Early Modern Conceits (Mostly Donnes) Essay, Research Paper
Early Modern Conceit The Early Modern Period was an era full of self concern. To say it was a selfish period may be going too far, but the people definitely were consumed with their causes. It was during this time that Columbus sailed and conquered the new world. The English were claiming land everywhere. Henry VIII was “Supreme Head on Earth” of the English church, (as if the English church actually existed anywhere else on Earth ), the undisputed religious and political master. Theater and the arts flourished, hinting at the general public’s need for self indulgence. John Donne is a poet of the Early Modern Period who has everything it takes to belong to this conceited era. He directly incorporates his personal views into his work and makes the reader aware of it. I plan to show this by exemplifying certain specific aspects of his poetry and life. The first example of his Early Modern Period style is the lack of nature references in his writing. Donne is primarily an urban poet. He has no pastoral work to speak of. True to the period’s general belief that human art could surpass nature in all its splendor, that “human ingenuity” could improve something naturally beautiful, he uses few landscape imageries or animals (p. 404). On the few occasions that Donne does write about anything naturally environmental, he uses them not to glorify God’s gift of nature, but instead as an end to stress a human trait or eulogize mankind. For instance in “The Bait” he writes of the “golden sands and crystal brooks” but fades their beauty by comparing them to the woman. The “river whispering” is “warmed” by her “eyes more than the sun.” (p1092) These nature references Donne uses only for his own ends. The use of any conceit for the writer’s own benifit is in itself true to the Early Modern Period. During the Early Modern Period, many poets wrote to gain political favor from the queen. Donne actually held the political office of secretary to the Lord Keeper for a short time before he married, but much of his writing was circulated for no other reason than the enjoyment of his close friends. To call Donne’s work political would be appropriate, but more because of his religious slant than for whom he wrote it. During an age when the strict rule of the Anglican church made politics and religion practically one and the same, Donne’s writing cannot help but be political also. Donne renounced his Catholic faith in order to belong to the Anglican society of the time and later went so far as to become ordained into the Anglican church. An example of his obvious mix of religion and politics can be taken from “The Canonization.” “Observe His Honor, or His Grace,/ Or the King’s real, or his stamped face…” (p1086). He almost seems to be saying worship God, or the king, or the money; its all the really.
Donne conveys an honest sense of truth in his work. He writes as if he is a man who has it all figured out. In fact, it appear that he did. He had his picture painted in his funeral shroud not a week before he died. This factor can be connected back to the idea of conceit. His poetry has a feeling of undeniable conviction, unlike the philosophic belief in the coming age of Restoration with the Montaigne doctrine that disallows people to trust their own senses, therefore never allowing them to discover the truth of anything (p1772). Donne conveys complete faith in his own senses.He shows this well through “The Ecstasy” (p1095). This is a very sensual poem about two lovers’ souls rising out of their bodies and meeting without restraint. (It’s this kind of poem that gained Donne the title Metaphysical.) He believes in the constant struggle between the soul and the human body. He writes of true love through the interaction of souls and not of the interaction of the flesh. Never does he display any doubt in his beliefs. In contrast to Donne, I believe that Congreve with The Way of the World is a good example of the differences between the Early Modern Period writing and the Restoration. Congreve’s work focuses so strongly on appearances and socially accepted manners, it screams out a huge contrast with anything of Donne’s. For example Donne’s poem “Break of Day,” (p1088) which is about a man trying to persuade his lover that she doesn’t have to leave his bed just because it’s daylight. With this poem he is shrugging off society’s judgment upon the two of them, quite different from how Mirabell and Millamant meet in secret in order to preserve the outward accepted appearance and go to great pains twisting truths so that they can marry. Donne would have said that is their souls were meant to be together then there was nothing anyone could do about it. The truth, to Donne, was irrefutable; it could not be molded. John Donne was a model for many poets who came after him. His work influenced people to believe in their time, to believe in themselves and their causes. This is why I chose him to exemplify the Early Modern Period.