"Thou which art I" : the speaker and the addressee in the poetry of John Donne. (1998)
AuthorsTyerman, Stephen Ashow all
This thesis deals with the relationship between the speaker and the addressee in the poetry John Donne. Though Donne's poetry is complex, it nevertheless has the directness of speech. Donne tends to justify this directness by focusing his words on a specific addressee. Yet the complexity and, at times, the inconsistency of what Donne has to say often make his verse inappropriate for the figures that he seems to be addressing. Frequently, it is obvious that the real addressee of a poem is not its supposed auditor, but its reader. Yet even the reader may find it hard to determine what Donne means to say, since he combines such a variety of discourses. For example, a poem may be Petrarchan, Ovidian, and even religious, with the result that the reader cannot quite determine its register or know precisely what argument it advances. Often, one suspects that Donne is merely elaborating a train of thought, and yet the spoken quality of his verse usually prevents it from seeming introspective. My first chapter cites the exalted and intimate relationship that Donne claims to exist between himself and the addressee of one of his verse letters, and contrasts that claim with the public nature of the poem in which it appears. Subsequently in this chapter, I draw attention to the tendency for Donne's language to be excessive and even inappropriate for its nominal addressee, and I conclude by offering two conflicting accounts of the wide-ranging nature of metaphysical wit. In my second chapter, I attempt to relate the way Donne relies on his addressees for self-articulation to Mikhail Bakhtin's dialogical conception of language. This chapter continues with an assessment of an opposing tendency in Donne - his need to monopolise the resources of language - that draws on the ideas of Roman Jakobson. The third chapter aims to summarise Donne's assimilation, and also his rejection, of Petrarchism; and the fourth assesses his debt to Ovid and his combination of Ovidianism with Petrarchism. In my fifth chapter, I attempt to trace Donne's manipulation of the addressee from his epigrams to the Songs and S01iets. The concluding chapter deals with Donne's reaction to the threat of absence. Here, I shall relate his anxiety to communicate to the mood of isolation and pessimism that sometimes breaks out in his prose and verse letters.