RELIGION AND THE BIBLE
A study of direct references or allusions in Donne's works would yield such an overwhelming number and variety related to religion that all other references would seem unimportant by comparison. This in obviously because references are an integral part of subject matter and the subject matter of almost all of Donne's prose and a fourth or fifth part of his poetry is religious devotion or theological exegesis. But imagery has, as we have seen, no such restricted relation to subject matter; as soon as we begin to examine Donne's images we find that those from religion not only do not show a corresponding preponderance but actually occur no more often than the images from half a dozen other sources and not so effectively or analytically as those from two or three we have already considered.
There are, however, two circumstances which suggest at least a partial explanation of this situation: at the time of his early writings Donne's all-engrossing interest in religion had not yet manifested itself, and in his later works the very fact that their subject matter was religion made it only natural that he should avoid religious imagery-- only natural, I say, because Donne's imagery makes clear that he accepted fully the conception of an image as an illumination of one idea by another not related to it in subject matter. In the early period he had no very great imaginative interest in religion, and, in the latter, what appears to be an elementary dictate of style prevented him from giving expression to it by way of imagery.