天 津 师 范 大 学
A Comparison between Donne and Dickinson’s Poems—the Artistic Effects of the Conceit
A Thesis Presented in Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for
the Degree of Bachelor of Arts
Under the Supervision of
Foreign Languages College
Tianjin Normal University
I would like to express my gratitude to all those who helped me during the writing of this thesis. I gratefully acknowledge the help of my supervisor, Ms. Chai Xueru, who has offered me valuable suggestions in the academic studies. In the preparation of thesis, she has spent much time reading through each draft and provided me with inspiring advice. Without her patient instruction, insightful criticism and expert guidance, the completion of this thesis would not have been possible.
I also owe a special debt of gratitude to all the professors in Foreign Languages Institute, from whose devoted teaching and enlightening lectures I have benefited a lot and academically prepared for the theses.
... Palatino, Times New Roman or equivalent: MASTER’S THESIS or LICENTIATE THESIS. Centred, bottom margin 200mm (font size 34pt) ... 24 APPENDIX 4. Assessment criteria for master’s theses and licentiate theses Grade Theoretical knowledge, literature and sources Strong ... and approach Clear methodological and empirical flaws. Thesis process Excellent thesis process; the student is motivated; agreements were ...
Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to my beloved family members that they are always helping me out of difficulties and supporting without a word of complaint.
Abstract (English) ………………………………………………………………………ii
Chapter 1 General Introduction of Metaphysical Poetry, Conceits and Two Poets…
1. metaphysical poetry and conceits……………………………………
2. Introduction of John Donne an Emily Dickinson ………………………
Chapter 2 Comparison of the conceits in Donne and Dickinson’s love poetry………….
2.1 The conceits in Donne’s love poetry………………………………………
2.2 The conceits in Dickinson’s love poetry………………………………….
Chapter 3 Comparison of the conceits in Donne and Dickinson’s religious poetry…….
3.1 The conceits in Donne’s religious poetry………………………………….
3.2 The conceits in Dickinson’s religious poetry……………………………..
Chapter 4 comparison of the conceits in Donne and Dickinson’s Death-themed poetry…
4.1 The conceits in Donne’s death-themed poetry…………………………….
4.2 The conceits in Dickinson’s death-themed poetry…………………………
Love, death and religion are three main themes in both John Donne and Emily Dickinson’s poems. This paper presents the different artistic effects through a comparative study of the use of conceits in each theme. It aims at helping readers to understand further the metaphysical poems.
metaphysical poem occupies a special place in the whole English literature. Many scholars have studied the use of conceits of Donne or of Dickinson’s poems; however, few of them really compared of conceits and to find the differences between them. This paper proves that although using the same rhetoric device—conceit, Donne and Dickinson have their individual conceits.
Theme of Death in Emily Dickinson Poetry Not one of Emily Elizabeth Dickinsons readers has met the woman who lived and died in Amherst, Massachusetts more than a century ago, yet most of those same readers who have come to understand her through her work feel as if they know her closely. However it was her reclusive life that made understanding her quite difficult. However, taking a close look at ...
The paper starts with an introduction of what metaphysical poem is and what conceits is, then it explains the relationship between Emily Dickinson and metaphysical poet. After that, it gives a comparison of the use of conceits in three themes individually. Through comparison, it will exhibit the differences of two poets’ conceits.
In conclusion, after comparing by several times, the paper will present the differences of conceits of two poets and help reader understand their metaphysical poems better.
Key words: John Donne Emily Dickinson Metaphysical poems conceits comparative study
关键字：约翰﹒邓恩 艾米丽﹒迪金森 玄学派诗歌 奇思妙喻 比较研究
Metaphysical poem was the gem of English literature in seventeen century. Being the founder, John Donne used abundant conceits as a rhetorical device. He proposed to innovate in poetry so as to eradicate the triteness and flauntiness of Romanticism in seventeen century. Until nowadays, the metaphysical poetry still is animated. The conceit, which is the essence of a Metaphysical poem, through extension and shifting in subjects, can enlarge the depth of meaning and give readers a lager space to image.
It’s well known that Emily Dickinson, the American female poet in 19 century who was deeply influenced by the metaphysical poems, was also good at using the conceits. Therefore, many celebrated critics judged her as a real metaphysical poet.
Both these two great poets preferred the theme of love, religion and death and people could always find the fantasy use of conceits in their poems. Sometimes, the same rhetoric device does not bring the same feelings to the reader. And this thesis will exhibit these differences so as to help reader to truly understand the fantastic Metaphysical poems.
Compare and Contrast "Sonnet XVIII" (Shakespeare) with "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" (Donne) in terms of meaning, tone and style. Conclude by saying which you prefer and why. John Donne's "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," and Shakespeare's "Sonnet XVIII" depict love in extremely different ways. John Donne explores the power of the connection between his, and his lover's souls, whereas ...
General Introduction of Metaphysical Poetry, Conceits and Two Poets
1.1 Metaphysical Poetry and conceits
Metaphysical poetry is a blend of emotion and intellectual ingenuity, characterized by conceit or “wit”. And it is less concerned with expressing feeling than with analyzing it, with the poet exploring the recesses of his consciousness. The boldness of the literary devices used—especially obliquity, irony, and paradox—is always reinforced by a dramatic directness of language, whose rhythm is derived from that of living speech. (Zhang 60)
A conceit is a poetic idea, usually a metaphor．The metaphysical conceit will use some sort of shocking or unusual comparison as the basis for the metaphor．When it works a metaphysical conceit has a startling appropriateness that makes readers look at something in an entirely new way．(Yu) Generally speaking, image is the foundation of conceits. When the poet combines the image with his own thought, philosophy, and aesthetics in a delectated way then it becomes the one what we call a conceit.
1.2 Introduction of John Donne an Emily Dickinson
When talking about the field of Metaphysical poetry, one can point out without hesitancy that the most influential poet in this area is John Donne for his metaphysical poems like “Sun Rising” and “A Validation, Forbidding mourning”.
Compared with the highly conventional type in the Elizabethan Age, Donne’s poems used direct descriptions, common language and natural rhyme to demonstrate his rebellious characteristic. As the most outstanding poet in seventeenth century, Donne was famous for the use of massive and ingenious conceit and profound philosophy to convey the themes of love, emotions and religion.
As a poet, Donne was original and great. His poetry possessed a highly idiosyncratic quality that reveals a peculiar, brilliant imagination at work, with an unconventional mode of perception and thinking, and the power of a mind, at once voluptuous and meditative, and capable of leaving an enduring imprint on his readers. (Chang, 2006: 75) For example, when talking about love, other poets usually use “rose” or nightingale. But these images themselves have already indicated the meaning well and leave limited space to readers. However, in his eyes, lovers are two hemispheres or stiff twin compasses who depend on each other to create a balanced couple. The conceit is vivid and the mutual relationship between the lovers is apparent to all. Through his rich imagination, the meaningful and subtle environment is presented to the readers. Therefore readers all appreciate his poems with the great admiration to his creative conception.
John Donne is one of many poets of his time who wrote love poetry. The thing that sets him apart from the others is that he manages to successfully subvert the traditional conventions to his own ends. Each of the secular poems “The Flea”, “The Sunne Rising” and “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning” shows Donne’s verbal dexterity, manipulation of the ...
He was a leading Metaphysical poet of the 17th century in England; while Dickinson was one of the most celebrated poets of the 19th century in the United States. One would hardly think of these two well known figures in relation to each other, not only for the differences of space but also of time. However, examining the characteristics of the two poets, one may find more similarities than at the first glance. Dickinson was heavily affected by the metaphysical poems. Through her poems, readers can find the tracks between them. Many scholars have considered that Emily Dickinson belonged to Metaphysical poets for her use of conceits had reached a high degree of excellence. C.J. Fisher, once said that “Emily Dickinson was a Latter-Day Metaphysical Poet.” (Fisher 77-81)
She was widely considered as one of the most original American poets of the nineteenth century. She wrote more than 1775 poems but only 7 poems of them were published before her death in 1886. The significance of her poems lies in the bold innovation— most titles of her poems were not “formal”, but citing the first line of the poetry and she used broken meter rather than traditional rhyme schemes or rules of punctuations. What’s more, she used many dashes and capitalized at random. All in all, these “queer” ways of expressions brought her many severe blames. Although there were skepticism and unfavorable criticisms towards her work, it is no doubt that Emily Dickinson was a major poet in American literature.
In 1859 Emily Dickinson wrote a poem about death. In 1861 she rewrote that poem with very different imagery making it a lot darker. The poem itself is rather short, only two stanzas. The first stanza is only changed by one word, though its meaning is significant. The second stanza however changes completely, from light and spring like to dark and wintery. There is also significant change in ...
As Metaphysical poets, both Donne and Dickinson were good at using conceits to express their thoughts; however Donne differed from Dickinson in a variety of ways. For one thing, Donne seemed to keep his eye on a large space; his poems had covered a wide range of topics: from “the flea” to “the sun”. Dickinson explored the inner life of the individual; her images concentrated a lot on some specific subjects. Whereas Donne was “masculine”, Dickinson was “feminine”. Donne’s conceit belongs to the type of “dominance”, while Emily’s conceit belongs to the type of “introversion” or even somewhat “vulnerable”. In formal terms the two poets are vastly different: Donne used changing and jagged rhythms in contrast with the concise, direct, and simple diction and syntax which characterize Dickinson’s poetry. (Chang, 2003:96)
The different experiences of the two poets contribute a lot to the divergences between their styles. Donne’s intellectual curiosity led him to many fields of knowledge. He attended universities but never took a degree; he learnt law but never practiced it. He was interested in medicine, religion, and classical literature. He traveled on the Continent and moved around to see many different places of his own country. (Zhang 46) Therefore, the images he could choose ranged in a relatively large scope. However, Emily Dickinson did not leave the Homestead unless it was absolutely necessary and she was usually clothed in white. Few of the locals who exchanged messages with Dickinson during her last fifteen years never saw her in person. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emily_Dickinson) Therefore, there is no doubt her field of vision was limited to a narrow scope.
Chapter 2 Comparison of the conceits in Donne and Dickinson’s love poetry
2.1 The conceits in Donne’s love poetry
Donne’s love poetry could be divided into two types: one of them was affirmative while the other was negative. His love poetry was not shallow meditation or the vulgar compliment to the beauty, instead, was a kind of monologue with passion and emotion. “Flea” was Donne’s famous metaphysical love poetry in which he used marvelous conceits.
2.1.1 “The Flea”
In “The Flea”, Donne used the conceit to compare the speaker’s love for the young lady to a common flea. Flea is the most sordid, disgusting creature in the world. At the first glance, hardly can people find any romantic elements in it, but when after a closer inspection, they would appreciate the comparison. In the first stanza, the speaker said that the flea had bitten both him and his love, then their blood was already mixed within this tiny body— so he felt that the two of them are already married. In the second stanza, he told the woman, now apparently bringing her hand down upon the flea, to stop and desist from killing it because she would have committed murder, self murder, and sacrilege: “three sins in killing three”. The speaker begged for the flea’s life since, in killing it, she would kill not only their love, but the “unborn child”. Here came another conceit— he compared the speaker and his beloved’s blood in the flea to their baby. In the third stanza, the lover showed his angry, sad, and sorry that the woman had killed the flea, and called her cruel and false for her rejection of him. (Chang 77)
Of all the poetry I have read in my entire English career, never have I read a poet who has compared love and death so well. Not only does she grab the readers attention using so few words, after her poem is over, the reader is left with many possibilities as to what it is that Emily Dickinson meant. Her ideas about love and death were shared in many of her poems, including The Bustle in the ...
2.1.2“The sun rising”
It’s said that “The sun rising” was written for Ann and based on Donne’s own life experience. In this poem, Donne hoped to wake up together with his beloved without others’ interruption, while an intruder did come. This self-invited guy was not her father, nor his friends, but the sun, which was treated as a person by the using of conceit. He rebuked the sun because of its interruption and he questioned the sun why lovers should obey time.
In his first stanza, he showed his dominance over the sun, calling it a ‘saucy pedantic wretch’ and asked the sun to bother other people instead, such as late school boys or workers who implored more time to sleep. He told the sun to find the royal court people and farmers to let them start their day instead of controlling the lovers, because time did not exist in love and unlike season or climate or sun, love doesn’t change. Hours, days and months are just silly, useless measures. In the second stanza, the poet challenged the sun about its strength that the sun wasn’t high and mighty because he can made it disappear by winking, but he didn’t want to lose even one single sight of his lover. He teased the sun that his lover’s eyes are so beautiful and bright that it could blind the sun. He told the sun to go to far away countries like India or stay because the entire world was with him in the bed—his love. The sun could also find kings but he and his lover are so superior that even the kings would say the most important people were in his room, ‘all here in one bed lay’. In the third stanza, the poet claimed that his lover was ‘all states’ and in fact the whole world itself and he was the ‘prince’ that ruled it, nothing else existed other than them. They were the celebrity, and even other princes waned to mimic them. He declared that honor and science were nothing compared to their love and that the sun is only half as happy as they were. (http://www.oppapers.com/essays/The-Sun-Rising-Poem-Analysis-John/166561)
He said the sun was old and so it should rest because its duty was to warm the world and since they were the world, the sun had completed its duty. Then, the poet cleverly turned the sun’s refusal to leave into a show of its generosity and by shining at them, it had centered itself upon the room of his love and so they are the sun, the center of the universe.
“Fancy metaphysical conceits differ from plain-Jane metaphors not just because conceits run all the way through a poem, but also because they often bring in the latest in Renaissance science and technology.” (http://www.poetryfoundation.org/learning/poem-guide.html?guide_id=177309)
Donne described himself together with his love Ann as the earth. And at that time, Geocentric Theory was still argued and it was not an orthodox idea. From this point Donne’s conceits had the quality of science.
2.1.3 “A Validation: Forbidding Mourning”
Someone said this poem was written to his wife before his temporary parting. In the poem, except for his vast knowledge from alchemy to astronomy, the most outstanding part was the conceit.
In the first stanza, there was a funeral. Virtuous man passed mildly away which actually indicated Donne’s parting with his wife. He told his love there’s no need to be sad— “No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempest move”.
And then, in the second stanza, he told his love what true love was—steady and quite, just like the trepidation of sphere, great but innocent; while the laity’s love were the tiny move of earth, harmful and terrified. The laity’s love couldn’t permit parting because the physical enjoyment was their real presuming. Their love is not “Dull sublunary lovers’ love” but that of their two souls conjoined, which expands as gold when pounded thin rather than breaking as physical bodies do. The conceit gives us the powerful imagery so that we realize that the love they share is pure, like gold, and their two souls form one perfect unity. (Suo, 89)
In the third stanza, Donne compare himself and his love to the two feet of a compass, which meant no matter how far he would move, in the end, he would unify with his love. What’s more, the track of the compass—a circle, which symbolized their love, was perfect.
2.2 The Conceits in Dickinson’s Love Poetry
“My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun” was one of Emily love poems. She compared herself to a “loaded gun” in the whole poetry. In the first 4 lines, as “a lonely loaded gun”, she stood in the corner until one day his master found her and carried her away. In the second 8 lines, it was happy to be together with her master. They “roamed in the woods”, “hunted the doe” and experienced the beauty of the “mountain”. She smiled with a flourished light. This kind of feeling, as “a loaded gun”, she had never expected. In the third 8 lines, the “loaded gun” expressed her loyalty to the master. At night, she would protect her master’s safe; in the day time, she would not mercy to her master’s enemies—killing them directly. However, in the last 4 lines, there was a sharp drop, and the tone of it was full filled with sadness, as she said that she would be left lonely after her master died one day. Without the companionship of the master, she would be nothing but a pile of scrap metal.
In this poem, through the image of a “loaded gun” in the corner, she indirectly portrayed her situation— extremely lonely. Therefore, she urgently needed one to love her just like the gun needed the master. The second 8 lines also reflected Dickinson’s expectation to be happy together with her beloved. Besides, she showed her determination that she could do anything for her love, no matter how hard it would be. However, in the last part, she expressed her sadness— she did not have love and she was nothing but a dead-alive person. In Dickinson’s poetry, sometimes, the leaping of conceit could reflect the real undulation of Dickinson’s inner word. In the poem, although Dickinson used a powerful, fearful “loaded gun” as its image, after reading this poem, readers hardly contacted Dickinson’s character as a “powerful” female. Her real situation was still pitiable. That was Dickinson’s distinguishing feature from Donne.
Chapter 3 Comparison the conceits of Donne and Dickinson’s religious poetry
3.1 The conceits in Donne’s religious poetry
It’s well known that John Donne was a preacher of Anglicanism. However, before believing in Anglicanism, he was faithful to the Catholicism. As Donne was born in a Catholic family and his mother firmly believed in Catholicism, he was deeply affected by the belief and doctrine of Catholicism, and developed a special feeling towards it. However, at that time, the Catholicism was illegal in England. Unfortunately, for religious reason, his uncle was exiled, his younger brother was persecuted and died in the prison and he was unable to obtain a degree from any institutions. No matter how assiduous he was, both his life and his official career were not improved until his converted to the Anglicanism. Therefore, when reading Donne’s religious poetry, one may find the complicated and conflicted emotion towards religion.
In his “Holy Sonnets XIV”:
I, like an usurp’d town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but O, to no end.
Here, there is a use of conceit where he used a fallen city to symbolize his ambivalence of changing his belief. What kind of impression the image of a fallen city can usually bring to us? It must be chaotic and bloody which are the exact adjectives to describe what the poets was experiencing. Therefore, he urgently needed God to help him out of this paradoxical situation. Through this use of conceits, readers may feel the isolated circumstances Donne faced and his helpless condition.
Later, as Anglicanism did not follow the “three-personed” doctrine which Christianity firmly complied with, Donne began to confuse even doubt it when facing the divorce of Christianity.
In his “Holy Sonnets XVIII”
Show me, dear Christ, thy spouse so bright and clear.
What! is it she which on the other shore
Goes richly painted? or which, robbed and tore.
This time, Donne compared the branch of Christianity to three brides—the “bright and clear” who was the real Christianity, the “richly painted” who was the Roman Catholic Church and the “robbed and tore” who was Protestantism. Donne was eager for the unity of religion rather than in such a disunited state. Through this use of conceit, Donne fully expressed his dissatisfaction, hopeless and somewhat satire.
3.2 The conceits in Dickinson’s religious poetry
It is not an easy work to make out what is Emily Dickinson’s attitude to the religion. As far as some critics were concerned, sometimes, Dickinson was not only a Christian but also a rebel. In her poetry, she presented several different attitudes such as adherent, skeptic, agnostic and heretic. Although she had never become a Christian or entered the church, she was heavily influenced by Christian edification. Many terms in Christian such as “hell”, “heaven”, “God”, “sin” and “Eternity” all found their places in her poems, and among them, “Eternity” was one of her favorite theme. In her letters and poems, readers may find that the theme of “Eternity” was frequently conveyed by the images of “circle” or of some other objects which were rounded, such as “wheel”, “cycle”, “rings” etc…
Here is a short poem written by Emily, concerning about “wheel”:
MY Wheel is in the dark,—
I cannot see a spoke,
Yet know its dripping feet
Go round and round.
As “circle” is limited with no star, no end and no breach, it is a series of processes that finishes at its starting point or continuously repeats itself. Though all of these words were simple, Dickinson bestowed them the extended meaning that it symbolized unity, wholeness and oneness, which acted in cooperation with the idea of the doctrine of Christianity.
Chapter 4 Comparison of the Conceits in Donne and Dickinson’s Death-themed poetry
4.1 The conceits in Donne’s death-themed poetry
“Death Be Not Proud” was Donne’s celebrated poem on death, which indicates the poet’s contempt for the Death. As far as the poet was concerned, Death is not powerful or almighty at all. On the contrary, his power to the human was minimized as a form of sleep and rest. This monologue between the poet and Death was in a form of debate between them. The poet insisted that believing people could break the control of death and with the leading of belief, human could go beyond the circle of life to salvation. Death is no more than a short period of sleep and rest. Although Death deprived lives from many virtuous men, they died only in physical and then their souls would settle down in the tranquil nature. In Donne’s eyes, Death as a by-product of poisons, wars and sickness had no qualification to show off. Compared with the Death, Drugs and poppy could also put one fast asleep comfortably and after people’s short sleep, people could be immortal forever then, it was the end of Death.
4.2 The conceits in Dickinson’s death-themed poetry.
“Because I could not stop for death” used the first point of view to enable the poem to be easily conveyed to its readers. The typical view of death is that it is something should fear. Yet the circumstance of having a pleasant and relaxing ride is what dominates the poem. In fact, the very first line of the poem implies that ordinary life is much cluttered. In the poem, Death, personified as a gentleman, came to the poet who couldn’t stop for death. Varied from the traditional image of Death, he arrived in his carriage with civility and even submitted to be a chaperone. This death did not make her fear but made her trip more like an afternoon visit for tea. He kindly stopped for her and he convinced the poet to put aside both her “labor” and “leisure”. Their carriage was slow and they passed by a series of meaningful and symbolic places and things: children symbolized childhood; field of grain, the manhood; setting sun, the old stage and the swelling of the ground, death. And then after “a long period of time”, their carriage turned toward eternity and they rode off peacefully, friends like, with immortality.
It’s obvious that both “Death, Be not Proud” and “I Could not Stop for Death” used conceit. Death itself stands for the mysterious and the enigmatic; however Donne and Emily provided it the quality of human beings – being arrogant and being gentle which add an element of suspense and mystery to the readers. Both poets spoke of death as if it were a person— Dickinson speaking of it in the third person and Donne directly addressing it. But the Death in Donne’s poetry was much more like a tyranny and Donne was such a rebel who was reading out a sonorous oration with power and strength to against the tyranny.
Metaphysical poetry occupies a special position in the history of literature. And using conceit is the most obvious features shared by all the metaphysical poets, of which John Donne and Emily Dickinson are two famous representatives. Usually, the themes connected with conceits are often about love, death and religious devotion. Through the detailed comparison of conceits used by John Donne and Emily Dickinson under the themes of love, death and religion respectively, we can clearly see that conceits can help the poems blend passion and thought, feeling and rationality, and reveal the poets’ sense of the complexities and contradictions of life. (Suo 87) It can also give the readers a large space for imagination.
Recognizing this point, we can reach a conclusion that conceits have great significance in metaphysical poetry writing. Comparative study of conceits can reveal different styles of the two poets and also give us a further understanding of metaphysical poetry.
Fisher, C. J. “Emily Dickinson as a Latter-Day Metaphysical Poet.” American Transcendental Quarterly: A Journal of New England Writers 1 (1969): 77-81.
Evelyn M. Simpson. A Study of the Prose Works of John Donne [ M ]. Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1924
Yu Qiao-feng Review on the conceits used in “The Sun Rising” Sino-US English Teaching, ISSN1539-8072, USA Jul.2007, Volume 4, No.7(Serial No.43)
索金梅 《英国文学史》天津：南开大学出版社 P89