [20] Judging from the above passage from the Devotions, however, scholarly melancholy forms an integral part of this "true griefe," authenticating the sincerity of Donne's spiritual convictions while causing him pain, even--potentially--killing him.

The close connections Donne draws between learning and faith are not, of course, unproblematic in the early seventeenth century. Faced with the threat of ill-health that was so often thought to accompany scholarly endeavor, George Herbert (according to Izaak Walton) frequently contemplated turning his back entirely on the activities and environs that made up the male scholar's life at Cambridge: "I may not omit to tell, that he [Herbert] had often designed to leave the university and decline all study, which he thought did impair his health; for he had a body apt to a consumption, and to fevers, and other infirmities which he judged were increased by his studies; for he would often say, 'He had too thoughtful a wit: a wit, like a penknife in too narrow a sheath, too sharp for his body.'" [21] In response to Donne's question in "Meditation 12" of the Devotions, "It is my study; doth not my Calling call for that?" [22] Herbert answers no. In clear contrast to Donne, who proclaims no control whatsoever over his scholarly melancholy, Herbert recognizes the dangers of learning and finally withdraws from such pursuits when they threaten to overwhelm him. [23]

Donne argues for the spiritually edifying effects of learning in his Essayes in Divinity where, in contrast to the opinions offered by Herbert in A Priest to the Temple--"Curiosity in prying into high speculative and unprofitable questions is another great stumbling block to the holinesse of Scholars"--he proposes that the work of scholars serves God well: "So he [God] is pleased that his word should endure and undergo the opinion of contradiction, or other infirmities, in the eyes of Pride (the Author of Heresie and Schism) that after all such dissections, & cribrations, and examinings of Hereticall adventures upon it, might return from the furnace more refin'd, and gain luster and clearness by this vexation." [24] While aware of the potential pitfalls awaiting those who neglect their faith in pursuit of learning, Donne usually qualifies his censure of overzealous "dissections, & cribrations," or insists that "Humility, and Studiousnesse...are so near of kin, that they are both agreed to be limbes and membe rs of one vertue, Temperance." [25] In a sermon preached on Christmas Day in 1621, Donne goes further, asserting that "Knowledge cannot save us, but we cannot be saved without Knowledge; Faith is not on this side [of] Knowledge, but beyond it; we must necessarily come to Knowledge first, though we must not stay at it, when we are come thither." [26] Learning, then, can purify the Christian believer, or--more relevant to Donne's own circumstances--even help to protect the preacher from melancholy: "To be a good Divine, requires humane knowledge; and so does it of all the Mysteries of Divinity too; because, as there are Devils that will not be cast out but by Fasting and Prayer, so there are humours that undervalue men, that lacke these helps." [27]

Donne's conception of life, indeed his passage through life, is deeply rooted in learning. As Catherine Creswell argues in reading his Holy Sonnets, "Donne's rejection of truth as vision, like his rejection of individual revelation, is an insistence upon interpretation over immanent seeing, often thematized as a move toward 'hearing' the Word or turning to the voyce.'" [28] In important ways, however, to live--for Donne--is not only to study and write but also, in doing so, to suffer. Like Burton, Donne attaches unhappiness to scholarly pursuits at the same time that he identifies such pursuits as the focal point of his own existence, thereby knowingly risking the onset of melancholy. [29] He also frequently equates his scholarly activity with real imprisonment, this in spite of the fact that he suffered such detention in the Fleet following his secret marriage to Ann More. For instance, in a 1625 letter---possibly to Sir Thomas Roe--Donne describes a productive, if stifling, period of time: "I have spent th is Summer in my close Emprisonment. I have reviewed as many of my Sermons, as I had kept any notes of; and I have written out, a great many, and hope to do more. I ame allready come to the number of 80." [30]

As books so often occupy Donne's energies, parts of the scholarly book as well figure prominently in his description of mortal life: "All this life is but a Preface, or but an Index and Repertory to the book of life; There, at that book beginnes thy Study; To grow perfect in that book, to be dayly conversant in that book, to find what be the marks of them, whose names are written in that book, and to finde those marks, ingenuously, and in a rectified conscience, in thy selfe... this is to goe forth, and see thy self, beyond thy self, to see what thou shalt be in the next world." [31] To live is, for Donne, to read oneself and by reading to begin the process of improving, or rectifying, one's conscience. By imagining earth-bound life as a preface or an index, Donne converts individual being into bound pages, pages that are carefully, even scrupulously, studied in a quintessentially erudite fashion Such an emphasis on the material book causes Donne to privilege, in the Essayes in Divinity, written praise of Go d over spoken prayers. [32] Books not only come to symbolize existence for Donne, they also provide him with an academic audience in times of personal isolation: "I shall be content that Okes and Beeches be my schollers, and witnesses of my solitary Meditations," he claims halfway through his Essayes, implying that when introspection is recorded and circulated it does not remain "solitary" for long. [33]

In "Satyre I," probably composed while Donne was a student at Lincoln's Inn (1592-95), he depicts a scholar's abandonment of his books, but does so less approvingly than Walton had in recounting Herbert's departure from university life. Arthur Marotti reads "Satyre I"--correctly, I think--as reflecting splitting of himself... into the scholar-moralist and the inconstant fool addicted to the fashions of Court and City." [34] The opening lines bear witness to the speaker's failed attempt at dismissing his visitor, but they also cast this visitor as a specter of humoral intemperance, leaving the speaker to choose between his company and the familiar, dungeon-like quality of a Donne study:

Away thou fondling motley humorist,

Leave mee, and in this standing woodden chest,

Consorted with these few bookes, let me lye

In prison, and here be coffin'd, when I dye;

(pp. 214-8, lines 1-4)

Although it resembles a prison or a tomb, this study proves to be more like a womb: the speaker finds within its walls the "constant company" of divines, philosophers, statesmen, chroniclers, and poets who nurture his intellect (line 11). To imagine his death in such surroundings is for the speaker to imagine himself nestled, perhaps even suffocated, under the pages of his favorite authors, or even under the volumes of notes written in his own hand. This is a far cry from being left "in the middle street," the speaker's other, more agoraphobic fear that-fittingly--comes true when he ventures out of his chambers (line 15).

Torn between social frivolity and book learning, Donne suggests that the melancholy that wraps him, like Jaques, "in a most humorous sadness," is not merely the melancholy of a scholar. [35] As much as he attempts to satisfy the thirst of his mind, and--perhaps more importantly--write of such attempts, Donne is also subject to distractions: distractions which, if "Satyre I" can be taken as evidence, prompt regret when they are fulfilled. In a letter he writes to his friend Henry Goodyer in 1622, he welcomes the passing of years and gentling of his humors, praising his present melancholic bouts in comparison to those he once suffered: "Every distemper of the body now, is complicated with the spleen, and when we were young men we scarce ever heard of the spleen. In our declinations now, every accident is accompanied with heavy clouds of melancholy; and in our youth we never admitted any. It is the spleen of the minde, and we are affected with vapors from thence; yet truly, even this sadnesse that overtakes us, and this yeelding to the sadnesse, is not so vehement a poison (though it be no Physick neither) as those false waies, in which we sought our comforts in our looser daies." [36] Eager here and elsewhere to put distance between his "looser," pre-ordination days and those that follow, Donne blames his current distempers on his spleen, the organ in which medical theory of the day would have placed the production of the melancholic humor black bile. [37] Recognizing the true source for such "heavy clouds," rather than following the "false waies" of his youth, provides Donne with comfort, in part because with the identification of "true" symptoms his mind, and body, are spared the harmful effects of misguided rumination.

Certainly, the "false waies" with which Donne associates his prior "poison" remind us of the speaker's wayward sallies into the streets of London in "Satyre I." Nonetheless, letters written before Donne's ordination indicate that his lack of clerical credentials also perturbs him, suggesting perhaps that he might have found a career as a preacher attractive in 1615 in part because it meant an increase in his stature as a scholar, and thus a possible diminution of the severity of his melancholic bouts. Writing to Goodyer in 1608, Donne expresses concern over being dismissed as a self-interested layman, even when the writings he has in mind are in verse rather than prose: "I have met two Letanies in Latin verse, which gave me not the reason of my meditations, for in good faith I thought not upon them then, but they give me a defence, if any man; to a Lay man, and a private, impute it as a fault, to take such divine and publique names, to his own little thoughts." [38] Donne's comments regarding his poem "The L itanie" imply that he views his poetic productions as he does his scholarly projects. Both require research, if not for ideas, then for "defence" from critics. Keenly aware of the need to lend weight and legitimacy to his "little thoughts," Donne at once seeks out precedents for the claims he is making, as any budding controversialist must, while at the same time attempting to preserve his ingenuity as a poet, assuring Goodyer that he in no way had the Latin litanies in mind when he wrote his own.

If Donne's letter calls attention to the commonality of scholarly and poetic enterprises, "The Litanie" itself repeatedly attests to its author's awareness--more insisted upon here than in his Essayes--of the dangers learning can pose to religious belief. Indeed, the most persistent petitions in the poem dwell upon the speaker's fear that he will pursue knowledge too zealously, thereby forgetting more important matters: "Let not my minde be blinder by more light/Nor Faith by Reason added, lose her sight" (pp. 456-67, lines 62-3). Excessive attention to writing poetry also prompts earnest pleas; regarding the prophets, the speaker asks his Lord "That I by them excuse not my excesse/In seeking secrets, or Poetiquenesse" (lines 71-2). In stanza thirteen of "The Litanie," entitled "The Doctors," Donne strikes another cautionary note, asking that what the Church Fathers

have misdone

Or mis-said, wee to that may not adhere,

Their zeale may be our sinne. Lord let us runne

Meane waies, and call them stars, but not the Sunne.

(lines 114-7)

Such temperance with regard to learning would have surprised few readers in Jacobean England, accustomed as they were to arguments that pointed out the perils awaiting those who pursued knowledge immoderately, arguments often put forth by learned men ("How well he's read," King Ferdinand remarks of Berowne in Love's Labour's Lost, "to reason against reading!"). [39] By the end of "The Litanie," however, Donne's wary attitude toward such intellectual and aesthetic pursuits is qualified, while his own ability to moderate his passion is openly doubted. The penultimate petition of the poem, followed only by a final prayer for salvation, finds the speaker asking God to moderate his dangerous desire for knowledge while at the same time to refrain from vanquishing it entirely:

That learning, thine Ambassador,

From thine allegeance wee never tempt,

That beauty, paradises flower

For physicke made, from poyson be exempt,

That wit, borne apt, high good to doe,

By dwelling lazily

On Natures nothing, be not nothing too,

That our affections kill us not, nor dye,

(lines 235-43)

Heare us, weake ecchoes, O thou eare, and cry.

Equated here with "affections"--with feelings or emotions that defy governance, or emanate from an abnormal bodily state--the yearning to know is recognized as a potential poison, and yet the speaker pleads for it nonetheless to remain in his system. [40] He wants in psychological terms what the skeptic desires intellectually: to hold a position between extremes.

Donne's defense of "The Litanie" as having been written in "good faith" mirrors his insistence that Biathanatos was composed out of "[p]iety," and indeed both works are thought to have been written while Donne lived at Mitcham. [41] Each composition, although in a different genre, attests to Donne's scholarly blending of intellectual, religious, and melancholic inclinations. While Donne denies in Biathanatos that his study of self-slaughter is blasphemous, his decision to keep the book in manuscript form suggests fear on his part that too wide a readership might cause the work to be accused of injecting "poyson" into the flower of learning. Donne realizes, in other words, that his studious inclinations flirt with danger--at the very least in the form of public censure, at the most, spiritual corruption--and yet he refuses to forswear such predilections, claiming either that they are a part of his nature, as in "The Litanie," or that they deserve scripted preservation, as with Biathanatos. In the latter case, textual abeyance represents Donne's familiar yearning for the via media, here between two extremes described in the 1619 letter to Sir Robert Carre as "the [printing] Presse, and the Fire." [42]

Contrary to what Donne claims in his 1622 letter to Goodyer, "Satyre III" indicates that the younger Donne is well aware of the spleen, for it figures prominently in the opening of the poem: "Kinde pitty chokes my spleene; brave scorn forbids / Those teares to issue which swell my eye-lids" (pp. 224-9, lines 1-2). Unsatisfied by his own display of Christian belief, particularly when it is contrasted with the "blinde Philosophers" of past ages, "whose merit / Of strict life may be imputed faith," the speaker resolves to "Seeke true religion" (lines 12-3, 43):

To will, implyes delay, therefore now doe.

Hard deeds, the bodies paines; hard knowledge too

The mindes indeavours reach, and mysteries

Are like the Sunne, dazzling, yet plaine to all eyes.

(lines 85-8)

Commenting on these lines, Richard Strier has argued that "[t]he context, after all, is not that of the intellectual life in general but of the religious life in particular." [43] But Donne, I would suggest, does not so neatly distinguish between the two. Rather, for him, as we have already seen in his Christmas Day, 1621 sermon, "we must necessarily come to Knowledge first, though we must not stay at it, when we are come thither." [44] For the speaker in "Satyre III," to commit himself to "true religion" means recommitting himself to his studies. As J. B. Leishman wrote, "this saving truth is, in a sense, factual rather than doctrinal, and to be attained, not in some beatific vision, but as the result of a long and laborious process of historical, or semi-historical, research." [45] Or, as Donne puts it,

though truth and falshood bee

Neare twins, yet truth a little elder is;

Be busie to seeke her, beleeve mee this,

Hee's not of none, nor worst, that seekes the best.

(lines 72-5)

At the very least, it appears, seeking truth can do no harm, and yet distinguishing the "best" of these pursuits from the "worst" vexes Donne long after he has finished "Satyre III."

Donne's religious belief depends upon, and is articulated through, his own search for "hard knowledge." In "Satyre III," the connection between this search and those "mysteries ... plaine to all eyes" is unclear, as Strier acknowledges (lines 87-8). [46] But this ambiguity, I would argue, reflects the intimate relationship Donne maintains between study and devotion; the latter, while strengthened by the former, is not dependent upon it. The nature of devotion is a mystery, and yet--paradoxically--it is through the mind's endeavors that faith can be made "plaine to all eyes." While undecided about the nature of "true religion," Donne is certain that it is to be approached through study. And yet, recalling the descriptions of his study in "Satyre I" and elsewhere, he frequently describes the place in which such learning occurs as a depressing one, linking scholarly activity with suffering and isolation, just as he describes, as in the beginning of La Corona, his verse as a product of his "low devout melancholi e" (pp. 429-30, line 2). Although Donne periodically releases himself from his scholarly imprisonment, its hold on him remains steady over time. This is in spite of, indeed because of, the morbid connotations the study carries for Donne, for it is in his descriptions of the scholar's place of work that Donne's fascination with death is grounded. His learned endeavors, in other words, are endeavors rooted in a desire if not necessarily to die then to experience the place of death, a place accessed through the study.

Nowhere is such a conflation between the place of burial and learning more visible than in a 1608 letter to Goodyer in which Donne reveals that his study, quite literally, sits atop a crypt: "I have occasion to sit late some nights in my study, (which your books make a pretty library) and now I finde that that room hath a wholesome emblematique use: for having under it a vault, I make that promise me, that I shall die reading, since my book and a grave are so near." [47] Similarly, in the dedicatory letter to Sir Edward Herbert that graces the inside cover of the Bodleian Manuscript of Biathanatos, Donne projects his own melancholy onto the text, assuring his friend that the book will not take its own life because it is pleased with its argument: "I make account that thys Booke hath inough perform'd yt wch yt undertooke, both by Argument and Example. Itt shall therfore the lesse neede to bee yttselfe another Example of ye Doctrine. Itt shall not therefore kyll yttselfe; that ys, not bury itselfe." [48] The i nsinuation here is that to "kyll" is the same as to "bury," but if we recall Donne's already envisioned, passive modes of expiration--being "coffin'd" in "Satyre I," noting the proximity of a grave to his study in the letter to Goodyer--we realize that Donne is again thinking as much about being placed in the earth as he is of taking his own life. Suicide remains a part of the equation, but not the focal point of Donne's attention. This attitude changes somewhat in the closing lines of the letter to Herbert, where self-slaughter becomes the characteristic performance of men who spend their lives reading and writing: "I know yor Loue to mee wyll make in my fauor, and dischardge, yow may adde thys, that though thys Doctrine [defending self-slaughter] hath not beene tought nor defended by writers, yet they, most of any sorte of Men in the world, haue practisd ytt." [49] For Donne, suicide becomes a possible product, and end, of the learned life, one frequently undertaken and thus uniquely understood by scholars, indeed even conceptualized in scholarly terms, for when Donne describes, in the Devotions, the transition from the earthly to the celestial realm he does so by drawing on an extended analogy with the material book. [50]

Upon taking holy orders, Donne gives the impression--as we have already seen--that his melancholic humor changes. He also indicates, in his 1619 letter to Carre, that his prior interest in justifying self-slaughter fades as he devotes himself to writing sermons. Biathanatos, Donne writes to Carre, is a "Book written by Jack Donne, and not by D. Donne." [51] Here the scholarly self is ostensibly split, just as the dutiful student is distinguished from the "motley humorist" in "Satyre I," but, in fact, both incarnations are involved in learned activities, the one pious, the other arguably heretical. Donne's ordination does not make him a new scholar, however, at least not to the extent that Walton would want us to believe, or that Donne himself might have hoped. [52] While he devotes himself wholeheartedly to sermon writing, Donne's work in this genre betrays its author's continued fascination with self-slaughter. Christ's soul "did not leave his body by force," Donne tells his congregation on Easter Day, 1619 (the same year in which he writes to Carre about Jack and the Doctor), "but because he would, and when he would, and how he would; Thus far then first, this is an answer to this question, Quis homo? Christ did not die naturally, nor violently, as all others doe, but only voluntarily." [53] While Donne refrains from offering the evidence marshaled in Biathanatos to argue for Christ's suicide, he nonetheless encourages his listeners to think of their savior's death--if only for a moment--as a voluntary one. [54] Christ's crucifixion here fascinates Donne not because it is a self-sacrifice for the sins of humanity, but because it affords him another way of thinking about death.

In a number of texts where melancholy is not formally attached to his life as a scholar, Donne's analysis is nonetheless of a scholarly nature; he reads himself, in other words, in the same rigorous way he reads his books, just as he describes life on earth--as we have already seen--as "but a Preface, or but an Index." Donne's descriptive tendencies themselves reflect his melancholy: he builds up intensely earthy (crude or indecent), and earthly (terrestrial or nondivine) images, only to allow such images to decompose. While often these images include, or refer explicitly to, the human body, they frequently transfer the language of the physical world to immaterial realms--realms that are often of a psychological or spiritual nature, and sometimes curious mixtures of both. [55] In the process, the writer revealed is one fascinated with inconstancy, one who persistently reads not only his own constitution but the larger world as tempestuous and unstable.

It is this juxtaposition of cataclysmic, spiritual change with temporal, earthbound shiftings that is at the heart of the experience of spiritual illumination as understood and expressed by Donne in many of his sermons, but particularly in the four extant that he devoted to Paul's conversion (preached between the years 1624 and 1630). While it would be impossible perhaps to avoid metaphors of transformation when describing experiences of spiritual illumination, Donne nonetheless turns repeatedly to images of the earth. Paul's conversion, he reminds us in a sermon preached at St. Paul's Cathedral in 1624 on Acts 9:4, "was a true Transubstantiation, and a new Sacrament." [56] But rather than conclude his sermon with this image of the new, sanctified Paul, Donne instead glosses another word of the verse he has chosen--the word earth, here first associated with sin but, by the end of the passage, transformed into an incubator for the soul awaiting the Last Judgment: "You heap earth upon your soules, and encumber them with more and more flesh, by a superfluous and luxuriant diet; You adde earth to earth in new purchases, and measure not by Acres, but by Manors, nor by Manors, but by Shires; And there is a little Quillet, a little Close, worth all these. A quiet grave. And therefore, when thou readest, That God makes thy bed in thy sicknesse, rejoyce in this... That that God, that made the whole earth, is now making thy bed in the earth, a quiet grave, where thou shalt sleep in peace, till the Angels Trumpet wake thee at the Resurrection." [57] Repetition of the phrase "quiet grave" emphasizes that Donne's God has designated space for his subjects in the earth, space to be occupied until greater metamorphoses into the heavenly realm are enacted. At the same time, the phrase calls to mind Despair's alluring description of the benefits that follow suicide in book 1 of The Faerie Queene:

Is not short paine well borne, that brings long ease,

And layes the soule to sleepe in quiet graue?

Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas,

Ease after warre, death after life does greatly please. [58]

Donne's study, we might say, has, in this sermon, dissolved into the crypt beneath it; the allure of the earth is the peaceful withdrawal it affords, perhaps, from such tasks as "reviewing" sermons, for only death can--in Donne's eyes--release the scholar from learned labor. [59]

Although biographical details (e.g., the abandonment of his familial religion and the death of his wife) offer us experiences which we can surmise tortured Donne, his own understanding of his melancholy is--as we might expect in Jacobean England--humoral; Donne persistently sees himself as racked not so much by events in his life as by his own constitution, for as he notes parenthetically in a 1608 letter to Goodyer, "my vices are not infectious, nor wandring, they came not yesterday, nor mean to go away to day: they Inne not, but dwell in me, and see themselves so welcome... that they will not change." [60] The extent to which Donne takes sole responsibility for these vices is debatable, particularly when we recall his insistence in the Devotions that his calling necessitates studying, which invites melancholy. Whether it is attributable to God, or to his own nature, or to a combination of both, the "worst voluptuousness" for Donne remains one temptation alone: the "Hydroptique immoderate desire of humane l earning." [61] Here he holds the same opinion as the author of The Anatomy of Melancholy, for just as Burton feeds his own scholarly melancholy in an effort to cure it ("I write of Melancholy, by being busie to avoid Melancholy"), Donne treats his "Hydroptique" desire with a steady diet of study and meditation. [62]

Painfully for Donne, however, the very act of introspection by which one charts one's spiritual health, or addresses a potential reader, risks plunging one into despair. In another letter to Goodyer, this one from 1609, Donne writes of being "contracted, and inverted into my self" [63] Emphasizing yet again the material transformation of an immaterial abstraction, he confesses his fear of being too greatly concerned with his own depression while his wife, sitting beside him, has equal grounds for unhappiness: "But if I melt into a melancholy whilest I write, I shall be taken in the manner: and I sit by one too tender towards these impressions, and it is so much our duty, to avoid all occasions of giving them sad apprehensions." [64] A turn inwards, here not voluntarily to pray but rather instinctively to brood, reminds us vividly that the realm for melancholy and religious belief is a shared space, both metaphorically and psychologically, just as melancholic language in the period is at once diagnostic (melt ing used to describe humors that were heated or imbalanced), as well as figurative. Hamlet's similar-sounding lamentation offers us another instance in which a disenchanted scholar yearns for self-dissolution.

O that this too too solid flesh would melt,

Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,

Or that the Everlasting had not fix'd

His canon 'gainst self-slaughter. God, O God. [65]

In each case, the speaker's envisioned disintegration is prompted by a guilt complex that, paradoxically, feeds itself even by conjuring up its own annihilation. Self-preoccupation, and the loathing it engenders, stubbornly remain, such that when Donne imagines attending so scrupulously to his soul that it is not besmirched "in any minute by actuall sinne," he confesses that "even in that I should wound her more, and contract another guiltinesse." [66]

Indeed, in the same 1609 letter to Goodyer in which Donne describes his anxious marital relationship, he writes of denying himself pleasure in terms suggestive of the close link between ascetic impulses and willful self-annihilation: "As I have much quenched my senses, and disused my body from pleasure, and so tried how I can endure to be my own grave, so I try now how I can suffer a prison." [67] "[G]rave," here once again combines with "prison," conflating the interlinked, earthly categories of death, suffering, and even learning (the study superimposed, as it were, over a crypt). In Biathanatos, Donne claims to keep the keys to such a prison always on hand so that he might escape whenever he desires, making his prison stay one of voluntary duration. [68] Indeed, just as he--very uncharacteristically for his age--grants Christians from all churches a chance at redemption, Donne is equally generous with depression: "God hath accompanied," he assures his parishioners, "and complicated almost all our bodily d iseases of these times, with an extraordinary sadnesse, a predominant melancholy, a faintnesse of heart, a chearlesnesse, a joylesnesse of spirit" [69] Similar sentiments so overwhelm Donne in the Devotions that he dares, for a moment, to ask the unthinkable: "Is the glory of heaven no perfecter in it selfe, but that it needs a foile of depression and ingloriousnesse in this world, to set it off?" [70]

Donne's insistent use of metaphors that equate the meltings and scorchings of the earth with the eternal soul and the earthly self are metaphors that frequently dissolve the very images they create, as well as the sense of a stable, authorial persona responsible for these images. Nowhere, perhaps, is this dissolution more striking than in Holy Sonnet XIX ("Oh, to vex me, contraryes meet in one"). [71] The poem brims with descriptions of inconstancy that draw from Renaissance medical terminology: both the speaker's devotion to God and his more temporal love are "humorous"; each is "ridlingly distemperd, cold and hott" (p. 447, lines 5,7). As in the Devotions, Donne is aware not only that one may "mistake a Disease for Religion," but that humoral terminology can be used metaphorically to describe religious practice, as when he likens confessing one's sins to employing a physic which "drawes the peccant humour to it selfe." [72] Yet, here the melancholic tenor of the sonnet does not arise from its humoral juxta positions. Rather, such sentiments emerge in the speaker's self-estrangement, the crystallization of which occurs in the poem's sestet:

I durst not view heaven yesterday; and to day

In prayers, and flattering speaches I court God:

To morrow I quake with true feare of his rod.

So my devout fitts come and go away

Like a fantastique Ague: save that here

Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare.

Today, in present time, the speaker finds himself in a middle realm where his approach to God is clearly inadequate. The timidity with which he "durst not view heaven" is replaced, in the following line, by courting that permeates both his "prayers" to God and his "flattering speaches." It is another point in time, a day toward which the speaker looks twice, that is his "best," and yet this state too is one marked with high volatility (lines 11,14). In a 1608 letter to Goodyer, Donne uses equally tempestuous images, and even some of the same words, to portray what might be his worst days, further suggesting the similarities between his melancholic and spiritually illumined states: "I have over fraught my self with Vice, and so am ridd[l]ingly subject to two contrary wrackes, Sinking and Oversetting, and under the iniquity of such a disease as inforces the patient when he is almost starved, not only to fast, but to purge." [73] In "Oh, to vex me," the speaker "quake[s]" and "shake[s]" with fear. The desired st ate is one of trembling, akin to the earthquakes that are said to bring "harmes and feares" in "A Valediction forbidding mourning" (line 9). In the Devotions, we will recall, Donne uses earthquakes to describe not devotional inclinations but suicidal ones. [74] In each case, distemper pervades the emotional state of the speaker, a state persistently characterized as being wrapped in the hot and cold fevers of melancholy.

(lines 9-14)

In "Oh, to vex me," the inconstant fits that characterize the remembered and longed-for realm of religious faith abate. The final simile of the poem ("Like a fantastique Ague") equates religious fervor with physical fever before giving way to tremors of "feare." Reminding ourselves that "doubt" and "fear" were synonyms in the period, and that fear, sadness, and despair were all taken to be symptoms of a melancholic condition, only accentuates the poem's ambivalent conclusion. [75] True contrition, at the moment after and before it is thrown into fluctuation, is by its very nature anxious and trembling. Conditioned by his own fear of melting into despondency, his own visions of being coffined with his books, Donne turns his fear into faith, his faith into fear, and a chaffing of his temperament into a description of the maddening inconstancy that characterizes, in his scripted life of uneasy sequestration and contemplation, his relationship both to himself and to his God.

The speaker at the conclusion of "Oh, to vex me," is painfully aware of what is expected of him, and yet the sonnet is holy only insofar as it is hopeful; the speaker's "best dayes" do not materialize. The "here," which suggests at once the present moment and the speaker's grounded presence (spiritually and physically) on earth is instead set off by the pronoun "Those." This shift from insufficient ("here") to appropriate contrition ("Those") is sudden and surprising, void of syntactical demarcation and formally suggested only by enjambment ("save that here / Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare"). [76] Estranged from his idealized self, the penitent supplicant, the speaker's longing is disturbingly self-interested as well as pious; indeed, the poem points out--as does much of Donne's verse--the uneasy similarities between the two states of mind.

Roger Rollin, in the most enduring psychoanalytic reading of the Holy Sonnets, calls them "vexatious ... in part because they are sick poems in the service of preventive medicine." [77] But the speaker here, in "Oh, to vex me," does not delude himself with even the possibility of a cure. Instead, it is the acute awareness of his own temperament that renders him melancholic. Donne is not, as Anne Ferry would have it, "asserting the existence of an intrinsic state of being which he cannot name," but rather more troubling, he is recognizing that this state is inherently tempestuous and unstable. [78] As in the Devotions, the overriding sense of humanity is a somber one: "Man ... is but dust, and coagulated and kneaded into earth, by teares; his matter is earth, his forme, misery." [79] Paul, we will recall, distinguishes between two kinds of sorrow ("For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death"). [80] While Donne forever aspires to the former , he never wholly escapes the latter. [81] Worldly sorrow, in his letters, sermons, and verse, is continually mixed with godly. Rather than discard one kind of melancholy for the other, it is perhaps more fitting to recognize--as Donne himself does--the shared topologies of spiritual and temperamental terrain, and to acknowledge that Donne sees his scholarly melancholy as an integral component of his religious faith, to be both treasured and feared.

Douglas Trevor is assistant professor of English at the University at Iowa. He is working on a book entitled The Reinvention of Sadness. Writing Learned Selves in Early Modern England and is co-editor (with Carla Mazzio) of the forthcoming Historicism, Psychoanalysis and Early Modern Culture (Routledge).


This essay benefited enormously from the feedback of many scholars; I would especially like to thank Barbara Lewalski, Jeffrey Masten, and Helen Vendler.

(1.) Epigraph is from T. S. Eliot, The Varieties of Metaphysical Poetry, ed. Ronald Schuchard (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1993), P. 80.

(2.) Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia, trans. Leon S. Roudiez (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989), p. 134.

(3.) John Donne, Holy Sonnet III, in The Complete English Poems of John Donne, ed. C. A. Patrides (London: J. M. Dent and Sons, 1985), pp. 435-6, lines 12-4. Unless otherwise noted, subsequent references to Donne's poetry will be to this edition and will be cited parenthetically in the text by inclusive page numbers for the first mention of a poem, and by their numbers and line references on all references. Patrides follows the numbering of the sonnets established by Herbert Grierson in his edition of The Poems of John Donne, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1912). Although I do not employ Helen Gardner's numbering, I favor her dating of sixteen of the nineteen Holy Sonnets between the years 1609 and 1611 See "Introduction: II. The Date, Order, and Interpretation of The 'Holy Sonnets'" in her edition of John Donne: The Divine Poems (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952; rprt. 1966), pp. xxxvii-lv.

(4.) Kristeva, p. 12.

(5.) The Italian humanist Marsillo Ficino is principally responsible for establishing the perceived connection between melancholy and learned endeavor in Renaissance Europe. See book 1, De vita sana or De cura valetudinis eorum qui incumbunt studio litterarum (1480) of his De vita libri tres.

(6.) John Calvin, The Institutes of Christian Religion, ed. Tony Lane and Hilary Osborne (Grand Rapids MI: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 219.

(7.) Juliana Schiesari, The Gendering of Melancholia: Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Symbolics of Loss in Renaissance Literature (Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1992), p. 104.

(8.) John Donne, Essayes in Divinity, ed. Evelyn M. Simpson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952), p. 16.

(9.) Surveying a wide range of early modern texts, Lawrence Babb has argued that "the physiological effects of intellectual labor were such that the man of letters [in Elizabethan and Jacobean England] could hardly hope to escape melancholy" ("Melancholy and the Elizabethan Man of Letters," HLQ 9,3 [April 1941]: 247-61, 261).

(10.) William Shakespeare, As You Like It, ed. Alan Brissenden (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1994), IV.i15.

(11.) According to Donne's nineteenth-century biographer, Augustus Jessopp, the mournfulness that marks his letters written from Mitcham is "attributable far less to any mere lack of means than to that intellectual depression inseparable from excessive strain upon the powers of brain and heart" (John Donne, Sometime Dean of St. Paul's [London: Methuen, 1897], pp. 61-2).

(12.) John Carey, John Donne: Life, Mind, and Art (London: Faber and Faber, 1981; rprt. 1990), p. xi.

(13.) See also George Williamson, "Mutability, Decay, and Jacobean Melancholy," in Seventeenth Century Contexts, rev. edn. (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1969), pp. 9-41

(14.) Carey, p. 182. I think Carey is right in pointing out that Donne "wanted, and invented, a universe as changeable as himself, in which all things were continuously on the edge of nothingness," but change unsettled Donne in ways I do not think Carey sufficiently acknowledges (p. 158).

(15.) See Shakespeare, Hamlet, ed. Harold Jenkins (London: Routledge, 1982), V.i.200-5. Donne ends Metempsychosis by echoing both Hamlet and Montaigne: "The onely measure is, and judge, opinion" (pp. 402-27, line 520).

(16.) Joshua Scodel, "John Donne and the Religious Politics of the Mean," in John Donne's Religious Imagination. Essays in Honor of John T. Shawcross, ed. Raymond-Jean Frontain and Frances M. Malprezzi (Conway AR: UCA Press, 1995), pp. 45-80,55.

(17.) John Stachniewski, "John Donne: The Despair of the 'Holy Sonnets,'" ELH 48, 4 (Winter 1981): 677-705, 705 n. 52; David Norbrook, "The Monarchy of Wit and the Republic of Letters: Donne's Politics," in Soliciting Interpretation. Literary Theory and Seventeenth-Century English Poetry, ed. Elizabeth D. Harvey and Katharine Eisaman Maus (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1990), pp. 3-36,16.

(18.) Donald Ramsay Roberts, "The Death Wish of John Donne," PMLA 62,4 (December 1947): 958-76,970,960.

(19.) Donne, "Meditation 12," in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, ed. Anthony Raspa (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1987), pp. 62-4,63.

(20.) Here I follow the Westmoreland manuscript. The 1635 Poems, in accordance with the O'Flaherty and Dobell manuscripts, renders the last line as "Thy griefe, for he put it into my breast." See Gardner, p. 14.

(21.) Izaak Walton, "The Life of Dr. Donne" and "The Life of Mr. George Herbert" (New York: P F. Collier and Son, 1937), p. 384.

(22.) Donne, "Meditation 12," p. 63.

(23.) Timothy Bright counsels his reader to "abandon working of your braine by any studie, or conceit: and glue your mind to libertie of recreation, from such actions, that drawe too much of the spirit, and therby wrong the corporall members of the bodie" (A Treatise of Melancholie [London, 1586], p. 243). While Winfried Schleiner argues convincingly that "by the early seventeenth century melancholy is not presented unambiguously as the humor of the gifted," scholars such as Donne and Robert Burton continue to associate themselves with the malady (Melancholy, Genius, and Utopia in the Renaissance [Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1991], p. 29).

(24.) George Herbert, A Priest to the Temple. Or, The Country Parson, His Character, and Rule of Holy Life, in The Works of George Herbert, ed. F. E. Hutchinson (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), pp. 223-90, 238. Donne, Essayes in Divinity, p. 57. Cf. Martin Luther, DeServo Arbitrio, in Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, trans. Philip S. Watson (London: SCM Press, 1969), pp. 110-2.

(25.) Donne, Essayes in Divinity, p.5. Cf. Scodel, p.62.

(26.) Donne, The Sermons of John Donne, ed. Simpson and George R Potter, 10 vols. (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 1962), 3:359. All references to Donne's sermons are from this edition.

(27.) Donne, Sermons, 9:254.

(28.) Catherine Creswell, "Turning to See the Sound: Reading the Face of God in Donne's Holy Sonnets," in John Donne's Religious Imagination, pp. 181-201, 184.

(29.) According to Burton, "[t]wo maine reasons may be given of it, why students should be more subject to this malady [melancholy] then others, The one is, they live a sedentary, solitary life, sibi & musis, free from bodily exercise... The second is contemplation, which dries the braine, and extinguisheth naturall heat; for whilst the spirits are intent to meditation above in the head, the stomacke and liver are left destitute, and thence come blacke blood and crudities by defect of concoction, and for want of exercise, the superfluous vapours cannot exhale" (The Anatomy of Melancholy, ed. Thomas C. Faulkner, Nicolas K. Kiessling, and Rhonda L Blair, 3 vols. [Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989], 1:302-4).

(30.) Donne, The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne, ed. Charles M. Coffin (New York: Random House, 1952; rprt. New York: Modern library, 1994), P. 402. All quotations of Donne's letters, unless otherwise noted, are from this edition.

(31.) Donne, Sermons, 6:286.

(32.) See Donne, Essayes in Divinity, p.41

(33.) Ibid.

(34.) Arthur F. Marotti, John Donne, Coterie Poet (Madison: Univ. of Wisconsin Press, 1986), p. 39.

(35.) Shakespeare, As You Like It, IV.i.18-9.

(36.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 390.

(37.) See, for example, Thomas Walkington, The Optick Glasse of Humors (London, 1639), p. 133.

(38.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 373. The dating of this letter, as with most of Donne's correspondences, is uncertain. Patrides suggests 1609 or 1610 (p. 456).

(39.) Shakespeare, Love's Labour's Lost, ed. Richard David (London: Routledge, 1951, rprt. 1994), I.i.94.

(40.) According to the OED, affection could be used in Donne's day to refer to "an emotion or opposed to reason," a "[s]tate of mind generally, mental tendency; disposition," or a "bodily state due to any influence."

(41.) Donne, Biathanatos, ed. Ernest W Sullivan II (London and Toronto: Associated Univ. Presses, 1984), p.32. For the dating of Biathanatos, see Sullivan's introduction, p. ix.

(42.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 387.

(43.) Richard Strier, "Radical Donne: 'Satire III,'"' ELH60, 2 (Summer 1993): 283-322,304.

(44.) Donne, Sermons, 3:359.

(45.) J. B. Leishman, The Monarchy of Wit: An Analytical and Comparative Study of the Poetry of John Donne (1951; rprt. London: Hutchinson, 1962), p. 116.

(46.) Strier, p. 304,

(47.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 372.

(48.) Donne, Biathanatos, "Appendix A," pp. 248-50, 249.

(49.) Ibid.

(50.) See Donne, "Meditation 17," in Devotions, pp. 86-7.

(51.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 387.

(52.) See Walton, Life of Dr. Donne, p. 342.

(53.) Donne, Sermons, 2:208.

(54.) Donne, Biathanatos, pp. 128-30.

(55.) Elaine Scarry, "Donne: 'But yet the body is his booke,'" in Literature and the Body: Essayes on Populations and Persons, ed. Scarry (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1988), pp.70-105.

(56.) Donne, Sermons, 6:209.

(57.) Donne, Sermons, 6:213.

(58.) Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene, ed. A. C. Hamilton (London and NewYork: Longman, 1977), Lix.40.6-9.

(59.) Cf. Donne's description of Christ's depression, that is, his submersion in temporal suffering, and his eventual redemption (Sermons, 10:192-3).

(60.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 372.

(61.) Donne, Selected Prose, p.376.

(62.) Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1:6.

(63.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 377.

(64.) Donne, Selected Prose, pp. 377, 378.

(65.) Shakespeare, Hamlet, I.ii.129-32. Here I follow the Folio text.

(66.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 375.

(67.) Donne, Selected Prose, p.378.

(68.) Donne, Biathanatos, p. 29.

(69.) Donne, Sermons, 7:68-9.

(70.) Donne, "Expostulation 17," in Devotions, pp. 87-9,89.

(71.) Jonathan Dollimore argues that, in this poem, and in the Holy Sonnets in general, "an experience of dislocation... overrides even the relocating potential of the sonnet form" (Radical Tragedy: Religion, Ideology, and Power in the Drama of Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2d edn. [Durham NC: Duke Univ. Press, 1993], p. 180).

(72.) Donne, "Meditation 5," in Devotions, pp. 24-6,26; "Expostulation 10," in Devotions, pp. 52-4, 54.

(73.) Donne, Selected Prose, p. 371. Cf. "Meditation 1," in Devotions: "O perplex'd discomposition, O riddling distemper, O miserable condition of Man" (pp. 7-8,8).

(74.) Donne, "Meditation 1," pp. 7-8.

(75.) See Bright, A Treatise of Melancholie, pp. 101-2.

(76.) Cf. Anne Ferry, The "Inward" Language: Sonnets of Wyatt, Sidney, Shakespeare, Donne (Chicago and London: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 242-3.

(77.) Roger B. Rollin, "'FANTASTIQUE AGUE': The Holy Sonnets and Religious Melancholy," in The Eagle and the Dove: Reassessing John Donne, ed. Claude J. Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: Univ. of Missouri Press, 1986), pp. 131-46,131.

(78.) Ferry, p. 249.

(79.) Done, "Meditation 8," in Devotions, pp. 40-2,41

(80.) 2 Cor 7:10. See also Rom 5:3-5 (KJV): "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us."

(81.) See Donne, "Meditation 17," in Devotions: "No Man hath affliction enough, that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction" (pp.86-7,87).

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