The Canonization of John Donne

David Kelly


John Donne's 'The Canonization' contains its fair share of sly and slippery irony, since Donne is saying both that it is the character of the love he and his mistress share that will bring about their 'canonization', their elevation to a sphere above everyone else, and he is also saying that it is the quality of his writing that will bring it about - for it is 'by these hymns' that 'all shall approve / Us canonized for love'. But the final irony is historical, not textual; because Donne was canonized, in the secular, literary sense. And because that canon bears such a heavy cultural weight, and because Donne is now installed within that canon for writing this and other 'hymns', this and other poems, today Donne is perceived more as monumental than poetical; the cultural imagination pictures him in the 'half-acre tomb', rather than the 'well wrought urn' which he compares to a sonnet, and which he imagines in the poem as his final resting place. Why so? Because such is the image of the canonized, and such is the effect of the canon.

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