John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays

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The Language of Paradox: "The Canonization"

by Cleanth Brooks

Even the apparently simple and straightforward poet is forced into paradoxes by the nature of his instrument. Seeing this, we should not be surprised to find poets who consciously employ it to gain a compression and precision otherwise unobtainable. Such a method, like any other, carries with it its own perils. But the dangers are not overpowering; the poem is not predetermined to a shallow and glittering sophistry. The method is an extension of the normal language of poetry, not a perversion of it.

I should like to refer the reader to a concrete case. Donne "Canonization" ought to provide a sufficiently extreme instance.

For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love
Or chide my palsie, or my gout,
My five gray haires, or ruin'd fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your minde with Arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his honour, or his grace,
Or the Kings reall, or his stamped face
Contemplate, what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.
Alas, alas, who's injur'd by my love?
What merchants ships have my sighs drown'd?
Who saies my teares have overflow'd his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veines fill
Adde one more to the plaguie Bill?
Soldiers finde warres, and Lawyers finde out still

____________________

"The Language of Paradox: 'The Canonization.'" Part of the first chapter of The Well Wrought Urn, by Cleanth Brooks ( New York, 1947; London, 1949). Copyright 1947 by Cleanth Brooks. Reprinted by permission of the author, Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., and Dennis Dobson.

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