In his occasional poetry, and especially in his two elegaic Anniversary poems, Donne created a special symbolic mode in seventeenth-century poetry of praise and compliment. Barbara Kiefer Lewalski's reading of the Anniversary poems recognizes them as complex mixed-genre works which weld together formal, thematic, and structural elements from the occasional poem of praise, the funeral elegy, the funeral sermon, the hymn, the anatomy, and the Protestant meditation.
Focusing especially on theme and structure, her reading demonstrates the coherent symbolic method and meaning of these poems and also their careful logical articulation, both as individual poems and as companion pieces. Essentially, the author discovers their thorough and precise exploration, through the poetic means of figure and symbol, of the nature of man and the conditions of human life.
In order to discuss the significant contexts for and influences on the Anniversary poems, the author has studied sixteenth- and seventeenth-century epideictic theory and practice, Protestant meditation, Biblical hermencutics, and funeral sermons. She is also concerned with the effect of the poems, and of Donne's other writings of a similar kind, on contemporary and subsequent developments in the poetry of praise, especially that of Marvell and Dryden. This is a lucid and learned book that provides a major context for the Anniversary poems and gives new significance to the designation of Donne as a Metaphysical poet.
Originally published in 1973.
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Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Barbara Kiefer Lewalski: