Donne's Imagery: A Study in Creative Sources

By Milton Allan Rugoff | Go to book overview

V
GEOMETRY AND THE CIRCLE

Throughout Donne's writings there occur, like a series of bright strange lights, images utilizing the idea of a circle. Even the casual reader becomes aware of their frequency; while to one who studies the entire body of his poetry and prose this recurrence assumes the proportions of a series of elaborate variations on a theme. The theme is perfection, completeness, infinity--and the circle is its symbol; this Donne makes clear in image after image. In fact, its relation to these allied conceptions is so consistent as to form one of the most vivid and distinctive of the associations in his imagery.

The attribution of mystic properties to numbers and geometric figures is probably as old as mathematics itself. More than five centuries before Christ, Pythagoras developed a veritable philosophy of occult correspondencies between numbers and ideas. We need not go beyond Donne himself to illustrate the influence of this tradition: in the Essays in Divinity, speaking of the laws of Scripture, he wrote: "It hath also three hundred and sixty-five negative precepts; and so many sinews and ligatures hath our body, and so many days the year";1 and on several occasions, referring to an esoteric attribute of one of the most mystic of numbers,* he declared, "Seven is infinite."2 In "The Primrose" it is five that proves mysterious; the flower has five petals, he observes, and let

____________________
*
David Eugene Smith, History of Mathematics, New York. Ginn and Co., 1923-1925, II, 2.

-64-

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Donne's Imagery: A Study in Creative Sources
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 5
  • Acknowledgment 7
  • Contents 9
  • Introduction 11
  • I - The Image and Its Significance 13
  • II - The Nature of the Evidence 20
  • III - III 29
  • IV - Medicine and Alchemy 47
  • V - Geometry and the Circle 64
  • VI - Law Courts and Prisons 74
  • VII - Religion and the Bible 83
  • VIII - Myth and Classical Story 96
  • IX 103
  • X - Domestic Life 113
  • XI - Sports and Games 125
  • XIII - Commerce and Coinage 144
  • XIV - King, State, and War 151
  • XV - Metals and Substances 163
  • XVI - Men and Characteristics 169
  • XVIII - The Heavens 195
  • XIX - Rivers and Seas 201
  • XX - Animals--Real and Fabulous 207
  • Conclusion 215
  • XXI - Comparisons and Interpretations 217
  • Appendix - Table of Sources 247
  • Key to Abbreviation Used in References To Donne's Works 249
  • References to Donne's Works 250
  • Index 267
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