Lightness Depresseth Us
THE TITLE OF this chapter is taken from a line in Donne's third verse-letter to Lady Bedford ("T'have written then . . ."). In context, "Lightness depresseth us" is paired off with "emptiness fills"--the two paradoxes expressing dissatisfaction with the ills of Donne's time. Using Dr. Donne's own methods of textual explication, we may consider ways in which this text might have a wider applicability than its context alone would warrant.
In the poems to be dealt with in this chapter, we find a mood of profound depression. With reference to one of these poems, our title might be applied with punning effect: Lightness (consorting with light women) depresseth us (physically and psychically). The other two poems join this one in contrasting sharply with the prevailing tone of the Songs and Sonets group: a lightness of touch which can convey thematic material ranging from Petrarchan adoration to cynical distrust of womankind. The poems of this chapter seem almost to react against such lightness of mood--without, however, necessarily representing any sort of palinode or anticipation of Donne's later reaction to the secular love poems. At any rate, in this summarizing chapter we must commit ourselves on the problem of sex and high seriousness in Donne--this problem being central to a final evaluation of the body of Donne's poetry.