"Lines Which Circles Do Contain": Circles, the Cross, and Donne's Dialectic Scheme of Salvation

By Fischler, Alan | Papers on Language & Literature, Spring 1994 | Go to article overview

"Lines Which Circles Do Contain": Circles, the Cross, and Donne's Dialectic Scheme of Salvation


Fischler, Alan, Papers on Language & Literature


The vast importance attached to the figure of the circle in the theological and cosmological constructs of 17th-century writers is by now a critical commonplace.1 In the works of John Donne, the circle assumes the status of controlling metaphor: it is a figure which at once represents the perfection of God, the cycles of Nature and of the human beings caught up therein, and the solipsistic repetitions of sin. "God hath made all things in a Roundnesse," he maintains in a sermon, "from the round superficies of this earth, which we tread here, to the round convexity of those heavens which ... shall be our footstool, when we come to heaven, God hath wrapped up all things in Circles" (Sermons 7: 396). Focusing primarily on Donne's divine poems, this essay will attempt to bring together and relate his most significant references to circles and, on the basis of these and his ideas about the figure of the cross, to propose a geometric model which embodies his scheme of salvation.

A circular conception of human existence is, of course, integral to the most fundamental archetypes of literature and religion: imaginative assimilation of the natural cycles of decay and regeneration informs the reincarnation myths found in so many cultures. The movements of the sun lead us to associate the east with birth and the west with death; the rotation of the circle of human life is thus toward the west. Created humanity's starting point on its circle is twelve o'clock, for unfallen man stands metaphorically upright. Ben Jonson reflects this notion in The Forrest, as he associates masculine perfection with the noon hour:

At morne, and even, shades are longest;

At noone, they are or short, or none:

So men at weakest, they are strongest

But grant us perfect, they're not knowne.

("Song. That Women are but Men's Shaddowes" 7-10)

Starting from twelve o'clock, then, the westward movement of human beings would be reflected by a counterclockwise rotation of their circle.

For Donne, the order of Nature, in which humanity lives, is a morally neutral one; in Holy Sonnet 9, he recognizes that "poisonous minerals, and ... that tree, / Whose fruit threw death on else immortal us, / ... lecherous goats" and "serpents envious / Cannot be damned" (1-4). Still, while minerals, plants, and animals may lack the culpable souls possessed by human beings, Nature has nonetheless had God's blessing withdrawn from it since Adam's fall: "Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow thou shalt eat of it all the days of thy life" (Genesis 3: 17). It follows, then, that if human life is involved in the now-accursed cycles of natural fruition, the motion of fallen humanity's circle will be directly contrary to that of the circle signifying God.

The anti-divine circularity of human endeavor is a theme of "The First Anniversary":

We seem ambitious, God's whole work to undo;

Of nothing he made us, and we strive too,

To bring ourselves to nothing back . . . . (155-57)

Similarly, in "Good Friday, 1613. Riding Westward," Donne begins by declaring "Let man's soul be a sphere" (1) and proceeds to lament that, in their fallen state, "Pleasure or business ... our souls admit / For their first mover, and are whirled by it" (7-8). The poet confesses that such is the case in his own life; thus, being primarily concerned with the things of this world, he appropriately follows the sun of Nature in its westward course. But the true "sun," the Son of God, is being raised on the cross in Jerusalem and thus setting in "the east": "There I should see a sun, by rising set, / And by that setting endless day beget" (10-12). And, though Donne admits that now "I turn my back to thee" (37) in his Good Friday journey, he prays for purification and grace and vows that, having once received them, "I'll turn my face" (42) toward the east and follow instead the direction defined by the Saviour's circular sun-like journey. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

"Lines Which Circles Do Contain": Circles, the Cross, and Donne's Dialectic Scheme of Salvation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.