History: E211_Donne

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Assigned: "The Flea" (1263); "The Good-Morrow" (1263-64); "The Sun Rising" (1266); "The Canonizaton" (1267-68); "A Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy's Day" (1272-73); "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (1275-76); "The Ecstasy" (1276-78); from Holy Sonnets (1295-99), "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward" (1299-1300); from Devotions upon Emergent Occasions and "Death's Duel" (1303-08).

"The Flea"

1. How does the opportunistic speaker keep pace with the events he is describing?

2. How seriously are we to take the sacred overtones of the poem -- the references to the Trinity, etc.? How important is "honor" to the speaker?

"The Good Morrow"

3. What use does the speaker make of the public realms he mentions -- court, exploration, philosophy?

4. How is time's passage handled in this poem? What kind of temporality seems to govern Donne's love poetry?

5. How does Donne's reference to the court here (and in other poems) compare to Wyatt's or Surrey's?

"The Sun Rising"

6. What relationship is there between the public and the private spheres in this poem?

7. What is the speaker's attitude towards the sun? Also, if you are familiar with Petrarchan and Troubadour poetry, how is he revising traditional complaints here?

"The Canonization"

8. How does the poem illustrate the idea that metaphysical poetry is characterized as much by logical precision as by a union of thought and feeling? (See T. S. Eliot's reference in "The Metaphysical Poets" to the "dissociation of sensibility" that he says set in after Donne's time.)

9. Explore one or more of the figures the speaker employs to describe love's mystery. What is striking about the way such figures are pursued?

10. What variation on the "immortalization through verse" theme does this poem set forth? How will the poem's "pretty rooms" (stanzas) become evidence in favor of the lovers' canonization?

11. As for the term "canonization," what does it mean? By what process is someone canonized? What is the balance or relationship in this poem between spirituality and erotic love?

"A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day"

12. How might this poem be said to reject or leave behind the love relations explored in poems such as "The Canonization"?

13. What does the speaker's self-definition by means of negatives prepare him to do or to accept?

14. What are lovers expected to learn from the speaker's unhappy experience?

"A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning"

15. What is the speaker's strategy to keep away mourning? How does the conceit of "stiff twin compasses" figure in this strategy?

"The Ecstasy"

16. How does the speaker articulate the relationship between body and soul?

17. How do the poem's first eight stanzas illustrate or set up the philosophical claims made afterwards?

Holy Sonnets

18. The Holy Sonnets address God rather than an earthly female lover. But what links Donne's sacred poetry to his love poetry?

19. What connection to God do these sonnets try to establish? What seems to be necessary for salvation?

20. Compare Holy Sonnets 17 and/or 18 to Milton's "Methought I Saw My Late Espoused Saint." Which poem emphasizes the speaker's plight more insistently? What is the status of the beloved in each?

"Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward"

21. How does this poem connect its ordinary time frame and event with eschatological (religious, referring to "end things" such as death and resurrection) time and significance?

22. For example, what will happen when the speaker finally "turn{s his} face" towards God? What must happen before he can do that?

"Devotions: Meditation 4"

23. What relation between human beings and the natural world does this meditation assert?

24. Who is the "physician," and what can this physician do?

"Devotions: Meditation 17"

25. This selection emphasizes the union of all human beings. But focus more particularly on the relationship that Donne tries to establish with his audience: how does he establish that relationship, and in what does it consist?

26. Is the emphasis in this devotion more on the union of one person with all others, or on the union of one person with God? Or are both equally stressed? Explain.

"Devotions: Expostulation 19"

27. Why, according to Donne, does God find of metaphor an appropriate way of referring to and revealing himself?

28. How does this prose piece justify Donne's own poetry, if it does that?

From "Sermon 76" (Removed for the 8th. ed.)

29. What psychological effect does Donne seek to have upon his hearers? If you find this sermon effective, what makes it so?

30. How does Donne establish his authority or credibility to convey the message he does?

31. What is worse, according to Donne, than even the worst torments of damnation? How does he reinforce this point?

32. If you have read Jonathan Edwards' fire and brimstone sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," you might compare and contrast Donne's selection with that piece.

Greenblatt, Stephen et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2006. Package 1 (Vols. ABC) ISBN 0-393-92833-0.


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