Venus retards her not, to inquire, how sheCan, (being one star) Hesper, and Vesper be;He that charmed Argus’ eyes, sweet Mercury,Works not on her, who now is grown all eye;Who, if she meet the body of the sun,Goes through, not staying till his course be run;…But ere she can consider how she went,At once is at, and through the firmament.And as these stars were but so many beadsStrung on one string, speed undistinguished leadsHer through those spheres, as through the beads, a string,Whose quick succession makes it still one thing…
mages of the trajectories of celestial bodies recur throughout both of the“Anniversaries.” When analyzed, these images cohere into a hierarchy. Not surprisingly, the poetsometimes claims that Elizabeth Drury’s view of the heavens dispenses with the inaccurate,fallen perceptions and logic of earthly star-watchers. Indeed, it pays to adopt provisionally Frank Manley’s designation: Elizabeth’s
But, as discussed in this essay, theinteraction between reason and perception, and their relationship to any Higher Wisdom, remainscomplex, with the poem itself carving out an intermediate position in the hierarchy. Toanticipate: three groups of people attempt to describe, delimit, and control supernal objects —first, the astronomers and astrologers; second, Elizabeth’s soul in its flight to Heaven; and finally,Donne’s “imprisoning” of Elizabeth
a celestial being in flight. To explain the latter twosequences, I begin with the scientists in “An Anatomy.”According to the poem, astronomers employ both their reason (intellect) and their senses:
the heavens enjoy their spherical,Their round proportion embracing all.But yet their various and perplexed course,
in divers ages, doth enforceMen to
so many eccentric partsSuch divers down-right lines, such overthwartsAs disproportion that pure form (1.251-57; emphasis added).
Next, other observable irregularities further detract from the astronomers’ attempts toorder the cosmos into symmetric grids (1.257-85). Still, such attempts are not totally in vain, for
From “The Second Anniversary,” lines 197-202, 205-10. Hereinafter, I designate lines from the “Anniversaries”parenthetically in my main text, e.g., “(2.197-202, 2.205-10).”
Frank Manley, ed.,
John Donne: The Anniversaries
(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins P, 1963), pp. 46-49.