Unmasking The Poet--John Donne’s Revelation Of Self Tone, Theme, And Feeling In Selected "Songs And Sonnets" And "Divine Poems"

Andrews, Charles
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University of Hawaii at Manoa
Tone, theme, and feeling are not only the most important elements to consider in discovering just where John Donne stands in relation to his work; these elements also dictate the nature of the "persona," or the voice, that speaks in each of Donne ' s poems. In examining the "personae" that are an integral part of Donne’s creative process we will be able to trace the gradual movement of persona into self, a movement which begins in the early love poetry and concludes in the last "Hymnes." The notion of "persona" in Western literature is an old one. The Dante who is led from Hell to Paradise is not the same personality that devised and imagined the highly complex poem that is the Divine Comedy. The Dante of the poem, in his continually enlightened ignorance, in actual fact would be incapable of writing the poem itself. The particular tradition of love poetry which so influenced the Renaissance began with those immortal sonnets penned to Laura. Petrarch was himself a brilliantly self-conscious artist, to be sure. But his anguished lover placed within a number of landscapes does not express himself in the same way that, say, Sidney's Astrophil does. In the English love poetry of Surrey or Wyatt, or Sidney, not only does the poet consciously utilize a persona (and thereby detach himself from his work) but the persona seems increasingly aware of itself. In the love poetry of John Donne this once-removed self-analysis reaches its highest brilliance.
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