In her essay “Poetry as Language Presentation: John Donne, Poet, Preacher, Craftsman,” Anca Rosu writes, “In representing, revealing or reflecting, language becomes absent, imperceptible. It can be kept present only if it is not made to reveal or reflect” (Rosu, 14). Rosu elaborates on the deliberate distinction in the use of language between John Donne's poetry and his sermons; claiming that in his poetry, language is treated as a material to be made present, while in his sermons, language is meant to be transparent, used as a vehicle to represent a reality outside of language. According to Rosu, language commands presence in Donne's poetry by its negotiable signification within a discursive context, the complexity of which abounds with associative meanings, a variety of connotations and denotations that form multidimensional relationships between individual words and phrases.
She implies that a level of uncertainty must be maintained for the poem's language to present its own internal reality, “a poem is ‘conceived,' ‘invented,' and only afterwards finds its matter… the conceit in-forms the materiality of the language; it is not something to be expressed by it” (Rosu, 13). The poet must thus “fill the form with sense,” a notion that I would agree extends to the pre-eminent auditory form of language which Rosu refers, as well as the form, or structure of the poem.
By use of her application of “form,” the meaning of words is subordinate to their musical quality; yet, she maintains that in Donne's poetry, the presence of pattern and rhythm are secondary forces behind the presence of language. Rosu supports, rather, that literary devices which manipulate contextual associations attribute the primary function of materialization. While Donne's medium is “a language with fully developed capacities of representation,” his work is in exploiting the already stabilized relationships between words in the broader realm of an external language, de-familiarizing them in order for them to create an unexpected meaning in an original and internal context (Rosu, 14).
[...] To analyze the compatibility of three key and interdependent claims of Rosu's argument for the presence of Donne's poetic language, perhaps an enlarged perspective can be seen in regards to that agreeably significant presence in the creation of the metaphysical conceit. To summarize these claims, the first is that meaning is “subordinated to the forms, which are not only of musical nature, but can also create fantastic geometries,” secondly, that the presence of language is dependent on the uncertainty of lexical associations rather than the structural sound, and lastly, that the ultimately internal discourse/meaning of the poem is inherently a presentation. [...]
[...] The speaker imposes the absent memory of life before loved,” and continues with a lack of assuredness, emphasized by the negation (not) in his subsequent speculation. The possibilities for the substance of the are themselves imposed as imperatives to some conversational the form of the poem and the content exist simultaneously bearing the same impression of an absence. The last two lines of the stanza pose their own predicament, suggesting that any potentially true conceptions in the speaker's past experience were, even at the time, no more substantial than a projection, dream” of his love. [...]
[...] Donne's conceit in Flea” could be seen as simplified in line twelve, “This flea is you and yet the metaphor “operate[s] incomplete transfers, preserving the differences while revealing the similitudes the power of representation is lost by the very excess of significance,” or, stated differently, “overcontextualization exploits the conventions of language in order to make it present” (Rosu, 16-17). Angus Fletcher's essay “Iconographies of Thought” deals with similar functions of language, although Fletcher's argument differs from Rosu's by extending the discussion of the presence of language to achieve the means for analyzing the implications of its absence, which Fletcher refers to as “some Other” (Fletcher, 99). [...]
[...] The iconic register is established in the second stanza, where Donne attributes to the mutual attention of the two lovers' souls a specifically reduced perspective, containing only themselves, which simultaneously expands, and “makes one little room an everywhere” (line 11). The following images of worlds” and “worlds on worlds” further this surreal sense of space which appropriately leads into the neoplatonic cliché; us possess one world; each hath one, and is supporting Fletcher's assessment that key feature of iconographic play of thought is its placement, perhaps even what one might call its spatiality attached to a scene of order, often cosmological.” (lines 12-14; Fletcher, 103) Though Donne's quantitative suggestion is literally impossible, barred from conventional comprehension by a “dark opacity,” the presence of an unknown somehow substantiates its probability with the presence of its figurative existence amidst imagery imposing a scale of “worlds”. [...]
[...] On a similar denotative level, albeit perhaps a less obvious association, flea can potentially evoke the meaning of its homophone, flee. In the playfully persuasive register of the poem, the definition of the latter term works into Donne's effectual conceit; the content of the poem is in fact urging the speaker's lover not to flee from him, by which the almost trivializing contrast of the flea gains the function of evidence. The linguistic content stabilizes this overall concept of flea in its six occurrences amongst the continual presence of the cognates [little(1x), suck(3x), drop and blood(3x)]. [...]
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