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Modernist Factors in John Donne’s Songs and Sonets

Author HuLingLi
Tutor LiLanSheng
School Central South University
Course English Language and Literature
Keywords John Donne Songs and Sonets modernism poetic form imagery conceit
Type Master's thesis
Year 2007
Downloads 174
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John Donne (1572-1631), the forefather of Metaphysical poetry, is recognized as an influential but controversial poet in the literary circle. Although the rise and fall of fame happen to almost every poet, yet no other poet has suffered the vicissitude of opinions as much as Donne. After languishing for a long period, he has finally been rediscovered and celebrated as the canonical poet figure by the modern poets and critics of the twentieth century with T. S. Eliot as the top figure.Treating Songs and Sonets as the study object, this thesis attempts to make a close study of modernist features in John Donne’s love poetry and specifically considers its artistic presentations in three levels: poetic form, imagery and conceit of love.This thesis falls into four chapters.Chapter One firstly analyzes some prominent features of modernist poetry, which are summarized as follows. Firstly, the eminent feature is characterized by its pursuit of new forms. By rejecting the old rules and orders, modernist poets try all means to pursue the novelty and peculiarity of poetry. Secondly, the techniques of juxtaposition, overlapping are broadly applied in handling imagery. Thirdly, the employment of conceit fully reveals the metaphysical quality of the modernist poetry. These characteristics have been shown in Donne’s love poetry, and find their full expressions in the modernist poetry of the twentieth century through the high celebration of T. S. Eliot and others, thus embodying the dialectical relationship between tradition and innovation.In Chapter Two modernist factors in Donne’s poetic forms are fully examined in more details. Unlike his predecessors and contemporaries, Donne’s breakthrough in his poetic form reflects the innovating tendency of modernist poetry. In Songs and Sonets, the innovation in poetic form is mainly reflected in varieties and complexities of the stanza form and the dramatic technique perfectly combined with colloquialism. It largely enriches the poetic form and strengthens the expressiveness of language as well.Chapter Three investigates modernist techniques in Donne’s imagery. By juxtaposing and overlapping or integrating imagery, Donne seems to be quite efficient in developing a single image into multiple ones. Such techniques in modernist poetry have reached maturity at Donne’s hand. It shows that modernists in the twentieth century hark backward to earlier traditions.Chapter Four focuses its discussion on the modernist metaphysics embodied in Donnean conceit. Conceit is not only an important poetic technique, but also the presentation of a poet’s mode of thinking. Donne’s rich imagination contributes to establishing subtlety logic relations between two completely incompatible things, such as the conceit between love and compasses, love and sun, love and flea. This poetic metaphysics emphasizing the dialectical unity of thought and feeling is highly celebrated by T. S. Eliot.Therefore, though a product in the seventeenth century, Songs and Sonets has exhibited some characteristics of modernist poetry, which are creatively handed down and largely developed by modernist poetry three hundred years later, making Donnean poetry canonized as immortal gems in English poetry.

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