The Metaphysicals and Milton

By E. M. W. Tillyard | Go to book overview

3
STRUCTURE

IN commenting on Donne's sonnet to his wife I noticed how the sequence of the poem turned in on itself.1 His two opening sentiments proved after all superfluous because of a third sentiment. Not all Donne's poems are so extreme, though in a moment I will give a second example of such extremity. Nevertheless the sonnet illustrates a constant habit of Donne's mind, and one that applies, among the Metaphysicals, only to himself. It shows itself constantly in smaller or less complicated turns of thought. In A Valediction: of Weeping Donne first says that he and the lady are right to indulge in tears and sighs as the appropriate signs of valediction:

Let me pour forth
My tears before thy face --

but he goes back on the sentiment and begs the lady not to weep because, if she does, the winds and waves he encounters on his journey will be stimulated to sympathy and will drown him. In Good Friday riding westward Donne says he ought to be riding east towards

____________________
1
I can imagine a critic saying: 'You make too much of this habit, which is simply the rhetorical device of epanorthosis, well known in Donne's day and hence not surprising'. I retort: 'This makes no difference. Donne and his age had rhetoric in their minds all the time. What matters is the choice of rhetorical devices and the uses to which they are put.'

-29-

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The Metaphysicals and Milton
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • I - Introduction 1
  • 2 - Personal and Public 12
  • 3 - Structure 29
  • 4 - Rhetoric 46
  • 5 - Milton 61
  • Appendices 75
  • Index 85
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