Religious and Amorous “Apocalypses” in John Donne’s Metaphysical Imagination
This essay examines the poetry of John Donne in the light of its “apocalyptic” dimension, which will be here understood as a philosophical, literary, cultural, and experiential category. It also proposes a method for discerning the apocalyptic as a tone or theme in authors who are not usually classed in the genre. My discussion of “the apocalyptic” will be literary, rather than strictly theological; however, detailed reference to one of Donne’s sermons (on Apoc. 7:2–3) will confirm the unity of his mindset in approaching both the secular and the religious understanding of this subject. His imagination is imbued with apocalyptic fears vis à vis the deep uncertainties concerning traditional hierarchies that were driving the contemporary exploration of new worlds and new forms of knowledge in a still largely uncertain cognitive horizon. The experiences of a new beginning and of an incumbent end, specifically the experience of falling in love and of a moment of religious fervor followed by loss of love or of religious enthusiasm, cast a metaphorically “apocalyptic” light on Donne’s love poems, as well as on his religious poems and sermons.