What has happened to literary journalism that  something like this  gets published in a national paper? John Donne’s Holy Sonnet 14—a poem on Christ’s violent attack on the self’s evil heart that brings about salvation—tells us, Roz Kaveney writes, “That the struggle to determine what we think so often takes place in liminal states.”

How does Kaveney arrive at this interpretation? Peering cunningly into the “liminal state” of the dead poet himself, she associates the “rough” meter of the poem with Donne’s “struggle” to determine what he thought. “He clearly felt that he needed to make it clear that some things are more important than strict form or rhythm. When souls are at stake, his soul in particular, what price correctness?” Clearly. And just so we’re clear: “To put it another way, as a contemporary poet, which matters more? Saying clearly what you mean to say, what you think of as important, or strict adherence to rules?” How about we drop that “strict” and say both? After all, you can’t say anything meaningful that’s formless.


And what are these “things” that Donne felt so strongly about? Why, “theology,” of course. “For Donne,” Kaveney writes, “it was theology that mattered most.” Or if that’s not concrete enough for you, how about this: “Donne will play games with broken structure, to make a serious point; he will pile up metaphors to talk to us of how faith, how conversion to faith or some other conviction, is a breaking, is like moving into a new state where everything is up for grabs.”I’m not sure, but I’d say if anything was up for grabs, it’s this wonderful “pile” of mixed metaphors.

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