Poems in Their Place: The Intertextuality and Order of Poetic Collections

By Neil Fraistat | Go to book overview
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John T. Shawcross


The Arrangement and Order of John Donne's Poems

It is axiomatic that any group of items will be placed in some kind of arrangement when presented together, even if the group be only two. Once that presentation is repeated, fully or partially, certain significant relationships among the items, among subgroupings of the items, and among the parts and the whole will emerge. Variations of positions or order, omission, and addition will alter at least some of those relationships. In addition, the seeming nonexistence of overall arrangement sets up other connotations. While what does exist will lead to reader-response, what does not exist may also lead to reader-response when the reader has been led through some experience to expect that which is not given. The arranger of a volume of poems may be the author or a fiction--a composite involving author, copyist, editor, and/or printer. And of course arrangement and order may be purposive or incidental.

John Donne's poems offer one of the first examples of one kind of arrangement that has become somewhat commonplace for collected poems and partially in other collections, that is, the generic. 1 Tottel's Miscellany ( 1557), Barnabe Googe Eglogs, Epytaphes, and Sonettes ( 1563), and Ben Jonson's Epigrammes ( 1616) printed poems with attention paid to types and genres. Songes and Sonettes, written by the ryght honorable Lorde Henry Haward late Earle of Surry, and other ( Apud Richardum Tottel) 2 generally groups by author, but within groupings poems are sometimes arranged by type or genre (description, complaint, sonnet, satire, little songs) and sometimes ordered with nonauthorial but appropriate headings added; for example, 1:68-71, "Charging of his loue as vnpiteous and louing other," "A renouncing of loue," "The louer forsaketh his vnkinde loue," "The louer describeth his restlesse state," "The louer lamentes the death of his loue," "The louer sendeth sighes to mone his sute," "Complaint of the absence of his loue," "The louer blameth his loue for renting of the letter he sent her," and so forth. Clearly a narrative is being developed and we are on our way to an emulation of Petrarch Rime in Vita e Morte di Madonna Laura. 3 "Complaint" is preceded by a number of fourteen-line sonnets, "The louer describeth his restlesse state" being a double sonnet, and is followed by

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