Comparing figures
Figures of comparison and repetition in Spenser’s Cantos of Mutabilitie and Donne’s Anniversaries
in Spenser and Donne
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This chapter compares figures of thought that compare, and figures of speech that repeat, in Spenser’s Two Cantos of Mutabilitie and Donne’s Anniversaries. Subtly employing similitudo and syncrisis, Spenser and Donne negotiate differences and similarities between things and ideas, even as they test the limits of comparative judgement. Both poets explore the ‘decay’ and ‘mutabilitie’ of the world and both ingeniously try to redeem it. Both invidiously compare physics with metaphysics, scientia with sapientia; Spenser’s glimpse of eternal stasis resembles Donne’s ephemeral ‘ecstasee’. Though diverging wildly in form and content, both sets of poems are thoroughly Pauline-Augustinian. Still, Spenser’s ‘darke conceit’ promotes a mimetic, scopic regime, while Donne’s anamorphotic conceits confound the same. Alternatively, this chapter also traces how figures of speech involving semantic repetition and permutation, such as ploce and traductio, variously express the poets' impossible thirst for identity, stability, unity, and the absolute. Further, by reconfiguring literary traditions and readerly expectations with such repetition and comparison, these thinking poets prefigure the critic's comparatio.

Spenser and Donne

Thinking poets


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