The Metaphysical Sonnets of John Donne and Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski: A Comparison
Magdalena Kay
University of California, Berkeley

Kay, Magda. "The Metaphysical Sonnets of John Donne and Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski: A Comparison." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.2 (September, 2003): 1.-50 <URL:

  1. Two of the most extraordinary minds of the late Renaissance were poets: Englishman John Donne and Pole Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski. They also both wrote collections of sonnets. One may call them precursors of the Baroque, but their complexity defies periodization. The aptest label for them is the much-contested term "metaphysical." They are exceptional for the uniquely personal character of their poetry, marked by ardent piety and a desperate need to come to terms with human existence. It is arguable whether they succeed. Man is divided, weak, and fearful; he is subject to pain, temptation, and doubt. Sep's vision is irreprievably dark: ruled by external forces, man can never achieve salvation and win the "battle" of existence. God is a source of joy, but is unreachable. Donne allows the possibility of receiving divine love, as well as achieving salvation through repentance and Christ's sacrifice. Both poets work out their ideas through paradox and syntactic play (dissonance; inversion; parallelism), which superimposes an additional layer of complexity upon their difficult thematics, and further prevents both poet and reader from supplying solutions to the problems presented. 

    I. The Poets

  2. Donne and Sep were not quite contemporaries (Donne: 1572-1631, Sep: 1550-1581), but a comparison is more seriously troubled by the slimness of Sep's oeuvre, due to his untimely death, than by inexact contemporaneity. I hold that his extreme concision of utterance provides more interpretive loci than is usual for a single poem; his laconicism far exceeds Donne's. In any event, the striking similarities between these poets should not allow problems of quantity to prevent or circumscribe a comparison.It is more useful to view the poets in opposition to the Renaissance cultural climate in which they lived than in terms of the Baroque culture that they helped to form. The poets cannot share the humanist belief that man may perfect himself by his own efforts; man is fundamentally flawed. Both poets wilfully pursue disunity, defining themselves against the Renaissance ideal of harmony. The term "metaphysical" is applicable to both poets. We may use this term in a double sense, applicable to both content and form. Sep and Donne build a philosophical conception of man's place in the universe while employing a dramatic, personal, highly innovative style. The verbal nonconformism of this poetry reflects its troubled, personalized content. David Reid lays stress upon the individualistic character of metaphysical verse: the use of "strong lines," which he defines as "expressions made arresting and difficult through abrupt or riddling syntax," is wedded to a complex interiority. [1]

  3. T. S. Eliot draws an important distinction between Metaphysical language and structure: "the language of these poets is as a rule simple and pure;…the structure of the sentences, on the other hand, is sometimes far from simple, but this is not a vice; it is a fidelity to thought and feeling." [2] This is especially true of Sep. Donne's complex syntax stretches the bounds of language, but he aids the reader in piecing together the puzzle with commas and paraphrases: "Beauty, of pitty, foulnesse only is / A signe of rigour: so I say to thee, / To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assigned." [3] We may compare this to Sep: "Ten nasz dom-cialo, dla zbieglych lubosci / Niebacznie zajzrzac duchowi zwierzchnosci, / Upasc na wieki zadac nie przestanie" [4] ("Our house-the body, for passing delights [,] heedlessly envying the spirit its authority, will not stop to desire to fall for ages" ). The fluidity of Polish syntax, due to inflection, makes possible a highly complex structure which, some Polish critics suspect, prevented Sep from attaining a wide readership in his time: he was too difficult.

  4. This style was praised by Eliot, whose desire for poetic "difficulty" parallels his interest in Donne. However, other critics fault Donne for over-use of rhetoric, which may clash with the supposedly sincere piety of the poems. Recent scholars point to the performative aspect of the Holy Sonnets: does performance express or preclude piety? What sort of emotive (or even theological) gaps exist between signifying words, authorial sincerity, and readerly reception? [5] Because he was overlooked for many years, Sep's poetry occasioned no such heated debates. The twentieth century revived interest in Sep, but critics usually praise his complexities and underscore his place in the literary canon.

  5. A parallel point of contention, applicable to both poets, concerns the relation of emotion to the speaker of the poems. Early in the century Eliot praises Donne's emotional complexity as a sign of psychological unity. Jan Blonski, Sep's preeminent critic, holds that Sep's complexity reflects inner discord: Sep "oscillates between idea and feeling," both "theologian and self-psychologist." [6] Blonski unnecessarily divides intellect and emotion, like an anatomist in the day of Sep and Donne. In both poets' oeuvres, questions of the cosmos are frequently paralleled by, or diverted to, questions of psychology. Donne welcomes this integration: "I am a little world made cunningly / Of Elements…" (V. 1-2). Internal and external instability coexist: it is a truism to speak of Sep's disunited worldview, which finds a fitting counterpart in Donne's "Holy Sonnets."

  6. Despite the intensely personal character of his sonnets, Sep is often charged with over-abstraction (this was also a key complaint of Donne's early critics). The fact is that Sep is not interested in "Nature." He does not have a plastic imagination; physical description is notably absent from his poetry. Blonski views this situation in spiritual terms: "in Sep's…poems there is a lack of powerful images of the Creator revealing himself in Nature: the space of faith is only "the heart," the soul of the individual" (198). The outside world is reduced to philosophical abstractions: "the middle world doesn't interest him, suspended between the primeval darkness and the stars, between water and light. This world furnishes him only poetic emblems" (46). He is allegorical, non-sensual. Daily events are experienced by him as timeless truths. Conversely, abstractions also take on independent life (63). He is original in the choice and application-not the creation-of images. Adding onto Blonski's analysis, Sep is also original in the fusion of extreme emotion with such abstraction. This fusion may be misperceived: "[Sep's] uniqueness depends on scant presence of emotional elements and the omnipotence of intellectual elements that…evoke emotional reactions in the reader." [7] The speaker of Sep's poems is emotional, although he lives in an abstract world.

  7. The poems being compared are sonnets, and this formal choice deserves attention. Rather than extending the Petrarchan tradition, they engage the meditative tradition. A tension exists between the harmony of the form and the working out of complex thought, as a wide range of tones may be enclosed in a limited field. Blonski places Sep within this tradition: "The world is, to Sep, accessible not through sensory vision, but in interior meditation; likewise ideas interest him insofar as they are made part of moral conscience, insofar as they acquire affective resonance" (Blonski 71). Louis Martz makes a similar argument for Donne: "one might use the word "meditative," rather than "metaphysical,"…for "meditative" seems to point directly to the inner organizing principle," which to Martz is the inner quest. The process follows St. Ignatius of Loyola's prescription. By means of "arduous and disciplined meditation," the meditator moves from "anguish and vexation" through "agony" to a transcendental unity and serenity. [8] Several scholars have debated Martz's view. Stevie Davies points to the theatricality and self-fashioning of the Holy Sonnets. "Meditation" implies privacy, whereas this speaker is posturing before an audience. [9]

  8. Another problem with Martz's argument is the difficulty of understanding how unity is achieved. Two different orderings have been proposed for the Holy Sonnets. The first follows Grierson's 1921 edition, and is used here. The second was proposed by Helen Gardner in 1966, and neither organization leads to unity or serenity: XIX, usually placed last, begins with the famous outcry "Oh, to vex me, contraryes meet in one," and ends with the subdued moan "Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare." It is hard to find serenity in such pain; the "contraryes" are not resolved. Rather, the poems oscillate between despair and hope. Donne makes an "imaginative commitment to instability" which greatly contributes to the power and originality of his verse. [10]

  9. It is worth noting that these sonnet sequences belong to the later part of Donne's and Sep's oeuvres. Even within Sep's short life, there is a development from poetic paraphrases of psalms to songs, and lastly to sonnets. Blonski notes a fuller internalization of ideas in the sonnets, and more surprising links between theological theses (72-74). Sep did not, however, enact as noticeable a development as Donne, whose early "Songs and Sonnets" are amorous works heavily using metaphysical conceit. His "wit" is tamed in the Holy Sonnets; there is no "outrageous element;" his language is more biblical, less innovative. Rather than extending analogy into conceit, he employs what Gardner calls "congruous thoughts," brief and vivid images from daily life serving as illustrations. [11] The differentiation between Donne's amorous and religious poetry is summarized thus by one critic: "in the first, declaration of love attains the ardor of prayer; in the second-prayer parallels a declaration of love in the degree of its piety." [12] This formulation excellently captures Donne's changing tone.

  10. Both poets underwent a conversion experience prior to writing these sonnet sequences, albeit in opposite directions: Sep converted from Protestantism to Catholicism shortly after his university studies in Wittenberg, and Donne converted from Catholicism to Anglicanism. It is postulated that Donne's conversion was very gradual, culminating in his ordination at St. Paul's Cathedral; Sep's was sudden, and the anguish emanating from his poems is probably due to this spiritual trauma.

  11. A slim collection of amorous verses, addressed to a few young women with typical Polish names--Kasia, Anusia, Zosia--were found in the same codex as Sep's poetry. The tone of these lyrics is playful and slyly allusive. The debate over these poems is still current: some scholars tentatively attribute them to Sep while others reject this possibility. Thematically and stylistically, they are diametrically opposite to the rest of Sep's oeuvre; biographically, he could only have composed them at a very young age (fifteen?). In this case, his conversion would be even more dramatic, involving a complete poetic turnaround. These arguments are implausible and forced; the only poems we can seriously consider are those published by his brother after Sep's death. The sonnets are the cream of this collection.

    II. The Poems


    I ja, co dalej, lepiej cien gleboki
    Bledów mych widze, które gesto jedza
    Strwozone serce ustawiczna zedza
    I placzem ganie mlodosci mej skoki.

    [While I, the further I go, better see the deep shadow of my errors, which thickly harrow my fearful heart with unending agony, and with tears I rue the leaps of my youth.] (Sonet I, 1-4)

    In my Idolatry what showres of raine
    My eyes did waste? what griefs my heart did rent?

    To (poore) me is allow'd
    No ease; for long, yet vehement griefe hath beene
    Th'effect and cause, the punishment and sinne. (Holy Sonnet III, 5-6, 12-14)

  13. Donne's and Sep's view of the past is strongly coloured by their conversion experience. Pleasure belongs to the past, though it is remarkable how negatively this pleasure is viewed: the reader is given no evocation of these "leaps of my youth," no sense of their character. We may guess at Donne's pleasures: elsewhere he mentions the "profane mistresses" of his "idolatrie" (XIII.9-10), which fits with the biographical details of Jack Donne, erstwhile rake and reveller. Donne has converted both his religion and his lifestyle; in contrast, all accounts of Sep's youth paint him as a virtuous, modest young man.

  14. Both reactions juxtapose the older, wiser poet with the callow youth. Sep claims his moral vision sharpens with age--he is better able to judge and reject the "shadow" of error, though as his vision sharpens, so does his pain. Donne juxtaposes the "wasted" emotion occasioned by amorous love with a presumably productive emotion directed toward God. These are anti-nostalgic poets. They are also utterly solitary. The experience of conversion is associated with solitude and introversion, but especially in a Protestant context, which marks Sep as an anomaly in mostly-Catholic Poland:

    perhaps the first in Polish poetry, Sep underwent his religious experiences in solitude and desertion, as an individual, and he underwent a realization of the insurmountable distance between the Creator and his creation….Internalization and individuation of the concept of God is expressed-paradoxically-most strongly and most painfully at the moment of conversion, when God himself is questioned. (194-197)

    Instead of endowing him with newfound assurance and a sense of spiritual community, conversion leaves Sep doubly isolated, from his previous self, and from other believers. He and Donne are left with a gnawing sense of their unfair treatment of God. The strong emotionality of their poems has this idea at its source: they must atone for their previous mistakes by means of extraordinary ardour.

  15. Repentance is made difficult by one's inner division. The self is a locus of contradictions. Yet man must create his fate for himself. Sep's fundamental pessimism stems from the torment of his freedom. He constantly bemoans his human limitations: whether or not his poems are strictly autobiographical, they testify to a fundamental unease with the human condition. Both Sep and Donne suffer from a sense of man's division into "elements" and spirit: "Cóz bede czynil w tak straszliwym boju, / Watly, niebaczny, rozdwojony w sobie?" [What shall I do in such fearful combat, weak, incautious, divided in myself?] (Sonet IV.9-10). Sep's adjectives follow a crescendo, as man's greatest weakness is his self-division. It precludes the possibility of total "combat" with "Satan, the world, and the body."

  16. Donne also writes of division: "I am a little world made cunningly / Of Elements, and an Angelike spright" (V.1-2). Elsewhere he mentions that "gluttonous death" will "instantly unjoynt / My body, and soule" (VI.4-5). The difference in tone is tremendous. Despite the anguish which encloses all of the Holy Sonnets, these moments do not seem fraught with emotion. The "unjoynting" of body and soul is viewed with neither fear nor desire. Sep's question is strong and not as rhetorical as it may seem: there is no implied answer, and his poems frequently include such plaintive questions as expressions of despair. He is looking for guidance. He could never write that his spirit was "Angelike"-in Sep's cosmos, man is too far below the angels for such an assertion to be possible.

  17. This division causes man to feel a dual temptation, the desire to rise to God and the downward pull of Satan. These forces are in constant conflict:

    Pokój-szczesliwosc, ale bojowanie
    Byt nasz podniebny. On srogi ciemnosci
    Hetman i swiata lakome marnosci
    O nasze pilno czynia zepsowanie.

    [Peace-[is] happiness, but struggle is our condition under the heavens. The stern Prince of darkness and the world's sweet vanities patiently await our corruption.] (Sonet IV.1-4)

    Why doth the devill then usurpe on me?

    Except thou rise and for thine owne worke fight,
    Oh I shall soone despaire, when I doe see
    That thou lov'st mankind well, yet wilt'not chuse me,
    And Satan hates me, yet is loth to lose me. ( Holy Sonnet II.9-14)

    Man is a victim of himself and of external forces. Sep's view of human life seems to be doomed from the beginning: there is no moment of respite or hope, for when one ceases to struggle, the evil forces lying in wait will strike. Although a similar conception underlies Donne's lines, the possibility of being "chosen" by God is articulated, whereas Sep has reached the point of "despaire" which threatens Donne. The antinomy of God and Satan (or God and "vanities") is heavily weighted in Sep's verse: the latter seem to exercise more immediate force than the former. This difference may be due to religious creed or to temperament.

  18. The temptation of worldly goods is omnipresent in Sep's verse, surprisingly for such an ascetic, abstract speaker. We certainly never "see" these goods; they, too, are kept abstract. Even if they have value, they turn our desires "from personal joy (which we call God)" by their "ephemeral" character (I. 11-13). This concept is strange for the non-ascetic: cannot these goods bring one personal joy quite easily? Sep has reached a high degree of religiosity in these lines: acquisition precludes pleasure. Here is the root of his non-imagistic aesthetic. No ephemeral, material object can serve as a fitting metaphor for religious themes.

  19. Donne is less ascetic. He admits his own fickleness:

    Oh, to vex me, contraryes meet in one:
    Inconstancy unnaturally hath begott
    A constant habit; that when I would not
    I change in vows, and in devotione. (XIX. 1-4)

    The habit is "constant" because it is part of his nature. His "contrition" alternates with his "prophane Love" (ll.5-6) for things of this world. Donne's abstraction is equal to Sep's, and serves the same purpose of denying power to physicality. Gardner identifies the power of these poems: "No other religious poems make us feel so acutely the predicament of natural man called to be spiritual man. None present more vividly man's recognition of the gulf that divides him from God" (xxxi).

  20. This rejection of transient matter accompanied Sep's hatred of the body. Sonet IV is subtitled "On the war we wage against Satan, the world, and the body." These three entities are conflated as sources of evil.

    Ten nasz dom-cialo, dla zbieglych lubosci
    Niebacznie zajzrzac duchowi zwierzchnosci,
    Upasc na wieki zadac nie przestanie.

    Ty mnie przy sobie postaw, a przezpiecznie
    Bede wojowal i wygram statecznie!

    [Our house-the body, for passing pleasures heedlessly envying the spirit its authority, constantly continues to desire our fall…. You place me by yourself, then I will safely wage war and win with dignity!] (IV. 6-8, 13-14)

    Because it is a house "for passing pleasures"--the very pleasures which are naturally impious-the body is fundamentally impious itself. It is in league with Satan, "desiring" the "fall" of man and the overthrow of the spirit. The implied command to wage war against the body bears serious ramifications. Critics are generally hesitant to attribute a death-wish to Sep--this would paint his oeuvre in the most morbid hues. But these overtones are undeniable. The only way in which man can wage war against the body is by exiting the body--hence the request to be placed by God's side--in death.

  21. Donne tries to allow more room for physical beauty than Sep:

    …as in my idolatrie
    I said to all my profane mistresses,
    Beauty, of pitty, foulnesse only is
    A signe of rigour: so I say to thee,
    To wicked spirits are horrid shapes assign'd,
    This beauteous form assumes a pitious mind. (XIII.9-14)

    Donne tries to salvage the body by finding a correspondence between inner and outer states. Unfortunately, the poem is not entirely successful in persuading the reader of its neat conclusion. The period of "idolatrie" has come under heavy censure--thus, any conclusions drawn during this period must be suspect. Why would the speaker divulge spiritual truths to "profane mistresses?" The veracity of the overly aphoristic couplet is put under question by its context. The beginning octave of this sonnet fits poorly with the sestet: a frightful image of Christ on the cross, complete with tears and blood, suddenly gives way to conversation with former mistresses. Rather than defending the "beauteous forme," this sonnet leaves the reader with an image of Christ's agony. The body is, as in Sep, a locus of pain, though Donne is still willing to come to its defence. The pain of man's inner dichotomies supersedes the attempt to harmonize spirit and body.

  22. The body is also the primary locus of sin. Sin is a veritable obsession for both poets, though it occupies a different place in each poet's vision of human existence. For Sep, sin is the basic condition of human life. Man is "conceived in shame" (II.1), errs in the "leaps of youth" (I. 8), fights against his sinful body, and fears the "sad night" and "heavy shadow" encroaching "relentlessly" upon him (III.11-12). Donne believes that sin leads to death. The word crops up with alarming frequency in the Holy Sonnets. It is a bodily affliction: "my feeble flesh doth waste / By sinne in it, which it t'wards hell doth weigh" (I. 6-7). Hence it is another force pulling man downwards towards hell. Original sin "decays" man (II.3), whose higher faculties incur added responsibility for his sins: "Why should intent or reason, borne in mee, / Make sinnes, else equall, in mee more heinous…?" (IX. 5-6). As with Sep, free will is tormenting. Man brings about his own fall: "I am a little world…, / But black sinne hath betraid to endless night / My worlds both parts, and (oh) both parts must die" (V. 1-4, italics mine). These lines play with the notion of human passivity. The "little world" and "Angelike spright" give an impression of size and power, yet they are victims of betrayal, and the world is unfairly delivered to "endless night." The conjunction "but" underscores their weaknessp-clearly the "Angelike spright" is not strong enough to vanquish or outsmart sin. However, wouldn't a truly angelic spirit be immune to temptation? It would certainly be strong enough to withstand it. A passive notion of human will would partially acquit man of his sins, but this idea is rendered impossible even as it is articulated.

  23. The deceptive nature of temptation is described by both poets. Despite Donne's assertion that "wicked spirits" have "horrid shapes," their temptation is subtle enough to thoroughly dislocate the speaker: "…our old subtle foe so tempteth me, / That not one houre my selfe I can sustaine" (I. 10-11). To Sep, he tempts man through deceptive sweetness: "zadza zwiedzone / Mysli cukruja nazbyt rzeczy one, / Które i mienic, i musza sie psowac" [seduced by desire, our thoughts overly sugar-coat things which both have to change, and have to rot] (V.3-4). This is a rare sensory moment in Sep. The juxtaposition of "sugar-coat" and "rot" produces a startling effect of distate. Seduction, leading to sin, is tempting, but once again the poems are too abstract to offer any specific images of temptation.

  24. Sep's vision of man is founded on a fundamental discomfort within the human condition which we do not find in Donne. Time and Death conspire to cut short the "pitiful pleasure" of life (I. 2-4); man is "weak, incautious, divided" (IV. 10); life is dominated by pain.

    Z wstydem poczety czlowiek, urodzony
    Z bolescia, krótko tu na swiecie zywie,
    I to odmiennie, nedznie, bojazliwie,
    Ginie, od slonca jak cien opuszczony.

    [Conceived in shame, man is born in pain, lives briefly here in the world, and alone, miserably, fearfully, he dies, like a shadow left by the sun.] (II. 1-4)

    The physical acts of procreation and childbirth are given moral resonance in the interest of furthering an ascetic disgust with the human body. The grammar of this stanza creates a sense of aggregation (both in the original and in translation) as negative concepts are multiplied. One wonders why the brevity of life should be an object of regret. Man's inherent misery and solitude precludes the achievement of mystical serenity, which requires inner affirmation of faith. [13]

  25. This discomfort is heightened by the difficulty of exercising one's free will. Backvis claims that "man is incapable of sustaining responsibility," which accounts for the "struggle" of existence in Sep's poetry. [14] His incapacity is preyed upon by the outside world, as man is in constant danger of having his will subsumed by death, God, or nature.

    Ehej, jak gwaltem obrotne obloki
    I Tytan pretki lotne czasy pedza,
    A chciwa moze odciac rozkosz nedza
    Smierc-tuz za nami spore czyni kroki.

    [Alas, as the high clouds and swift Titan speed the quick moments, while greedy death may cut off delightp-at our very backs it takes huge strides.] (I. 1-4)

    "Titan" speeds time, which produces an impression of violence upon the viewer. Time is not controlled, and its reckless course creates destruction. "Delight" cannot be situated, certainly not in the clouds or in the passage of time. Again, it is an abstraction used to describe human life. Man is small and weak in this emblematic picture. There is no possibility envisaged for human agency, and death is an ultimate example of man's incapacity.

  26. Donne has a far more optimistic view of man as divine image. Addressing his soul, he tells it that God "doth make his Temple in thy brest" (XV. 4). Christ is the true son of God, but man has been chosen "by adoption" to be "Coheire to'his glory" (XV. 7-8). Here he affirms that the entire human race has been chosen by God to receive "glory." The distinction is great, as it places man close to Christ, suggesting a degree of divinity. This belief underlies Donne's defence of the body. He asks his creator, "Thou hast made me, And shall thy worke decay?" (I. 1). If man is the handiwork of God, it follows that "decay" of the body should be associated with sin and neglect of divine commands. It is difficult to reconcile this concept with the inherent division of man discussed earlier; although the soul partakes of divinity more than the body, their union in the present world enjoins man to support the body.

  27. This is the deepest difference between Donne and Sep. Man is able to achieve purification through repentance, and salvation through Christ. Donne considers the possibility of effacement of sin through tears: "[of] my tears, make a heavenly Lethean flood / And drowne in it my sinnes black memorie" (IX. 11-12). The poet wishes the flood of his tears to make God forget his sins. Sep would never dare to credit man with such power over God. The image of purifying water is important to Donne; it underlies his idea of repentance. It is succeeded by a divine conflagration:

    Powre new seas in mine eyes, that so I might
    Drowne my world with my weeping earnestly,
    Or wash it if it must be drown'd no more:
    But oh it must be burnt; …
    … burne me ô Lord, with a fiery zeale
    Of thee and thy house, which doth in eating heale. (V. 7-10, 13-14)

    Water may have two functions: incitement of forgetfulness (drowning) or purification (washing). The former is merely destructive, while the latter brings new life and purity. The divine conflagration is opposed to the fire of sin. Both water and fire "heale" the sick human soul.

  28. Douglas Peterson has proposed a reading of the "Holy Sonnets" according to the Anglican doctrine of contrition. The ruling principle is that fear of sin precedes love of God, which leads to repentance (contrition). The sonnets enact a progression from stimulation of fear by meditation on "last things" to "transcendence of fear through love" and repayment of the "debt of love" to God. The last sonnet (XIX) is read as a step backward, away from love back to fear, which signals the poet's despair in ever achieving contrition: "the sonnet is an admission of near-despair, reflecting a moment of spiritual dryness." [15] The last line of the sonnet reads "Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare" (XIX. 14). The relevance of Peterson's reading is indubitable, but it simplifies the richness of Donne's spirituality. His theory does not adequately account for the dual powers of divine conflagration and divine grace. Purification through water (tears, flood) is paralleled in purification through Christ, whose "blood…hath this might / That being red, it dyes red soules to white"(IV. 13-14). By means of love, Christ atones for the sins of man. Thus atonement or "contrition" works on two different levels, associated with the elements of blood (of Christ) and of water and fire (of God).

  29. Sep does not account for the possibility of salvation. Man cannot possibly purify himself, and Sep's God is distant and unreachable. His only mention of salvation places it out of human reach:

    Cóz bede czynil w tak straszliwym boju,
    Watly, niebaczny, rozdwojony w sobie?
    Królu powszechny, prawdziwy pokoju,
    Zbawienia mego jest nadzieja w Tobie!

    Ty mnie przy sobie postaw, a przezpiecznie
    Bede wojowal i wygram statecznie!

    [What shall I do in such fearful combat, weak, incautious, divided in myself? Universal king, true peace, my salvation is my hope in you! Place me by your side, and I will wage war safely and win with dignity!] (IV. 9-14)

    Man is unable to use his agency, and relinquishes all possibility of meaningful action in a cry as desperate as it is loving. The request is clearly impossible to fulfil in this life. There is an abyss separating man from God that impedes contact. Grace is a vain hope betokening weakness. By way of tragic contrast we can juxtapose the final couplet of Holy Sonnet VI: "Impute me righteous, thus purg'd of evill, / For thus I leave the world, the flesh, the devill." Salvation through Christ's sacrifice allows the speaker to vanquish the same three foes that Sep battles hopelessly in Sonet IV.

  30. Sep cannot rise to these heights. He is caught in the ceaseless movement of time and matter, while he himself is static, unable to initiate his own movement. The clouds speed with "swift Titan;" time "races;" Death takes "huge stride[s];" even the abstractions of "power, riches, pleasure" join forces to "lead" the speaker from joy (I). Man is "a shadow left by the sun" (II. 4)-again, wholly dependent on the sun's movement to be moved. Sep believes in free will to choose and to love, but not in free locomotion.

  31. This concept is key to Blonski, though he posits God as the stable initiator of man's movement. God is distant and opposed to the flux of human life in his self-sufficiency and order. Chaotic movement is a metaphor for sin and death, though motion is also the cause of existence. "The entire poetry of Sep is nothing other than a phenomenology of motion, and almost all its directions, analogues and puzzles can be discovered" by a comprehensive analysis, which Blonski undertakes. [16] He points to a "dynamism of description" which produces "an impression of speed upon the reader" and is opposed to a Renaissance-style harmony. I do not receive this impression. Nature is in flux; human life is unstable; the pathos of Sep's sonnets springs precisely from man's inability to initiate and master this movement. The convoluted syntax found in both Sep and Donne slows down the reading process. Sep's concision enacts a juxtaposition of emblems and situations that is jarring: it arrests the reader in much the same way as man is fixed in place by external forces.

  32. However, the forces are evenly matched in Donne's verse: "I runne to death, and death meets me as fast" (I. 3). Man's sin propels him toward death, which greedily runs to receive him in the guise of physical decay ("mine end doth haste"-I. 2). Donne multiplies his metaphors for the movement toward death: "This is my playes last scene, here heavens appoint / My pilgrimages last mile; and my race / Idly, yet quickly runne, hath this last pace" (VI. 1-3). Man is an actor, a pilgrim, and/or a racer. Although the heavens "appoint" the end of his journey, he is responsible for its undertaking.

  33. God is called upon to guide man's life into "the true course of our existence" (Sonet V. 9). Both poets urgently request God's assistance, but Sep employs a tone of imploration while Donne speaks more casually, expressing resentment at the indignities God allows him to suffer. Because he is God's son, "made with thy selfe to shine," God should defend him: "thou rise and for thine owne worke fight" (II. 5, 11). He is elucidating God's own duties to man; since man is weak, he requires God's active assistance ("Repaire me now, for now mine end doth haste"-I. 2).

  34. Sep is not so comfortable with his God. He is incomprehensible and unreachable: "Dziwne sa Twego milosierzia sprawy. / Tym sie Cherubim (przepasc zrozumnosci) / Dziwi zdumialy" [Strange are the ways of your grace. The Cherubim (the abyss of wisdom) marvel amazed] (II. 9-11). Cherubim symbolize wisdom and justice, yet they still cannot understand God's relation to man. [17] There is an agglomeration of words of amazement: "strange," "amaze," "astonished," "marvel" (in Polish: "dziwne," "dziwi," "zdumialy"). Man's place below the angels is also emphasized. When man does make a request of God, he still underscores his baseness: "Ale {Ty} zarza juz nam nastan rana, / Pokaz Twego slonca swiatlosc zadana" [But {you}become the dawn to us, reveal the coveted light of your sun] (III. 13-14, addressed to the Virgin Mary). Once again we see the image of man in shadow, helpless to bring himself into the sunlight. Unlike Donne, Sep does not express a sense of God or Mary's duty toward man; rather, all duty belongs to man toward God. God and Mary are not requested to step into the human world and "repaire" weak man. They are too far removed for such a request to be possible.

  35. God's incomprehensibility inspires love and amazement in Sep. A sense of his personal unworthiness underlies his praise: "Jeno, zem uczonej / Malo pil wody, nie smiem sie jac tego" [But I drank little of the water of learning, and don't dare to start this] (VI. 7-8). Although this sonnet praises his patron, Mikolaj Tomicki, it is subtly turned to praise God: as Tomicki's virtues are immeasurable, so are God's. God is the source of poetic light:

    Tomicki, jesli nie gania owego,
    Który ku chwale swieci lampa onej
    W sobie chwalebnej, swietej, niezmierzonej
    Swiatlosci, swiatla skad jasnosc kazdego,

    Lecz, jesli Muzy z ubóstwem sie zgodza,
    Dzielnosc, statecznosc, rozum, obyczaje
    Twoje, co zacnosc (choc wielka) przechodza,

    Wiersza mojego ustawna zabawa
    Beda. Co mówie? beda slawa prawa.

    [Tomicki, if they would not chide him, who lights a lamp to glory [,] itself glorious, holy, boundless light, whence each one's glow does stem, … But, if the Muses will agree to poverty, your courage, dignity, reason, customs, which exceed your position (though great), they will be a perpetual game for my verse. What am I saying? They will be true glory.] (VI. 1-4, 9-14)

    This is a rare instance of direct personal allusion by Sep, wherein he discusses the role of poetry as devotion. The poet lights a lamp to the source of all light. The effort is not vain because it serves the purpose of private devotion and public praise. Blonski gives an excellent reading: "It wants to hide the complement and shift the reader's attention from the addressee to the giver. The content of the poem is not so much Tomicki's virtue as the shyness and embarrassment of Sep. It begins with a vocative, but only to divert it, and--intensifying ecstatic epithets--to praise God" (85). The poem itself gains "true glory" thereby. This is a rare positive statement: transference of God's glory to man by means of poetry imparts a high purpose to human achievement. There remains an abyss between man and God, but this abyss inspires wonder and praise.

  36. However, the poem of praise must not become rhetoric devoid of sincere piety. Donne worries over this possibility: "I durst not view heaven yesterday; and to day / In prayers, and flattering speaches I court God: / To morrow I quake with true feare of his rod" (XIX. 9-11). He oscillates between cowardly avoidance of God, flattering rhetoric, and "true feare." Only the poem of "true feare" can serve the purpose of devotion that Sep seeks in his poetry. The deeply personal anguish and the biographical links that may be found within these poems bear testimony to their sincerity of purpose.

  37. The only emotion that consistently induces transcendence of man's contraries is love. "Love is the right course for our existence," writes Sep, but his and Donne's poetic conceptions of love are far removed from each other. Donne conceives of love as a combination of spiritual and corporeal elements: "love is not agape or eros; it is both. Nor is it monomaniacally Platonic or exclusively Petrarchan since it qualifies the one tradition in the light of the other, and both in terms of experience" (Patrides xxxvii). Physical experience includes eroticism; thus Donne's God is seen in erotic as well as spiritual terms, a combination often viewed as shocking. Man is also coveted by the devil: "Why doth he steale nay ravish that's thy right?" (II. 10). God is man's intended lover, as spiritual possession is directly likened to physical possession.

  38. This rivalry inspires God with a lover's jealousy: "[thou] in thy tender jealosy dost doubt / Least the World, Fleshe, yea Devill putt thee out" (XVII. 13-14). The church is all-embracing in the most literal sense: "let myne amorous soule court thy mild Dove, / Who is most trew, and pleasing to thee, then / When she'is embraced and open to most men" (XVIII. 12-14). Donne believes in a single spiritual church. These lines work by paradox: the church is most true to God when it is all-inclusive. "Embraced" and "open" are cleverly used as words whose meaning may be wholly non-sexual. Responses to these lines range from shock to a deliberate insistence on non-sexual interpretation. The opposite can be inferred: Donne's sensuous imagery reflects a continuum of feeling between the amorous "Songs and Sonnets" of his youth and the serious "Divine Poems" which include the Holy Sonnets. Doctor Donne has not forgotten Jack Donne entirely: his erotic interest has merely been transferred into the realm of the sacred.

  39. This image of the church creates an erotic triangle between God, the church, and the speaker. Donne most often channels his eroticism toward God as the one true lover. He does not shy away from images of violence:

    That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
    Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new.

    Yet dearely'I love you,'and would be lov'd faine,
    But am betroth'd unto your enemie,
    Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,
    Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
    Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free,
    Nor ever chaste, except you ravish mee. (XIV. 3-4, 9-14)

    Man is tied by profane bonds that can only be broken by force. The need for purgative violence in order to recreate the self hearkens back to the "fiery zeale" of the universal conflagration (V). What renders this version of the same theme so shocking is, naturally, the erotic nature of the violence, as well as the usual association of rape with uncleanliness. The paradox Donne presents is the coexistence of violence with love. Man's weakness necessitates violence: his "reason" is "captiv'd" in his state of profane bondage (V. 7-8). In another paradox, man will become stronger after his "overthrow" by God, and more capable of full love and devotion to God; however, a call for such violence already betokens a certain hardiness of spirit.

  40. The passionate outcry in the middle of this poem (V. 9) is reminiscent of Sep. Sep's God withholds his love from man:

    I od takiego (Boze nieskonczony,
    W sobie chwalebnie i w sobie szczesliwie
    Sam przez sie zyjac) z adasz jakmiarz chciwie
    Byc milowany i chcesz byc chwalony.

    O swiety Panie, daj, niech i my mamy
    To, co miec kazesz, i Tobie oddamy!

    [And from such a one (O infinite God, living gloriously and happily in yourself, by yourself) you demand almost greedily to be loved and you want to be praised. … O holy Lord, give, let us also have that, which you order, and we will give it back to you!] (II. 5-8, 13-14)

    There is no eroticism in Sep's poetry. The sonnets are virtually free of references to the body and bodily acts (except for abstractions such as "heart," "face," "tears"). God torments man spiritually: aware of his weaknesses, he demands complete and unreciprocated love. Sep's paradox is that a distant, self-sufficient God should still demand love. It is not a "need" but a "demand"--is God a sadist? Calling him "almost" greedy is a dangerous step--Death has also been called "greedy" (I. 3). Sep takes a step back: "The works of your grace are strange" (II. 9). The seraphim burn with "happy [18] love;" so must man. Yet the closing couplet expresses deep despair. God is unjust. Man has no proof of his love; his predicament is as far from Donne's divine ravishment as possible.

  41. Donne is confident that man's devotion is recognized by God. He asks rhetorically, "How shall my mindes white truth…be try'd?" (VIII. 8). Troubled by the outward similarity of profane to divine love, he needs to distinguish himself from "blasphemous Conjurers" and "Pharisaicall Dissemblers" (VIII. 10-12). Omniscient God can separate outer appearance from inner conviction, and the speaker is aware of this ability: "Then turne / O pensive soule, to God, for he knowes best / Thy griefe, for he put it into my breast" (VIII. 12-14). The couplet works on two levels: God knows grief himself (when he sees man, his beloved, go astray) and God knows that the speaker loves him. Love is God's most important command--"thy last command / Is all but love; Oh let this last Will stand!" (XVI. 13-14)--and the easiest to fulfil.

  42. This command is anything but easy to Sep:

    I nie milowac ciezko, i milowac
    Nedzna pociecha, gdy zadza zwiedzione
    Mysli cukruja nazbyt rzeczy one,
    Które i mienic, i musza sie psowac.

    Milosc jest wlasny bieg bycia naszego,
    Ale z zywiolów utworzone cialo
    To chwalac, co zna poczatku równego,
    Zawodzi dusze, której wszystko malo,

    Gdy Ciebie, wiecznej i prawej pieknosci,
    Samej nie widzi, celu swej milosci.

    [Not to love is difficult, and to love is but a miserable pleasure, when our thoughts, seduced by desire, overly sugar-coat things that must change, and must rot. … Love is the right course for our existence, but the body is composed of elements, praising that, which knows a similar birth, [and] misleads the soul, to whom all is too little, when it does not see you, everlasting and true beauty, the goal of its love.] (V. 1-4. 8-14)

    Love is problematized when it can refer to either the "sugar-coating" of physical matter or devotion to God. The former is not wholly detestable because the emotion it excites is similar to piety; man errs when he applies the concept of love solely to physical beings. Again we find a rejection of the body in Sep's verse--mortal love is physically repugnant. It is the soul which is insatiable: it desires God despite his distance and lack of reciprocity. It cannot see God, underscoring the wholly spiritual nature of the love experience, but lack of any sensory gratification imposes another trial upon man, who, composed of elements, strives to become all soul.

  43. This experience is dramatized by Donne, who views both man and God as insatiable lovers:

    But thou I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,
    A holy thirsty dropsy melts mee yett.
    But why should I begg more Love, when as thou
    Dost wooe my soule for hers; offring all thine: (XVII.7-10)

    Man's inordinate desire for God's love is viewed as a physical sickness. The poem discusses the death of the poet's wife, who has been "ravished" into heaven--Patrides explains that this verb also meant "take away or remove spatially," but its primary meaning fits into Donne's view of God as insatiable lover. God woos the speaker by offering his soul in lieu of the speaker's wife; there is a considerable edge of cruelty to this lover's stratagem, by which the speaker's ties to the world are forcibly severed. Ironically, though, it is not enough: the speaker realizes he has found God, and his thirst should be slaked, but even the sacrifice of his wife does not cool his desire for further proof of love. Sep also disdains earthly love, but remains in the realm of abstraction. Sep's God is less active: Donne presents a God who forcibly "ravishes" the speaker's wife out of jealousy for him, whereas Sep presents a God who does not reveal himself. The soul must choose of its own accord to look toward God.

  44. The central paradox of Sep's sonnet is the entrapment of the soul in the body, which yearns for other bodies while the soul yearns for God. Paradox is an important device for Donne and Sep, which is seen as a hallmark of the "metaphysical" style. The sonnet sequences are concerned with paradox as theological/metaphysical dilemma, not paradox as ostentatious conceit. It disconcerts the reader's intelligence and awakens vigilance to multiple levels of meaning. Thus, virtues which seem incompatible to humans are resolved in the Virgin Mary, an "adornment of mankind" whose "humility did not spoil her heart, nor glory her humility" (Sonet III. 2-3). Mary and Christ adorn mankind while far surpassing it. The second paradox shows that humility, courage, and glory may coexist, though not on an ordinary mortal level: the reader is called upon to comprehend a concept which does not correspond with his/her condition.

  45. The most tragic paradox/dilemma underlying Sep's and Donne's poems is the desire to transcend the body in order to master it. Donne cries out for God's grace so that he may begin the process of repentance: "Yet grace, if you repent, thou canst not lacke; / But who shall give thee that grace to beginne?" (IV. 9-10). The same despair at the weakness of man's will is voiced by Sep, with the same call for God's intervention: "Place me by your side, and I will wage war safely and win with dignity!" (IV. 13-14). The device of paradox is used to underscore man's weakness and God's omnipotence. Variation of this key paradox deepens the division between body and soul, profane and divine desire. Sep's and Donne's poetics circle around this abyss. Instead of unifying dissimilarities, their use of paradox creates an irresolvable dilemma.

  46. The two key elements used as metaphysical symbols are fire and water. Fire to Sep is associated with true love: "The Seraphim burn with a true flame, in happy love" (II. 12). Fire is more complex to Donne: it may be the corrupting "fire / Of lust and envy" or the purifying "fiery zeale" of God (V. 10-13). In the divine realm, fire symbolizes the universal conflagration of the apocalypse which will destroy men's sinful bodies. In the human realm, fire is associated with sin, contrition and love with water and tears. Water is a purifying element, though it may be associated with hypocrisy or profane love, which wastes man's tears in fruitless emotion:

    O might those sighes and teares returne againe
    Into my breast and eyes, which I have spent,
    That I might in this holy discontent
    Mourne with some fruit, as I have mourn'd in vaine:
    In mine Idolatry what showres of raine
    Mine eyes did waste? what griefs my heart did rent? (III. 1-6)

    The breast (i.e. heart) and eyes are both engaged, uniting true (heartfelt) emotion with physical proof (tears)--thus weeping becomes a pious activity. It is sinful to waste tears on profane love, when they may serve one's devotion. The speaker feels the need to physically prove his love, though he assures himself in a later sonnet that God discerns true contrition (VIII. 13-14). Tears may also "wash" the soul and "drowne" the speaker's former sinful associations (V. 8-9).

  47. Sep's weeping is a sign of pure despair: "with tears I rue the leaps of my youth" (I. 8). These tears bring no purification. In Sep's poems, water is never life-giving. Water and darkness are negative elements associated with mutability and sin; light is eternal and divine.

    Tys jest dusz naszych jak ksiezyc prawdziwy,
    W którym wiecznego baczymy promienie
    Milosierdzia, gdy na nas grzech straszliwy
    Przywodzi smutnej nocy ciezkie cienie!

    Ale {Ty} zarza juz nam nastan rana,
    Pokaz Twego slonca swiatlosc zadana.

    [You are to our souls as a true moon, in whose rays we behold eternal grace, when horrid sin brings the heavy shades of sad night upon us! … But {you} become the dawn to us, reveal the coveted light of your sun.] (III. 8-14)

    Mary's light is regulatory (as a moon regulates earthly seasons) and brings hope. It is, however, unreachable, as the shadow of sin is unavoidable. Man is subject to the alternation of light and day; though he calls for dawn, the poem's analogy establishes him in a passive position. Man cannot be a source of light. At best, he can "light a lamp to glory…Whence each one's glow does stem" (VI. 2-4). The lamp of praise is the only light which man can create himself. Donne's devotion is expressed through water and tears, Sep's is expressed through light-imagery. Sep allows himself to play with language: God is "Swiatlosc"--lightness, which illuminates the world--"swiat." God's spiritual light is paralleled by the earthly light of Tomicki's virtue: it has "enlightened" all (in Polish, "doswiatszonej / Kozdemu cnoty"-VI. 6-7). A rough analogue may also be formed between the words "swiety"--holy-and "swieci"--illuminates, lights. The poet "lights" a lamp toward the "holy" source of light: "ku chwale swieci lampa onej / W sobie chwalebnej, swietej, niezmierzonej / Swiatlosci" [Who lights a lamp to glory itself glorious, holy, boundless light] (2-4).

  48. However, Sep's linguistic play is generally not playful in purport--it does not serve to lighten the verse. Sonet III plays on the double meaning of "chory"--the word is both an adjective, "sick," and a plural noun, "choirs." The world is entirely sick--"wszytek chory"--of the serpent's venom, while Mary ascends above the angels' choirs--"nad wysokie chory" (III. 6-7) after slaying the serpent. Sep underscores the opposition between man's earthly state of illness and the angels' divine state of bliss. The contrast is deeply pathetic. [19]

  49. Both poets share a frequent use of inversion and play with syntax. This difficulty of utterance has been allied with spiritual pain: the word is detached with violence from its context as "the artist forces the stanza to convulse" (Backvis 202). The anguish of man's spiritual experience is transferred to the experience of reading. Dramatic use of enjambment brings the movement of the line to a sudden halt: "And pitiful pleasure is cut by greedy / Death" (Sonet I. 3-4). Sep is a master of this technique, for which the Polish language, free of articles, is especially conducive. He inverts syntax both to create emphasis and to create uncertainty. The ending of a line may well be a false herald of significance, which is diverted in the following line: "A ja, co dalej, lepiej cien gleboki / Bledów mych widze" [While I, the further I go, better see the deep shadow of my errors" (I. 5-6). In the original, "mistakes" falls onto the next line. The reader fully expects to read "the deep shadow of death"--instead, it is the speaker's own mistakes, not an outside force, which create the shadow.

  50. Donne is also fond of syntactic play, though he is far more prone to rhetorical overstatement than Sep, whose language is highly condensed. Repetition of words and concepts heightens a sense of emotional drama: "arise, arise / From death, you numberlesse infinities / Of soules" (VII. 3-5). Sep would never repeat the same word. Does Donne need to modify the noun "infinities"--itself oxymoronic, for infinity cannot be pluralized--with the adjective "numberlesse?" This is one of the most highly rhetorical and emotional sonnets. Donne's desire for vivid and dramatic expression, which may reveal itself in rhetorical excess, is coextensive with his difficulty. It reveals a poetic which is fundamentally different from that of Sep. Sep does not stray from laconicism in his fidelity to emotion: it is the precise ordering of a few powerful words, rather than rhetoric, which conveys the speaker's emotion. One may attribute this difference to generation--Donne was more fully a member of the Baroque, sharing its rhetoric and melodrama, than Sep--but the inability to fit these poets within a single movement has been discussed. The issue of rhetoric points to a deeper and more precise difference between the two poets: Donne accepts his humanity, whereas Sep cries out in despair against it. Their differing views of the body have been elucidated; Sep's desire to leave the body is opposed to Donne's sublimation of desire in his eroticization of divine union. Despite the astonishing similarities of these two collections of sonnets, they are ultimately divided by this deep fissure of sensibility.


1. David Reid, Introduction to The Metaphysical Poets (Essex: Pearson Educational Ltd, 2000), 1-13.

2. T.S. Eliot, "The Metaphysical Poets," in T.S. Eliot: Selected Essays 1917-1932 (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1932), 245.

3. Holy Sonnet XIII, ll.11-13. The text of Donne's Holy Sonnets is taken from C.A. Patrides, ed., John Donne: The Complete English Poems (London: J.M. Dent, 1994). Both poets' sonnets will heretofore be referenced by sonnet number (Roman numerals) and line number (Arabic numerals); when applicable, I will use the generic titles "Sonet" and "Holy Sonnet" as markers of authorship.

4. Sonet IV, ll.6-8. The original Polish text of Sep's sonnets is taken from Rytmy abo wiersze polskie oraz cykl erotyków, ed. Julian Krzyzanowski, 2nd edition (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich, 1973). I have provided my own literal prose translations.

5. Two important critics expounding variants of this view are Anne Ferry and Stanley Fish. Ferry points to the ultimate incommunicability of internal states through external signs; Fish studies the performativity of Donne's verse, the "counterfeit" nature of Donne's ideational "referents," and the instability of the speaker in this framework. See Anne Ferry, The 'Inward' Language (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1983), and Stanley Fish, "Masculine Persuasive Force: Donne and Verbal Power," in John Donne, ed. Andrew Mousley (New York: St. Martin's P, Inc., 1999), 157-81.

6. Jan Blonski, Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski a poczatki polskiego baroku (Cracow: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1967), 258. All quotations from Blonski are in my translation.

7. Julian Krzyzanowski, Inroduction to Rytmy abo wiersze polskie oraz cykl erotyków, Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski, 2nd ed. (Wroclaw: Zaklad Narodowy im. Ossolinskich, 1973), xxiii.

8. Louis L. Martz, "Donne and the Meditative Tradition," in Essential Articles For the Study of John Donne's Poetry, ed. John R. Roberts (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1975), 37-57.

9. Stevie Davies, John Donne (Plymouth: Northcote House Publishers Ltd, 1994), 64-5.

10. I borrow this phrase from John Carey's introduction to John Donne: The Major Works (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1990), xxxi.

11. Helen Gardner, ed., John Donne: The Divine Poems (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1966), xvi, lii.

12. Stanislaw Baranczak, ed., "Z Toba, wiec ze Wszystkim." 222 arcydziela angielskiej i amerykanskiej liryki religijnej (Cracow: Znak, 1992), 40. My translation.

13. Czeslaw Hernas, Literatura baroku (Warsaw: Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, 1987), 23.

14. Claude Backvis, ""Manièrisme" ou Baroque à la fin du XVIe siècle: le cas de Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski," Annuaire de l'Institut de Philologie et d'Histoire Orientales et Slaves, v. XVII (Brussels: Université Libre de Bruxelles, 1966), 189. My translation.

15. Douglas L. Peterson, "John Donne's Holy Sonnets and the Anglican Doctrine of Contrition," in Roberts 313-323. Barbara Lewalski has further tied Donne's Holy Sonnets to the Protestant meditative tradition. An interesting contrast is formed by Roger Rollin, who posits a purely personal framework of psychological disorder. The Holy Sonnets manifest the "affective disorder" of "religious melancholy," which is publicly displayed. The speaker unifies the sonnets, not the "story." See Roger B. Rollin, "Fantastique Ague: The Holy Sonnets and Religious Melancholy," in The Eagle and the Dove: Reassessing John Donne, eds. Claude Summers and Ted-Larry Pebworth (Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1986), 131-146 and Barbara Lewalski, Protestant Poetics and the Seventeenth-century Religious Lyric (Princeton: Princeton UP, 1979).

16. Blonski 78. Chapter III, "A World in Motion," contains this argument and analysis.

17. Michael J. Mikos, ed., Polish Renaissance Literature: An Anthology (Columbus: Slavica Publishers, Inc, 1995), 245 note 3.

18. A key linguistic difference must be mentioned. The Polish adjective "szczesliwy" and noun "szczescie" have a profound meaning: joy, contentment, good fortune, and gladness are all implied. I use "happiness" and "joy" as translations, which impart a false suggestion of levity.

19. The use of homonyms is discussed in Richard Sokoloski, The Poetry of Mikolaj Sep Szarzynski (Weisbaden: Otto Harassowitz, 1990), 46-7.

Works Cited

Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.

© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).