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Tom 60 (2022)

Ambiguity in John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 13”

27 grudnia 2022


Taking William Empson’s remarks on John Donne’s “Holy Sonnet 13” as its starting point, the article explores the superstructure of ambiguity at work in the poem, going beyond Empson’s derogatory comments voiced in his Seven Types of Ambiguity in order to pursue a structure of oscillation, which, as the argument shows, underlies the entirety of the sonnet and recurs throughout it in a number of guises. Through an overview of different Catholic and Protestant readings of “What if this present”, the article investigates how the interpretation of the text shifts with changes in understanding the sonnet’s final line, highlighting its potential for self-referentiality and the latter’s interpretive consequences. The close reading offered in the process locates itself half-way between the search for a resolution of opposites characteristic of the New Critical tradition and a deconstructionist reading which denies the existence of a thematic centre in Donne’s poem. Reflecting on its own logic and the argument it proffers, the article inquires into the difference between these two kinds of close reading, suggesting that it may be more illusory than it seems.


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