Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Siobhan Collins: "Riddling Wonders"

Siobhán Collins
University College Cork

Riddling Wonders: Gold Coins and the Phoenix in Donne’s Genre-Defying Verse

1> Hybrid genres inform Donne’s work. Within his satires, “brave scorn” at the lewdness and superficial sophistication of the Elizabethan court and the plague-ridden London streets is juxtaposed with “kinde pity”, which “chokes” the poet’s “spleen”.
[1] His amorous elegies are yet deeply satirical and biting in their references to contemporary economic, political and spiritual disintegration: “The Bracelet” depicts the influx of debased foreign coins (“fallen angels”) in England as a metaphor for the physical and spiritual disease and rot which both threatens and is already present in the speaker. Donne’s religious verse is vexed with “contraries”; sexual and sadomasochistic language inflects his address to God to batter his heart and to “ravish” him. His lyric love poems employ religious imagery to position the male lover as both a christ-like martyr and as the serpent of temptation, mortality and change; idealized lovers enact the “phoenix riddle” by dying and rising the same, and proving “mysterious” by their all-consuming sexual love. Donne’s genre-defying poetic corpus presents at large a notion of identity and of sexuality that is unstable and rooted in conflict, and thus the poet self-consciously departs from the Renaissance ideal of fixed literary kinds with their own essential traits.

2> Donne associates heterosexual love with both the biblical Fall into corrupting time and with an ideal union that symbolises regeneration. This creates much tension and conflict in his poetry. The poet is conscious of this conflict and manipulates kinds in order to give it expression. Donne’s poetry defies strict genre definition in order to put forward a concept of selfhood, sexuality and history that is formulated in part by a concern with mutability and that is deeply influenced by his own sense of self, place and time in early modern England. Genre plays a metaphoric role in the Renaissance through its ability to represent or act as an acronym for a person’s “whole culture”; at the same time, as Fowler points out, Renaissance poets had the ability to employ “genre metaphors in allusions of great economy”.
[2] The interrelation between aesthetic form and history informs my argument, which will focus on Donne’s Metempsychosis and his “Farewell to Love”, and engages also with the scholarship that surrounds his poems. Metempsychosis and “Farewell to Love” are often considered to be the most profane, grotesque and, in terms of genre, problematic of Donne’s canon. I will argue that these two enigmatic and seemingly cynical poems allude, riddlingly, to a notion of correspondence and union that the poet believed to exist prior to the biblical Fall into degenerating time, and that this relation and tension between the spiritual and the profane, the transcendent and the historical, can be seen through close attention to the poems’ circular form and golden (coin and phoenix) imagery.

3> Three dominating early modern conceptions of historical time include: the linear view of history as decay; the idea of history as cyclical and regenerative; and the idea of history as progress, also linear in shape.
[3] For Donne, history begins with the Fall into time. Frederick A. Ruf avers that Donne’s generic voice is subject “to the confusion of forces both within (despair, helplessness, false grief) and without (God)”.[4] The religious significance of genre resides in its ability to articulate and create experience. Achsah Guibbory states that for Donne “love [sometimes] counters the fragmenting, and degenerative course of history”, but is beset with ambiguities (85). Christopher Ricks, in contrast, does not see any indeterminate tension in Donne’s poems but argues forcefully that their “ends” repudiate their “own deepest apprehendings”. In the final lines, he claims, Donne’s poems “imagine hating their own flesh”, and that this “revulsion” is evident in the poet’s sensitivity to “sex as suicidal” in Metempsychosis. [5] “Farewell to Love”, which for Guibbory illustrates Donne’s “suspicion that man’s love for women participates in, or even accelerates, decay” (87), is described by Ricks as the most extreme poetic instance of how “postcoital sadness” is by Donne “grimly seized” (33).[6] Reading Donne’s poems in a linear way, Ricks fails to appreciate the complexity of Donne’s use of circular and golden imagery, and his merging of the riddle sub-genre with a variety of poetic forms. Contra Ricks, I contend that there is a lack of closure in Donne’s poems, which is not only crucial to an appreciation of the linguistic play of his poetic wit, with all its ambiguities and tensions, but also to an understanding of Donne’s sense of self and time as unavoidably being in medias res, unfinished, always in process.

4> I shall consider the form and spatial imagery of Metempsychosis and “Farewell to Love” in relation to what Ricks erroneously describes as the “only one interesting critical statement by Donne about the art of poetry” (46):

"[I]n all Metrical compositions, of which kinde the book of Psalms is, the force of the whole piece, is for the most part left to the shutting up; the whole frame of the Poem is a beating out of a piece of gold, but the last clause is as the impression of the stamp, and that is it that makes it currant."

5> To Ricks this statement is unambiguous: “the stamp of Donne’s conviction is firmly upon the last clause”, and “the impression of the stamp is the authoritative termination of any ‘unstable processes’” (47) in the poem.
[8] However, Donne’s statement, while it does place an emphasis on the ending of a poem, is, like his poems themselves, much more complex than Ricks admits. It has not, to my knowledge, been previously observed that Donne’s comparison of the body of a poem to “a piece of gold”, and the final lines of a poem to “the impression of a stamp”, likens the whole poem to a circular golden coin, which is “currant”, that is, “belonging to the present time” (OED), circulating, or in progress, rather than terminated by authority as Ricks suggests. Gold coins were traditionally stamped with either a biblical image or an image of the monarch that symbolically reflected the purity and intrinsic value of their material. Donne’s statement on “metrical compositions” of a “kinde” with the “book of psalms” is underpinned by the theological significance inherent in medieval monetary thought, whereby sign and thing coincide. However, in Donne’s time, the adding of “vile soder” to the base metal of coins meant that their intrinsic value could no longer be relied upon; the debased coin became a symbol for Donne of both original sin—the “fault” whereby change and conflict became an inherent part of the composite self—and the further degeneration of the period (“The Bracelet”).[9] Donne’s use of the circulating coin as symbol has numerous conflicting connotations, aesthetic, economic, political, religious and corporeal, which are employed evocatively by Donne in his genre-defying poetic corpus.[10]

6> In keeping with the conventions of the riddle genre, Metempsychosis explicitly challenges the reader to discover the identity of the wandering soul’s final embodiment: the epistle states that the poem will narrate the soul’s bodily adventures from her beginning in paradise in that “apple which Eve eate, to this time when shee is hee, whose life you shall finde in the end of this booke” (34). The soul’s progressively degenerative exploits as it travels through “most shapes” (plant, animal and human) and “all times” (3) is represented synecdochically through increasingly debased and adulterated metals: “What the gold Chaldee,’ or silver Persian saw, / Greeke brasse, or Roman iron, is in this one” (7-8). The poet understood this decline as most pronounced in the increasing conflict between body and soul, word and thing, due to religious, political and scientific controversies, and as reflected in the steady debasement of coinage since the time of Henry VIII.
[11] In the opening sentence of the epistle to Metempsychosis the poet impresses his own face as stamp onto the poem, “Others at the Porches and entries of their Buildings set their Arms; I, my picture”. Donne draws attention to his own mixed and fallen nature by associating his picture with the adulterated coin that symbolizes the degenerative movement of the soul.[12] This link between Donne’s composite nature and the soul’s grotesque bodily exploits is even more apparent when we consider that the words “mettle” and “metal” had yet to be distinguished in this period.[13] The poet’s “picture” epitomizes the self as an image of the world. The self as composite of mortal body and eternal soul is hinted at in the title page and opening stanzas of the poem, which further confuse generic expectations by calling the reader’s attention to the two other kinds of genre that inform this poem: epic and satire.[14] Metempsychosis supports a particular notion of history that demands a particular form of representation, a restructuring of ‘kind’ to represent the changing world and self. The mixing of genre is the poem’s strength.

7> The aesthetic paradox that the end begins (theorized in Derrida’s notion of the law of genre) informs Donne’s fusing of kinds in Metempsychosis.
[15] The idea that every end marks a new beginning is suggested in Donne’s use of the Pythagorean myth, which allows the soul, following the death of one bodily host, to inform another; in his governing image of the circular and circulating coin for his poem; and in his use of numerology—the poem comprises of fifty-two stanzas and twelve episodes—to suggest a complete cycle of time. The idea of every end as a new beginning also underpins Bakhtin’s notion of the grotesque whereby the world is understood in terms of the processes and excesses of the universal body. As I have discussed elsewhere, Bakhtin’s open-ended and ambivalent motif of “pregnant death” as a “two-bodied image” representative of cyclical time, decay and renewal pervades Donne’s Metempsychosis, and reflects the ambiguous and paradoxical relationship between life and death, death and life.[16]

8> Donne offers Metempsychosis to the reader as a riddle. His mixing of genres in Metempsychosis interconnects with his mixing of genders as key to the enigmatic identity of the soul’s last bodily host: “shee is hee, whose life you shall finde in the end of this booke”. The indeterminacy present in Donne’s mixing of gender, along with his riddling allusion to the end at the very beginning of his book, deliberately challenges and confuses the reader. Riddling is associated with the limits of knowledge and the rhetorical attempt to overcome those limits, and therefore also linked to desire, with its promise of fulfilment.
[17] The riddle makes vital the reader’s participation in the process of determining meaning. The promise contained in the riddle allows it to present itself as a gift, and partake in what Patricia Fumerton describes as “the ring of exchange”—or symbolic coin—that conflicted in this period with the rise of capitalism.[18] In the “ring of exchange” the end begins in “a system of ethical considerations [that] propels the gift in a process of circulation”.[19] The notion of generosity inherent in gift exchange also shares its etymological roots with genre in the Latin term genere. Genre, like the gift ethic, is not an end in itself: even the etymology of the word suggests its generative movement beyond itself. This is hinted at in Metempsychosis’s metrical form (considered to be the most distinctive element for determining literary kind in the Renaissance): the iambic pentameter, which swells to an alexandrine in the tenth and final line of each stanza, suggests the impossibility of containment, the pregnant potential of the end that also begins.

9> The etymological link between genre and gender would not be lost on Donne who considers that the natural progress of history towards degeneration can only be countered by a remembering of the correspondence and union that exists in all origins: “To know the nature of the thing, look we to the derivation, the extraction, the Origination of the word”.
[20] Metempsychosis explores the creation of the harmonious body and soul, and locates the origin of their conflict and division, in the myth of Genesis. In the beginning word and thing, body and soul, male and female were one. Metempsychosis is deeply concerned with discovering origins. Donne details not only the original embodiment of the soul in the apple in the garden of Eden, but also the “trees root” through which this apple “did draw/ Life” (123-4). The image of the root symbolizes for Donne the origin, source, and microcosm, the “contracted perfection”, and epitome of the all.[21]

10> Donne’s use of both satire and epic conventions to narrate the soul’s various bodily transformations and increasing subjection to bodily passions as it journeys through time, reflects his notion of fallen selfhood as an unfinished fusion of contrary elements forever in the process of change, with all the potential—positive and negative—that this implies. Marina Warner has suggested that narratives of metamorphosis characteristically “play a crucial part in anagnorsis, or recognition, the reversal fundamental to narrative form”.
[22] The final stanza of Metempsychosis, through its lack of closure and echo of the opening stanza’s biblical imagery, invites the reader to “wonder” at the universal nature of being in this world, and to recognize him or herself as the wandering soul’s bodily host. As we’ve seen, Donne also implicates himself, his “picture”, in his “sullen Writ” (511). The riddling union of the “shee” and “hee”, whose identity is the final stamp of Metempsychosis, and which concomitantly confers on the poem its value as coin, invites the fallen conflicted self to consider the prelapsarian harmony that existed between the body and soul, the male and the female, and to return to the golden age where sign and thing, interior and exterior, coincide. It is in this sense that Donne sets out to make his “darke heavy Poëm light, and light” (55): light as luminous gold, with its alchemical connotations of purity achieved through a process of transformation. However, the final metamorphosis necessarily remains incomplete. Conflict between the body and the soul, the “hee” and “shee”, is an inherent part of earthly, fallen existence within both the poem and the poet’s world. Metempsychosis engages the reader’s desire to find meaning; yet, the tension between the riddle and its solution is never fully resolvable, in this way the poem performs an on-going social and spiritual tension.

11> The richness of Donne’s use of gold coin as symbol of correspondence between body and soul, word and thing, poetic and sexual act, is perhaps most succinctly given form as the lovers transmute into the alchemical golden phoenix in “The Canonization”, whose endless circular dynamic of birth and death, and transformational round, gives the poem currency to transcend the King’s corrupt “stamped face”. The phoenix, associated with the sun, derives its name from the Greek word for palm tree, “phoinix”, on which the golden bird is said to build the pyre of spices that consumes its body, and from the ashes of which a new phoenix rises. In Metempsychosis, Donne alludes to the phoenix’s gathering of the spices necessary for its purification by death as it journeys from east to west: “[s]uck’st early balme, and Iland spices there” (14).
[23] A circular dynamic—from birth to death to rebirth—governs not only Donne’s more ideal love poems and religious verse but is also alluded to in his problematic and seemingly cynical and profane verse, such as Metempsychosis and “Farewell to Love”.

12> “Farewell to Love”, a lyric poem which again, like Metempsychosis, employs the riddle as sub-genre, also defies both linearity and closure. According to Pliny's and Lactantius’ account of the phoenix myth, a small worm appeared from the phoenix’s ashes that metamorphosed into a bird, and thus the phoenix was reborn.
[24] The final line in “Farewell to Love”, “If all faile, / ’Tis but applying worme-seed to the Taile (31-40)”, alludes to the notion of metamorphosis, death and rebirth. This riddling final line has been generally interpreted as a disillusioned, bawdy and “entirely effective” cynical refutation of sexual love. Ricks paraphrases Donne’s final line: “If the worst comes to the worst, I can always clap an anaphrodisiac to my penis” (35).[25] Yet, there is no evidence that worm-seed was regarded as an anaphrodisiac in Donne’s time. Neither, as we shall see, did “tail” refer exclusively to the penis. Ricks, like many other critics, relies on the incorrect glossing of “worm-seed” in editions of Donne’s poetry.[26] Ricks’ interpretation of Donne’s final line supports his argument that the ending of “Farewell to Love” constitutes “an act of revulsion”, and expresses “the shallowness of [Donne’s] final repudiatory bitterness”. However, the textual difficulties of this poem’s final lines are much more complex and interesting than Ricks allows.

13> At the end of the last stanza the burning cinders of the speaker’s sexual fire, which as the “summers Sunne”—an image of a golden round—“Growes great”, turns to ashes in the final line as “worm-seed” is applied to the “tail”. Ironically, Donne’s wit in this poem achieves its sublime heights in the seemingly mundane and bawdy “applying worme-seed to the Taile”. Gerarde’s Herball and the Grete Herball (Peter Treneris, 1526) attribute to worm-seed—its Latin name is semen sanctum—vermifugal power only. Its ability to expel worms from the body associates the plant with bodily emissions.
[27] In the context of “Farewell to Love”, Dipasquale’s reference to “worm-seed” as “male-seed” is clearly to the point, as is Ricks’ identification of “worm-seed” as the “emissions that are sex and death”.[28] However, although “worm-seed” as a pun for “male-seed” suggests a disparaging stance towards sex, this association of sex with death ultimately reinforces life: for Donne, the paradox and riddling wonder of sex is that the “little death” that follows ejaculation—“Being had, enjoying it decayes” (16)—is followed by life in the double sense of renewed desire and impregnation (“desires to raise posterity” (30). Death and resurrection stimulate Donne’s imagination. “Worm-seed” is a cruciferous plant, its four leaves arranged crosswise resembles a cross. The various connotations associated with the plant re-ignites the opening analogy between religion, death and sexual love in this poem. As both Smith and Dipasquale recognize, Donne is concerned in this poem with the nature of faith.[29] He refuses to reduce the “things unknown” to the degenerative dictates of “wise / Nature” (23/4).

14> That death involves rebirth is also hinted at in the final word “tail”, with its suggestion of the ouroboros ring. The ouroboros is “the beginning of the work in which the poisonous, moist dragon’s tail is consumed. When the dragon has completely sloughed its skin, like the snake, the supreme medicine has risen from its poison”.
[30] Employing the language of medicine and poison associated in alchemy with the ouroboros ring, Donne, in a sermon, describes the male and female, in their marital relation, as mutual “antidotes and preservatives” to each other’s otherwise poisonous sexual desire.[31] This mutuality between the sexes is also implied in the poet’s deliberately ambivalent use of “tail”: tail in its early modern semantic range refers not only to alchemical spiritual connotations of change and return, but also to both male and female sexual organs.[32] The multivalence of “tail” allows for different readings of the final line; Donne encourages the play of interpretative possibilities, refusing certainties. The final line in “Farewell to Love” is offered as a riddle, encouraging an active engagement with the ambivalent text that thus always remains in the process of being solved. Moreover, the conditional “if” in the final line precludes closure; the action of applying worm-seed is never fully completed in the body / word / world of the poem; only in the mind of the reader does the action take place.

15> Dipasquale’s reading of “Farewell to Love” comes closest to revealing Donne’s aesthetic intent when she states: “in the final lines… the speaker circles back to a version of the analogy [between religion and love] with which he began” (249). However, according to Dipasquale the speaker returns to the beginning of the poem in order to “deepen his ‘atheism’” and make “a mockery …of the quasi-divine” nature of love. Dipasquale sees the “return” in the words “if all fail”, which, she argues, “alludes to an atheist’s ‘dying hour’”. But the atheist’s dying breath calls out to God; faith is affirmed at the moment of death. Likewise, it is in the “worm-seed” (the emissions that are sex and death) that the whole alchemical process is invoked and the moment of transformation effected, whereby the speaker’s cynicism gives way to a renewed faith. Donne’s “worm-seed”, like the worm that is emitted from the phoenix’s body, effects a re-birthing of desire and life at its “dying hour”. With the concrete consummation of the final line in the word “tail” the poem becomes pregnant with potential—returning us cyclically to the opening where the speaker imaginatively, and wondrously, seeks presence in absence, the “deity in love”, and creates tension and a certain level of anxiety therein.


[1]John Donne, The Complete Poetry of John Donne, ed. John T. Shawcross (Garden City, NY: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1967) “Satyre III”, lines 1-2. [All further quotations from Donne’s poetry will be taken from this edition.]

[2] Rosalie L. Colie, The Resources of Kind: Genre Theory in the Renaissance, ed. Barbara K. Lewalski (Berkeley: U of California P, 1973) 112; Alastair Fowler, “The Formation of Genres in the Renaissance and After,” NLH 34. 2 (Spring 2003): 185-201, 192.

[3] Achsah Guibbory, The Map of Time: Seventeenth-Century English Literature and Ideas of Pattern in History (Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois P, 1986).

[4] Frederick J. Ruf, Entangled Voices: Genre and the Religious Construction of the Self (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997) 48.

[5] Christopher Ricks, “Donne after Love,” Literature and the Body: Essays on Populations and Persons, ed. Elaine Scarry (London: John Hopkins UP, 1986) 33-70, 33; 51; 34; 57.

[6] Richard Todd writes that “Farewell to Love” is “among the least anthologized, and … “least read” of Donne’s Songs and Sonets. Although Todd states that in terms of genre it belongs to the “renunciation of sexual love in favour of higher things”, which I disagree with, he recognizes that Donne’s tone, in this poem, “is extremely difficult to get a fix on”. See “‘Farewell to Love’: ‘Things’ as Artifacts, ‘thing[s]’ as Shifting Signifiers,” JDJ 18 (1999): 229-241, 229; 230; 233.

[7] Sermons VI. 41.

[8] Ricks here is attempting to dispute John Carey’s argument that Donne “retains a view of poems as unstable processes” (Life, Mind and Art, 192).

[9] See also, Shanakar Raman, “Can’t Buy me Love: Money, Gender and Colonialism in Donne’s Erotic Verse”, Criticism 43. 2 (Spring 2001): 135-268.

[10] For instance, in “Loves Progress”, Donne links the female sexual body with gold as the “soul of trade”, and maps for his coterie reader the surest anatomical journey towards the woman’s “centrique part” where “gold and fire abound”. In a verse letter to Lady Bedford, Donne appropriates the “ingenuity” yet wholesome constancy and intrinsic immutable worth of gold as a symbol for both his poem and his patron. The biblical language of the gold conceit in this verse, “no fire, nor rust can spend or waste / One dram of gold, but what was first shall last,” brings to mind the quasi-divine purity of gold as expressed in its alchemical symbol, a circle with a point in the centre—which also informs the famous compass conceit in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”.

[11] See Coburn Freer, “John Donne and the Elizabethan Economic Theory,” Criticism 38 (1996): 497-520.

[12] For a similar use of imagery that compares the imprint on a coin to impressions received by the self see Donne’s letter to Sir Henry Goodyer (Letters 101-2).

[13] Gail Kern Paster, Humoring the Body: Emotions and the Shakespearean Stage (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2004) 46.

[14] The general critical debate about Metempsychosis is on whether Donne intented the poem as a satire or as on epic. For opposing arguments about the poem’s genre see, for instance, Janel M. Mueller, “Donne’s Epic Venture in the Metempsychosis,” MP 70 (1972): 109-137; and Helen Gardner, “The ‘Metempsychosis’ of John Donne,” TLS, 29 (Dec. 1972): 1587-88, 1587. I argue that Donne intentionally fuses both epic and satiric elements in his poem.

[15] Jacques Derrida, “The Law of Genre,” trans. Avital Ronell, CI 7.1 (Autmn., 1980): 55-81; for a critique of Derrida’s ambivalent view of genre see Ralph Cohen, “History and Genre,” NLH 17.2 (Wintr., 1986): 203-218.

[16] Siobhán Collins, “Bodily Formations and Reading Strategies in John Donne’s Metempsychosis,” Textual Ethos Studies: or Locating Ethics, eds., Anna Fahraeus and AnnKatrin Jonsson (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2005) 191-209.

[17] See Rosalie Colie, “Some Paradoxes in the Language of Things,” Reason and the Imagination: Studies in the History of Ideas, ed. J. A. Mazzeo (New York: Columbia UP; London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1962) 93-129, 109.

[18] This point is further developed in my article, “Selfhood and Technologies of Textual Production: the Matter of Donne’s Poetics,” Writing Technologies 2. 2 (Forthcoming, May 2008): 1-19 <>.

[19] Patricia Fumerton, “Exchanging Gifts: The Elizabethan Currency of Children and Poetry,” ELH 7.2 (1986): 241-278, 241; 245; 243; see also Barbara Sebek, “Good Turns and the Art of Merchandizing: Conceptualizing Exchange in Early Modern England,” EMC 29 May 2005 <>.

[20] Sermons III. 171.

[21] The Map of Time 85.

[22] Marina Warner, Fantastic Metamorphosis, Other Worlds (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002) 19.

[23] Lactantius refers also to the phoenix’s tasting of “honey-dew” and its gathering for its nest “the most fragrant and delightsome herbs”. See “The Phoenix,” Anglo-Saxon Poetry, ed., trans. and intro. S. A. J. Bradley (London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd, 1982) 284-301.

[24] Pliny, the Elder, The Historie of the World: Commonly Called, The Naturall Historie of C. Plinius Secundus, trans. Philemon Holland (London, 1635) Folger Shakespeare Library, EEBO, UCC Boole Lib., 16 Jan 2005 <> 271.

[25] See also Elaine Perez Zickler, “‘nor in nothing, nor in things’: The Case of Love and Desire in Donne’s Songs and Sonets,” JDJ 12. 1 & 2 (1993): 17-39.

[26] John Hayward first glossed “worm-seed” as a “powerful anaphrodisiac” in his edition John Donne: Complete Poetry and Selected Prose (New York: Random House, 1937) 767. Despite Marvin Morillo’s “Donne’s ‘Farewell to Love’: The Force of the Shutting Up,” Tulane Studies in Literature (1963): 33-40, which pointed out that neither the Oxford Dictionary nor the popular herbals support the notion of “worm-seed” as an anaphrodisiac (38-9), Clements’s edition of Donne’s poetry in 1966, Shawcross’s in 1967, Smith’s in 1983, and Carey’s in 1990 all continued to gloss “worm-seed” as an anaphrodisiac. See Masselink’s enlightening article “Wormseed revisited: Glossing Line Forty of Donne’s ‘Farewell to Love,” ELN (Dec., 1992): 11-15.

[27] Morillo 39; Masselink 11.

[28] Theresa M. DiPasquale, “The Things Not Seen in Donne’s ‘Farewell to Love,” JDJ 18 (1999): 243-253.

[29] A. J. Smith, “The Dismissal of Love: Or, Was Donne a Neo-Platonic Lover?” Smith, Essays in Celebration 89-131, esp. 112-21.

[30] Michael Maier, Atalanta Fugiens, Oppenheim, 1618. Cited in Alexander Roob, Alchemy and Mysticism (London: Taschen, 2005) 421.

[31] Sermons, III. 244.

[32] Hayward asserts that “the Latin word for tail is penis”, and that “[t]ail in this sense is common in Elizabethan literature” (767). However, as Masselink points out, “while ‘tail’ is used to denote the penis in Donne’s time, it is used even more commonly in reference to the female pudendum, an observation also supported by the Oxford English Dictionary” (11).

Siobhán Collins is a part-time lecturer at University College Cork, where she co-directs the Making Books, Shaping Readers project <>. She has published articles on Donne and co-authored an article with Louise Denmead on Thomas Browne. She has annotated King Lear and Hamlet for Forum Publications; and is working on an initiative which aims to make the material transmission of Donne’s corpus available as a searchable digital archive.

APPOSITIONS: Studies in Renaissance / Early Modern Literature & Culture,, ISSN: 1946-1992, Volume One (2008): Genres & Cultures

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