Overview (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
“No man is an island.” However familiar this observation, few except students of English literature would recognize it as coming from John Donne’s Devotions upon Emergent Occasions. That may be because today Donne is remembered more for his metaphysical poetry than for his spiritual exercises, and we are more inclined to think of a rakish Jack Donne than of an earnest dean of London’s Saint Paul’s Cathedral and author of the devotions. Nevertheless, the dean had the temperament of the poet, and his spiritual exercises exhibited the imaginative concreteness, intellectual tautness, and dramatic immediacy of his poetry. As in the poetry, puns and metaphors abound; images build on images; analogies and correspondences between the material and the spiritual world are discovered and elaborated. Even the poetry’s familiar themes are evident: the transience of human existence, the illusory character of the phenomenal world, and the ubiquity of death and dissolution.
There was, however, no work with more personal immediacy for Donne thanDevotions upon Emergent Occasions. Their circumstance was a sudden sickness, thought to have been either typhus or relapsing fever, that brought him near death in the winter of 1523. Donne was then in his third year as Saint Paul’s dean and in the tenth year of his ministry. Not that Donne had aspired to church or pulpit. He contemplated holy orders at first reluctantly and then principally at the...
(The entire section is 2415 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Devotions upon Emergent Occasions Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!