"They have gone to read upon me": the Donnean body-text

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This thesis explores the presence of the body in the poetry of John Donne. Throughout his works, Donne stresses a blurred distinction between the body and the soul, suggesting that the “self” is made up both. As such, the body plays a crucial role in the spiritual condition of the subject. For Donne, the body is especially important to the process of redemption, and it actively participates in what Donne calls “anguish piety,” a viscerally demanding state of reverence in which the subject experiences grief that is felt both spiritually and physically. Despite the body’s unquestionable importance, it faces the limitations of mortality: illness, decay, and death. Often, Donne’s inclusion of the body combats these limitations, seeking to produce a form that is not susceptible to the threat of time. To do so, I argue that Donne corporealizes his verse in a way that is more than metaphorical; Donne imbues his verse with the literal weight of the body, forming a body-text—writing embodied with Donne’s own physical identity. In this way, Donne hopes to produce a textualized body that can withstand the threat of time, maintaining a constancy that the mortal body lacks.

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