Holy Sonnets and the Textual Culture: [Essay Example], 2267 words GradesFixer
exit-popup-close

Haven't found the right essay?

Get an expert to write your essay!

exit-popup-print

Professional writers and researchers

exit-popup-quotes

Sources and citation are provided

exit-popup-clock

3 hour delivery

exit-popup-persone
close
This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by professional essay writers.

Holy Sonnets and the Textual Culture

Download Print

Pssst… we can write an original essay just for you.

Any subject. Any type of essay.

We’ll even meet a 3-hour deadline.

Get your price

121 writers online

blank-ico
Download PDF

Donne’s Holy Sonnets have long been considered classic examples of Renaissance poetry. They were not printed until after his death in 1631, with the first printing being in 1633, and three additional sonnets being added some time later when another manuscript was discovered. This essay will look at the rhetorical and textual culture surrounding and influencing Holy Sonnet 9 (as the ordering of the sonnets across manuscripts and printed versions was not uniform, it appears as sonnet 5 in one sequence), which begins “If poysonous minerals…”. In addition, the sonnet’s illustration of the Renaissance idea of the self will be examined, as will the meter and other formal features. For the sake of ease, this sonnet will henceforth referred to simply as “Minerals”, and for the purposes of quotation, this essay will treat the Westmoreland manuscript version of “Minerals” as the primary source.

Like most Renaissance writings, “Minerals” is laden with rhetorical techniques, the purpose of which is to highlight the points being made or influence the audience in some way. Rhetoric is firmly rooted in ancient Greek and Roman culture, the precepts and mechanisms thereof being laid out by such ancient luminaries as Aristotle and Plato. It is natural, then, that such techniques would be foremost in the minds of Renaissance writers; Jacob Burckhardt, in The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, says “…rhetoric was especially sought by the humanist” (Burckhardt, 1860, p.80), since much of their learning hinged on ancient Greece and Rome. The Holy Sonnets actually have specific significance for the general idea of rhetorical culture – it was widely believed that speech, and therefore rhetoric, was God-given and distinguished humans from animals. The phrase “God ordained Speech”, used by Richard Allestree in The Government of the Tongue (1674), sums this idea up nicely. During the Reformation people began exploring this idea that speech and divinity were intertwined, and therefore being adept at rhetoric made sense from a religious point of view – the better one performed with one’s God-given gift, the closer to God one could be. Combined with the emerging sense of self during this period, this gave heavy cultural weight to the ability to orate effectively.

Examples of rhetorical devices which can be found in “Minerals” include the octave which begins it. It is, in its totality, an example of logos – the use of examples to make an argument based on reason. In both quatrains, Donne employs rhetorical questions. The type of questions he is asking is described as anacoenosis, and involves asking the audience directly for their opinion (though, of course, without expecting an answer). In the first line of the sestet, however, the audience changes and so do the rhetorical techniques since in contrast, the sestet constitutes an example of pathos, or appeal to emotion. Donne uses a different type of rhetorical question in line 9, called epiplexis, to express grief that he has been asking the questions present in the octave. This is reinforced by the use of another rhetorical technique known as apostrophe, in line 10, in which Donne exclaims “O God”, saying essentially that he is unworthy (though this apostrophe is not present in every surviving version of the sonnet). Further techniques follow this: Donne’s reference to his tears making a “Heauenly Lethean floud” is an example of hyperbole, which is a type of auxesis or amplification. The final line, “I think it mercy, if thou wilt forgett”, is what categorises the sestet as an appeal to emotion rather than logic. This shift in rhetorical techniques underlines the difference between the two parts of the sonnet and emphasises the emotions and ideas conveyed within.

Our understanding of Donne’s exact idea of the structure or vocabulary of “Minerals” is hindered by the lack of a manuscript with definitive authorial approval. Three versions of the sonnet exist, any of which could be Donne’s intended sonnet. Between the three versions which exist, there are mainly minor changes; “letcherous” contrasted with “Leacherous”, for example, which are likely idiosyncrasies of the author or typesetter of each manuscript or print. Small changes in spelling or punctuation are common, such as the insertion of parentheses or commas around “ellse immortall” in line two, or the insertion of a comma in line 12 (so it reads “And drowne in it, my Sins blacke memoree” as in the Westmoreland manuscript). According to a letter written by Donne, he decided to collate his poetry just before taking his holy orders, and asked to borrow “that old book” (Donne, 1654, Internet 1) from Henry Goodere, with whom he was corresponding. This implies that, as said by Stringer, “he had failed even to retain manuscript copies for his own use or reference” (Stringer, 2005, p. L), so there is no proof that there is even a definitive version of the sonnet.

Two of the versions each have a significant difference, which means that Donne’s complete idea of the sonnet is not certain. The first printed copy, for example (published in 1633), differs from the Westmoreland manuscript (dated to 1620, and verified as having been written by Rowland Woodward, a friend of Donne) and the Divine Meditations printing (1635) in line 13. Instead of “That thou remember them, Some clayme as dett”, it contains the line “That thou remember them no more as debt”. This difference is obviously significant as it considerably affects the interpretive depth of the line, removes (or inserts) what is possibly a reference to a Bible passage, and is likely a change made to the sonnet by Donne himself some time after its original distribution. The presence of “Some clayme as dett” in both The Westmoreland Manuscript and the Divine Meditations (the text of which was taken from a different manuscript) implies that Donne intended the poem to read this way, though it is not possible to be sure. The Westmoreland manuscript’s significant difference is across lines 9 and 10; instead of “But who am I that dare dispute with thee?/O God” it reads “But who am I that dare dispute with thee/O God?”. This changes the “O God” from an exclamation of emotion or grief (which mirrors the “alas” found in line 4) to simply the end of a question, and thus has an impact on the effect of the sonnet as a whole.

“Minerals” is, arguably, an exploration of the idea of the self as an autonomous entity and is therefore an apt example of a Renaissance perspective on self-identity. In the quatrains, the speaker asks what the difference is between harmful animals or plants and humans, and why it is that the “sins” of plants and animals go unpunished. This brings up the concept of agency, which is a key component of self-identity; the idea that one has the authority to commit sin, or indeed undertake any action, of one’s own volition. Stephen Greenblatt, in Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare, says that self-fashioning takes place under several general conditions, many of which are demonstrated in “Minerals”. It depends on “submission to an absolute power” (Greenblatt, 1980, p.9), which is of course the very subject of the sonnet and demonstrated by line 9, “But who am I that dare dispute with thee?”. In addition, self-fashioning is contingent on the existence of a dangerous Other which is perceived as “strange, alien or hostile” (Greenblatt, 1980, p.9). In this sonnet, there are multiple examples: the goats, minerals, and serpents, which are explicitly stated, but also the Devil, whose influence is merely implied. Another of Greenblatt’s suggested conditions is that “one man’s authority is another man’s alien” (Greenblatt, 1980, p.9) which is a particularly relevant point during the religious upheaval of the Reformation, and the different views of God which emerged during that time.

The sonnet is especially salient when looking at Renaissance self-fashioning because the speaker directly questions the audiences: in the two quatrains, the listening audience; in the sestet, God himself. This demonstrates an individual attempting to define their own identity within their own peer group and reconcile it with the rules of their perceived authority. In line 5, the speaker makes reference to “intent, or reason borne in mee”, upon which damnation is said to be predicated, and these two concepts are crucial to the idea of the self. The speaker of the sonnet identifies as a repentant sinner – not merely someone who has inherited sin, but someone who has willingly and actively sinned, as evidenced by the the mention of reason and intent as well as the phrase in line 12 “my Sins blacke memoree” (while it might be figurative, it implies that the speaker remembers their sins). Identifying oneself as a sinner could be considered parrhesia, described as “a verbal activity in which a speaker expresses his personal relationship to truth” (Foucault, 1999, p.6). The speaker establishes a conflict between themselves and both their peer group and their authority with this admission, and identifies them as being able to act and think independently.

“Minerals” is written in iambic pentameter, like most other Renaissance sonnets, and has a relatively stable metrical structure with the second, fourth and eighth syllables being stressed in almost every line. It has two deviations from this structure, however; depending on how the line 11 is read, the first stressed syllable is the sixth, as that is the first occurrence of a polysyllabic word which has a forced lexical stress. While the word “teares” may be post-lexically stressed, it is a monosyllabic word, therefore its stress is left up to the reader; it comprises the third syllable of the line and thus does not conform to iambic pentameter. This line also requires the elision of the “e” sounds in both “heauenly” and “Lethean” in order to conform to the metre. The other, more important, deviation is in line 6: the presence of the word “hainous” here places the stress on the ninth syllable, with the etymology of the word disproving the possibility of a different method of pronunciation. There is no way of reading this line without stressing an odd-numbered syllable, therefore it may be deliberate subversion of the metre by Donne. If, however, one looks at the punctuation in the versions of the sonnet deemed to be closest to Donne’s own hand (the Westmoreland and Divine Meditations versions), there is a caesura after “equall” in the form of a comma, after which (if read as a standalone line) the metre is again iambic pentameter. Either way, it is a meaningful deviation from the structure and is noteworthy for that reason.

The rhyme scheme of the sonnet is interesting, too, as it does not specifically conform to any particular established type of sonnet; it is a mixture of Shakespearean and Petrarchan patterns, with the rhyme scheme being ABBAABBAACCADD. Looking at the sonnet with this in mind, it is divided into three quatrains and one rhyming couplet, rather than a clearly defined octave and sestet. This has the effect of separating the couplet into a kind of epigram, which is borne out by the punctuation in the Westmoreland and Divine Meditations versions of the sonnet: in these two, the couplet is preceded by a period at the end of line 12, separating it orthographically from the rest of the sonnet.

“Minerals” thus comprises a rich vein of information about culture during the Renaissance, and illustrates many of the extrinsic and intrinsic factors which shaped the poetry (and, indeed, individuals) of that time. It, and the other Holy Sonnets, allow us to see the many ways in which the Renaissance was shaped by ancient Greece and Rome as well as the society of the time, lending weight to the idea espoused by New Historicism, as described by John Martin in Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence (1997, p.1313), of the self being “…not an autonomous entity but rather as a site on which broader institutional and political forces are inscribed”.

References:

Donne, J. 2005 [1610-1620]. The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne. Edited Gary A. Stringer. Digitaldonne version, accessed 29/12/13 at http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=207273

Burckhardt, J. 1860. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Project Gutenberg version, accessed 01/10/13 at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2074

Allestree, R. 1674. The Government of the Tongue. Christian Classics Ethereal Library version, accessed 03/01/2014 at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/allestree/government

Internet 1: http://donnevariorum.tamu.edu/resources/1654WebConcordance/1654_.htm#4520

Greenblatt, S. 1980. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More To Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Foucault, M. 1985 [1983]. Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia. Edited Joseph Pearson. Internet version, accessed at http://foucault.info/system/files/pdf/DiscourseAndTruth_MichelFoucault_1983_0.pdf

Martin, J. 1997, ‘Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence’. The American Historical Review Vol. 102, No. 5, p. 1309 – 1342

Bibliography:

Donne, J. 2005 [1610-1620]. The Variorum Edition of the Poetry of John Donne. Edited Gary A. Stringer. Digitaldonne version, accessed 29/12/13 at http://lib.myilibrary.com/Open.aspx?id=207273

Burckhardt, J. 1860. The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy. Project Gutenberg version, accessed 01/10/13 at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/2074

Allestree, R. 1674. The Government of the Tongue. Christian Classics Ethereal Library version, accessed 03/01/2014 at http://www.ccel.org/ccel/allestree/government

Internet 1: http://donnevariorum.tamu.edu/resources/1654WebConcordance/1654_.htm#4520

Greenblatt, S. 1980. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More To Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Foucault, M. 1985 [1983]. Discourse and Truth: The Problematization of Parrhesia. Edited Joseph Pearson. Internet version, accessed 05/01/14 at http://foucault.info/system/files/pdf/DiscourseAndTruth_MichelFoucault_1983_0.pdf

Martin, J. 1997, ‘Inventing Sincerity, Refashioning Prudence’. The American Historical Review Vol. 102, No. 5, p. 1309 – 1342

The Review of English Studies , Vol. 7, No. 28 (Oct., 1931), pp. 454-457, Published by: Oxford University Press, accessed 01/01/14 at http://www.jstor.org/stable/508464

Ong, W. J. 1982. Orality and Literacy. New York: Routledge

Rebhorn, W. A. 2000. Renaissance Debates on Rhetoric. New York: Cornell University Press

Silva Rhetoricae (http://rhetoric.byu.edu/), accessed 02/01/14

Remember: This is just a sample from a fellow student.

Your time is important. Let us write you an essay from scratch

100% plagiarism free

Sources and citations are provided

Find Free Essays

We provide you with original essay samples, perfect formatting and styling

Cite this Essay

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:

Holy Sonnets and the Textual Culture. (2018, July 22). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2020, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-and-textual-culture-in-donnes-holy-sonnets/
“Holy Sonnets and the Textual Culture.” GradesFixer, 22 Jul. 2018, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-and-textual-culture-in-donnes-holy-sonnets/
Holy Sonnets and the Textual Culture. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-and-textual-culture-in-donnes-holy-sonnets/> [Accessed 1 Oct. 2020].
Holy Sonnets and the Textual Culture [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2018 Jul 22 [cited 2020 Oct 1]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/rhetorical-and-textual-culture-in-donnes-holy-sonnets/
copy to clipboard
close

Sorry, copying is not allowed on our website. If you’d like this or any other sample, we’ll happily email it to you.

    By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

    close

    Attention! this essay is not unique. You can get 100% plagiarism FREE essay in 30sec

    Recieve 100% plagiarism-Free paper just for 4.99$ on email
    get unique paper
    *Public papers are open and may contain not unique content
    download public sample
    close

    Sorry, we cannot unicalize this essay. You can order Unique paper and our professionals Rewrite it for you

    close

    Thanks!

    Your essay sample has been sent.

    Want us to write one just for you? We can custom edit this essay into an original, 100% plagiarism free essay.

    thanks-icon Order now
    boy

    Hi there!

    Are you interested in getting a customized paper?

    Check it out!
    Having trouble finding the perfect essay? We’ve got you covered. Hire a writer

    GradesFixer.com uses cookies. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy.