"Half Medieval, Half Modern" : poet John Donne

Also Read

      John Donne belongs to an age of transition. He, therefore, combines in himself the qualities of Medievalism and the Renaissance. Aa a scholar, he studied medieval theology, medieval cosmology and he exploited it in his verse. But his mind is full of curiosity and the Renaissance spirit of adventure and exploration. His modern spirit is seen in his scepticism, self-analysis, introspection and self-consciousness. In fact; there are two strains in his mind - first the Catholic spirit of belief and acceptance, and second, the Protestant spirit of questioning and doubt - the quest for truth and moulding his life according to his convictions and affirmations. Though Donne uses the concepts and conclusions of medieval philosophy, cosmology and scholasticism in his poems, he is not prepared to follow them in his personal life. His soul wanted complete and satisfying answers to the questions of life which cannot be found either in Medievalism or Modernism.

Though Donne uses the concepts and conclusions of medieval philosophy, cosmology and scholasticism in his poems, he is not prepared to follow them in his personal life. His soul wanted complete and satisfying answers to the questions of life which cannot be found either in Medievalism or Modernism.
"Half Medieval, Half Modern" : poetry

      Donne's use of medievalism may be illustrated from his poem A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day. The poet mourns the death of his wife Anne More. He uses medieval scholastic philosophy to show how his disappointment in love will ultimately lead to his resurrection when he will be united with his beloved in the other world. On his beloved's death the poet is like a corpse 'death, interred' "I, by love's limbeck, am the grave, of all that's nothing". He uses his knowledge of medieval chemistry and philosophy to explain his re-birth and survival. In medieval philosophy, quintessence is the fifth essence, the other four being earth, water, fire and sky. There is a difference between "absolute nothingness" and "ordinary nothingness". Absolute nothingness refers to the pre-creation situation the chaos, the complete emptiness. "Ordinary nothingness" means the absence of something. Elixir is drawn from absolute nothingness and it has power of creating life out of nothing. Love works on the poet's absolute nothingness and extracts life-giving elixir from it Love first reduced him to the present stage of nothingness - like a grave, and extracted elixir - the source of life. While other lovers have got new vitality with the return of spring, he exerts a new kind of revival out of absolute nothingness. "By love's elixir-love's alchemy - he would be resurrected in the other world and be united with his beloved. To him, resurrection would come through life in this world:

But I am by her death (which word wrongs her)
Of the first nothing, the elixir grown.

      It is doubted if Donne really believed in the elixir produced out of sheer nothingness, but since it helps to build up his argument, he makes apt use of it. The poet has a fund of medieval knowledge and he utilizes it to drive his point home. His dual nature - affirmation and negation was responsible for his split personality - a sort of pendulum oscillating between Medievalism and Modernism.

Previous Post Next Post