Donne's "The Token": A Lesson in the Fashion(ing) of Canon Author(s): James S.

Baumlin Reviewed work(s): Source: College English, Vol. 59, No. 3 (Mar., 1997), pp. 257-276 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: . Accessed: 18/01/2012 16:45
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A major transmission its lackofstabilityin canon,attribution, is and feature of manuscript transmission an immediateadvantage text. For an author thefluidity of manuscript has in that he or she may easilyredefine canonand text at will and as oftenas desired. balBut anced against that advantageis the very real disadvantagethat oncea work leaves its no over it. author'shands,he or she is able to exertabsolutely control Ted-Larry Pebworth, "ManuscriptPoems and Print Assumptions" (3) The deconstructive momentis that when the "identity" the authordissolves. of Roger Poole, "The Yale School as a Theological Enterprise" (7) Renaissance a poetsseemedcapable giving themselves secularmissionthat was to demysof outsidethe theological realm. Whentheyweremostselftify languageas languageoperates which was not infrequently,they were aware of the deceptivetendencyof all conscious, Theirown obligation to expose deception was this and languageto deifyits would-be objects. to confess abandonment languageby thegods.But at thesame time theyhad, themthe of selves, to undertaketo createa language that couldtruly tame the gods and bring them inside.So thepoethad to acknowledge what languagenormallycannotdo,what wordsmay not say. He had to manipulatethem,in hopeof turning theminto his words,magicwords, so that, in spiteof theirusualincapacities, couldenrichthem,endowthemwith thepower he to speakafter all, thepowerthat attestedto a presentsignified,a captured within. god But the transcendent is nevercaught,after all... god Murray Krieger, "Presentation and Representation in the Renaissance Lyric" (36)


y titling my essay so, I wish to acknowledge that Renaissance literature is indeed "fashioned,"that is, constructed into a canon whose meaning unfolds throughout the interpretive history of particulartexts and traditions. My title also suggests that the construction and interpretation of Renaissance litera-

A specialist in Renaissanceliterature and the history of rhetoric,James S. Baumlin is a professor of English at Southwest Missouri State University. His recent publications include Ethos:New Essaysin Rhetorical and CriticalTheory, coedited with Tita French Baumlin (Dallas: Southern Methodist UP, 1994).



3, MARCH 1997

ultimately. They are not yet quite abandoned or banished from Renaissance studies. Grierson's 1912 Oxford edition of Donne'sPoeticalWorks having introduced the poetry to its widest and most appreciative readership since Donne's lifetime. By the same token. Eliot." and "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" remained Donne's acknowledged masterpieces.Or almost the whole. historians "old" and "New" (Tuve. self-reflexively. S." Still. I call attention to this double usage because it reflects the double movement of my argument. to interpret this poem (any poem) is to argue for the means of interpretation: hence my argument's double movement. I wish to argue for the canonicity of a poem which I believe is by John Donne. and I wish to bring it back. has continued to . the "fashioning" or interpretation of literature and the construction of canon. for the question of dubia. though it has been fashionable for some decades to doubt his authorship." "The Ecstasy. Though "The Canonization. Whether the argument succeeds remains to be seen. through the vagaries of critical "fashion" the methodologies of deconstruction seem virtually spent. At the same the reigning methodologies or means of interpretation. Specifically. and Donne editions-proliferated throughout the middle decades of this century. Andreason. Carey. Brooks) established him as the darling of New Critics. I wish to show how it is that deconstructive readings continue to rejuvenate and reconstruct Renaissance literature (in this case. to changes in canonicity and. Grierson as to T. an "anticanonical myth" (37) upon Western literary tradition. and Marotti among others) sought various contextualizations of the poems."that is. these were now situated within a larger conversation whose voices include the whole of the Songsand Sonnets. as theories-and readings. a disputed poem in the Donne canon): such readings provide more than passing fashion. C. Roland Barthes's proclaimed "death of the author" imposing. of doubtful or "undecided" attributions. And yet. I offer it. often turning to explore their intertextual relations. as Harold Bloom paper argues on behalf of authorial presence-on behalf of the conceptof authorship-by means of a method that has served to deny such presence and to question the very notions of canonicity (Felperin 79-83). Donne's stock rose as influential readings of individual lyrics (Empson. but now less so. "Sonnet: The Token" has been all but banished from discussions of the Donne canon. particularly. I It is by now commonplace to note that Donne owes his modern reputation as much to Herbert J.258 ENGLISH COLLEGE ture are themselves subject to "fashion. still. so I cannot claim to "bring them back. I shall argue for its canonicity by means of a deconstructive method once fashionable. and threatens to limit. as an instance of the ways critical "fashion" both enables. in response to arguments made against poststructuralisttheory. Paradoxically.

however.cxlvii)-a warning duly heeded by Helen Gardner (Grierson's successor as Donne's Oxford editor). Absent from the 1633." Grierson writes. the poem has virtually lost its voice within Donne criticism. "represent not just the poetic 'influence' of Donne. The company a poem keeps shapes its meaning in subtle ways. Such works. conversely. accounting for them largely as Donnean imitations (of which there are many: see Sullivan. 1635. what if we were again to treat the poem as canonical and deserving of attention? What might we learn about the poem and its contexts? What might it teach us about reading the Songsand Sonnets?For part of the answer we must turn first to the poem's more recent reception. if true. to add a new one) changes the reading experience and. questioning and testing and overthrowing poems that precede. but "The Token" has yet to receive a sustained reading or criticism. the ways these poems are arranged and read. "Arrangement" 136)-an amazing feat on Donne's part. Perhaps more persuasive. ?"). is moresignificant of thanits presence in a fairnumberof largeindiscriminate collections."IDoubted by modern editors. Still.the extendedsonnet.. Gardner'srationale for doubting Donne's authorship follows: "TheToken" a rather is of poem. is Gardner's assertion that the poem is "more smooth and elegant" than Donne's other lyrics-an argument based on stylistic considerations that.a "sonnet" eighteenlines. and it is in a form.. Marotti writes. Marotti accepts Gardner'slist ofdubia uncritically.(Gardner.whichis found charming in a good manymanuscripts aim at collectingDonne'spoems in full.. that he did not use elsewherefor love-poetry.. "may or may not be Donne's" (2. "Sonnet: The Token" was first printed in 1649 "as a stray piece at the tail-end" (Smith 401) of the Songsand Sonnets-a position of some importance. giving it (if temporarily) the collection's "finalsay. too. as it plays variations upon previous themes.. are open to debate. but its that absence fromthe manuscripts GroupsI andII . but also the sharing of . Among more recent and influential readersArthur F. the interpretation of any collection as a whole. Since their pronouncements. "Who. brief arguments have been raised occasionally for or against its canonicity (Jha 142-45) and for or against its genre (Is a poem of eighteen lines properly a sonnet?). Elegies . since no two poems of the collection are structurally identical (Shawcross.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 259 unsettle the canon of Donne's Songs and Sonnetsand. criticism has generally followed the two Oxford editors' lead. "The Token.It is much more smooth and elegantthanwe shouldexpecta poem by Donne to be. actually. "The Token" included. Though flouting current fashion. who relegates the poem to an appendix of dubia or doubtful works. xlviii) The argument that Donne uses such a form nowhere else in the Songsand Sonnets carries little force. and 1639 editions of Donne's Poems. while anticipating arguments that follow. necessarily. actually. ultimately. to have managed such variety among his love lyrics.. To omit any poem from a collection (or.

G. and typically Petrarchan stance. Perhaps the poet begins sentimentally and wholesomely enough. Send me some honey to make sweet my hive. By his own admission the lady holds a power of life and death. passionate. "of Petrarchianism. and anxiety of the Petrarchan lover. restlessness. that my hope may live. or Daniel. the poet requests a "token" (1) and "honey" (3) as curatives against the conventional sickness."Moloney adds. Or that my easelesse thoughts may sleep and rest. form a "perfect"fourteen-line sonnet written in Donne's witty. The next stanza's"I beg . Yet "there are other passages. turning "Sonnet: The Token" into an anti-Petrarchan parody and an otherwise distinctively Donnean poem. abject. however.A garrulous sentimentalist. F and J. which he then quotes in full. for example. Moloney. That in my passion I may hope the best. Michael Francis Moloney writes that.with its gallantry and devotion. or Constable might have done. who suggests that the poem "goodnaturedly dramatizes the speaker'sindulgence in particularities. [Donne] is openly and fiercely scornful" (134). Consider.260 COLLEGE ENGLISH certain styles of communication-a fact underscored by the games of exchange and answer poetry in which Donne and his friends participated. I believe. I do know." In arguing for Donne's authorship of "The Token. And yet a fourteen-line sonnet follows ..The very fact that some verse by other authors can be mistaken as Donne's indicates the distinctiveness of a coterie-as well as of a personal-style of writing" (18). I cannot prove that another poet wrote lines 1-4 any more than I can prove Donne himself wrote lines 5-18. "(5) seems initially to continue this passive. the grave reticence. which rests passively. and its credo of eternal trust and faithfulness.The remaining verses. has been misled by the first stanza. without further comment. he is fundamentally wholesome" (212). as has Judah Stampfer. requesting "some token" or evidence of love: Send me some token. that the remaining verses overturn the first stanza's naively Petrarchan effusions." and I believe that "The Token" reads as just such a poetic "answer"or "exchange. perilously. 'The Token' " (135). Surveying Donne's indebtedness to Elizabethan poetry. "metaphysical"manner as an answer to the first stanza'sinitial. Petrarchan theme. H. Marotti is right in recalling Donne's penchant for "answerpoetry. its wholesouled admiration. after which he quotes from several lyrics. certainly. (1-4) In rather hackneyed Petrarchan fashion. "certainlyno less poetic in which he writes as any Sidney. though. in her hands and favor." I suggest that the first four lines are likely not his. D. they are not his stylistically.. the adoring mood. alternis vicibus"). Elsewhere Donne begins by parodying another's opening stanzas (see "The Baite") and writes alternating verses with a co-author (see "A Letter written by Sr. of his sonnet. Of course. if not over the poet's person then at least over his "hope" (1).

in which the poet catalogs items that he does not. nor Ring to shew the stands Of our affection." "The Funerall. Within the Writings which thou hast addrest. "knit"(6) suggests "to knot together" or join. of covering. 5d)-an image. "infold" (10). it reveals a self-reflexiveness and an ambivalence toward language so characteristicof the Songsand Sonnetsthat I. To knit our loves in the fantastick straine Of new-toucht youth. Nor witty lines. nor the coralls which thy wrist infold. Is the poet. suggesting that such "signs" as betoken marriage are unnecessary? Would his beloved in fact refuse to . of Donne's authorship. once again." "AJeat Ring Sent. that is. Though diverse in subject. "material signs" of binding and betrothal. one discovers a rather sophisticated poetic exploration of the problems of persuasivelanguage and belief-and a work worthy. But why refuse such tokens? Like the ring which. declares marriage in its enclosing/encircling of a beloved's finger. for one. The challenge. "Ring" (7). but only refusal and command: I beg noe ribbond wrought with thine own hands. in fact. No. Not only does it return to the conceits of other Donnean lyrics (most notably "The Bracelet. conventionally. with an implication of sexual union (OED vb. nor thy picture. stylistically or otherwise? The poem is not greatly inferior to such a lyric as "A Jeat Ring Sent. I believe that "The Token. though most gracious. So should our loves meet in simplicity." and its reuse of Donnean conceits is hardly evidence against his authorship:we can speak of a "Donnean mode" precisely because his poetry reveals habits and repetitions of thought and language. which are most copious. cannot imagine anyone else as its author. "beg. lines 5-16 present an apparentlyunified pattern of imagery. in short. there is no begging at all in the poetic voice. is Donne's rhetorically well as poetically. a distinction that I shall try to clarify later as in this essay. No. that as that's round and plaine. More than a clothier's metaphor. And most desir'd. Upon doing so. is to read carefully beyond the first stanza." Indeed. is thoroughly Donnean in thought and style. To shew our thoughts should rest in the same hold. because best like the best. then. all these are outward. "meet" (9). and "rest in the same hold" (12).) The remaining poem. (5-16) Whereas Marotti would ascribe the above to an imitator. Laced up together in congruity. "laced up together" (11). enclosing." and "The Relique"). more important." after the first stanza. of course.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 261 (in Shakespearean structure: three quatrains and an epigrammatic couplet). (For what underlies such an argument as Marotti's if not a belief that the poem is inferior. or "clothing" reinforced by such words as "ribbond"(5).

with its exchange of rings and vows). rest" together "in the same hold" (12) or clasp. spies A bracelet of bright haire about the bone. given the poet's scorn of "the fantastick straine / Of new-toucht youth"). And thinke that there a loving couple lies. To weigh further the implication of the poet's refusals. The irony here.. as Francis Manley observes (388). Who thought that this device might be some way To make their soules. In "The Relique. "round circles" are no less than emblems or "types of God" ("Honour is so sublime" 46) in their symmetry and perfection." or "wholesome" as critics have suggested. Tantamount. either by choice or by necessity. from dissolution" (8). and "should"show that their "thoughts . we could choose any one of these interpretations and base our subsequent reading on it. We might even imagine a further complication if one of the lovers is already married." similarly. too. echoing the "have and hold" of the marriage ceremony. the "round" and ." the poet's refusal of a ring raises further complexities when interpreted emblematically. (For graves have learn'd that woman-head To be to more then one a Bed) And he that diggs it. the bracelet-charm is described as a "mystery" and "sign" (4) or sacrament whose preservative powers will keep the poet's "limbs . here.. Meet at this grave. and make a little stay? (1-11) In "The Funerall." its occult power... if faintly. Why should the poet not want such a charm. the poem's middle stanzas hardly seem as "adoring. however. Still the rejected signs "should"allow the lovers to "meet" or join "in simplicity" (9). remains the same: to serve as a love-charm and guarantee of fidelity." a "braceletof bright haire" (6) is described as a "device"(9) to guarantee the fidelity of the two lovers.262 COLLEGE ENGLISH give them. then. As Donne states in a verse letter to the Countess of Bedford. lies in the poet's rejection of its guarantee. Will he not let'us alone. to a refusal of marriage. Though the bracelet in this present poem is rather of "coralls" than of "haire. were they offered? As readers. at the last busie day. we might compare his arguments to other lyrics of Donne's." "grave. and perhaps for all three possibilities we can say that the poet seeks pleasure outside of wedlock. making such external love-tokens impossible (and we can assume the lovers are both mature. unless he refuses to be "bound"by its "hold"? In "The Token. were they requested? Would the poet-lover refuse to accept them. the phrase thus invoking an image of hand-holding (and even. who shall by its potency "Meet" (11) at Judgment Day: When my grave is broke up againe Some second ghest to entertaine.

he continues to reject all arts that could in any way claim to have power over him. then. implicitly. while she kept it. a bauble to fling away. contributes to that "largerstructure"by standing in an intertextual. seeks to guarantee) the lady's fidelity. She told her. That handkerchief Did an Egyptian to my mother give. "no longer a visible sign or 'figure' (7) that proclaims (and in a sense.John Donne 218-19). vanishe feares. bracelets. "mutually-qualifying" relationship with other of Donne's poems and reversing several of their themes-specifically. and other material objects to stand as sufficient emblems or pledges of mutual love. given that Donne-of all seventeenth-century lyricists-reflects most persistently upon the powers and effects of poetic language. "Here take my Picture" (1). Shakespeare'sOthello describes the handkerchief given her in token of his love: Othello. thus holding him in its power."Elsewhere I have suggested that Donne's "Jeat Ring Sent" meditates on "the loss of meaning that a ring suffers when returned. here he rejects the same "most desired" (14) object. the ring is reduced to mere 'fashion' (8). And his rejection of the lady's "Writings" ("The Token" 16) and "witty lines. theirconclusions. which are most copious" (15) appearsmost ambivalent of all. to protect the poet himself from their charm-like powers). areat leastincipiently and they self-questioning. . the late-Elizabethan attitudes toward love-token and charm. But is it at all clear why? Here we must turn to the poem's most vital cultural context. while the poet in "Elegie: His Picture" commands." with the "picturevanish'd. by individual in Moreover. She was a charmer. and could almost read The thoughts of people. / That I can be endamag'd by that art" [10-11]). hoping thereby to remain present in the lady'smind (and to preserve their it love).DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 263 "plain" ring signifies truthfulness and morality. (As he argues in "Witchcraft by a Picture. So. perhaps because would elicit desire. its circular form denying all hiddenness and angularity or "crookedness." indeed. in breach of faith. "The Token" argues for this same disjunction by refusing to allow rings. poemsarethemselves binary form.andif they do not stand asJanusin the fieldof knowledge. The poet in effect commands his beloved not to write: implicitly. to the despondent lover.Thus the poet comments metadiscursively on the disjunction between the signs and intentions of lovers' discourse" (Baumlin. the Songsand Sonnetsare "continuallyself-reversing" (823) in argument: The poemsas theystandmutually eachotherwithina largerstructure which qualify in cannotbe grasped its entiretyfromthe standpoint represented anyone poem. In probing the depth of Desdemona's presumed guilt. point to the need for otherpoemsto overturn (822) "The Token." There. rejecting their offer of love-emblems (and thereby serving. As Tilottama Rajanobserves.

1. Othello. lost love. there's magic in the web of it.." surely some claim it. when Horatio confronts the ghost of Hamlet's father. To lose't or give't away were such perdition As nothing else could match. and other verbal/material love-tokens.... therefore look to't well. portraits. . Reflecting cultural currents.. charm-bracelets.And the subsequent course of the play--lost handkerchief. Othello.. it remained subject to the latter. which remains to structure experience even though true magical belief has atrophied in the individual psyche" (12). he . presence-wields To what contrast. testaments. a special charge that we are no longer aware of" (29). or made a gift of it. sometimes working by sheer force of will aided by magical words". to .264 COLLEGE ENGLISH 'Twould make her amiable. Is't possible? 'Tis true. Whether or not Donne's lyrics possess this "special charge. .4. sometimes aided by divine or demonic forces. rings. letters. is shattered by the unsettling power of a token-charm whose loss threatens to undo her marriage. Donne's lyrics seem caught in this same double-bind.127).. herself. and subdue my father Entirely to her love. would Shakespeare'saudience share Desdemona's fear? As Linda Woodbridge writes. "magical beliefaccepts the possibility of human supernatural agency. Take heed on it. Is't true? Most veritable. lost life-bears out Othello's claims. Desdemona. Make it a darling like your precious eye. then. Desdemona. . Woodbridge reminds us of "the possibility that literaryworks themselves could at times possess magical efficacy or at least that the aura of such efficacy gave them. but are modern readers as willing to believe Othello's story? While postmodern intellectual culture asserts the Saussurean "arbitrarinessof the sign.55-77) We note Desdemona's fearful response. at once asserting-and unsettling-their own powers of persuasive language. Desdemona. Then would to God that I had never seen't! (Othello3. time and again the Songsand Sonnetsdeclare the powers of language to win and seduce. in their own day.. .(Hamlet the assumes that a "material text"-his making the "sign of the cross" in ghost's an irresistible power to make evil reveal itself.. lost marriage. My father'seye should hold her loathed.. offering themselves as so many (spell-)binding oaths. Similarly. Even as late-Elizabethan culture sought to free itself from the former." it seems that Desdemona. but if she lost it. songs. "magicalthinkingis the unconscious residue of such belief.. vowing to "cross it though it blast me" 1.

perhaps. regardless. indeed. is the most obvious and straightforwardinterpretation. We have yet to decide which Donne poems (if any) take their word-magic seriously and which (if any) ironize their claims. nothing said so far quite prepares one for the poem's ending couplet: Send me nor this. no proof offered or required beyond the beloved's own swearing. and [I love thee] no more"?No more. t'increase my store. Might he fear falling prey to the sort of rhetoric used elsewhere in the Songsand Sonnets? However we choose to answer."thus suggesting that the beloved can be certain of (that is." or "no more. there is. but I would not swear to it-nor. now. but not to wed. The line can also." This. Perhaps to love "no more" at all. I think I am right in observing this grammatical/rhetoricalaporia." contains the grammatical possibility of its own negation: "thou thinkst I love thee. we know that the poet of "The Token" refusesto place himself under the spell of another'swriting. should the beloved "sweare"that what she thinksshe in fact knows. After all the phrase. be And. frankly. What. How can the phrase be kept from infecting the grammar of the swearing itself? Might not the lady be commanded even to love "no more"? By this phrase the beloved is superficially to think/swear that "I love thee alone. One wonders what comfort there might be in giving or receiving such an oath." But. "But sweare ." thus darkening the tone.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 265 command or curse or cure-in a word. rejecting poetry itself)-the poet ends with the command. But sweare thou thinkst I love thee. however. in what ways would "swear[ing]" different from other "tokens" that the poet refuses? Modern readers might not sense the seriousness and even danger that such a speech-act as swearing implies for Donne's own age.. "and no more. "swearto") "no more" than this. "I think thou lovest me not. is it really all that perverse to observe that the command. / I do believe her. imagine the poem itself written in response to the lady's charge. than as a pleasure to enjoy in secret. "and no more"? Grammatically. admittedly. and it necessarily raises the possibility of perjury (Shirley): one swears against a backdrop of doubt. "and [send] no more. The poem is not to be trusted: nothing within its language guarantees the poet's fidelity or the lady'sin turn. (17-18) After rejecting the beloved's picture and "witty lines" (by implication.. in swearing not that "I love thee. "and [swear] no more. "But sweare thou thinkst I love thee. though I know she lies" . As in Shakespeare'sSonnet 138-"When my love swears that she is made of truth. grammatically be read.the line can and perhaps should be read as. And we must ask why. ". then."that is." If so." What sort of "token"is thus offered or requested?What evidence or guarantee?The poet does not himself attest to his love. betokens the final tag. and no more." but rather that "thou thinkstI love thee." or "thou me. and no more. love "no more" than "thee. Oath-taking is hardly a casual event. nor that." is placed within the line commanding the beloved'sto "sweare. to wield persuasion. finally.

of all seventeenth-century lyricists.or object-as-sign. First. message. could fashion a poem at once so self-reflexive and yet intertextual. In Donne's age. The title's significance is made more poignant by the fact that "token" can mean "vestige" or "evidence of what formerly existed. more "Donnean. it remains possible to read the poem as a conventional (though. In other words. Rejecting (and thereby both completing and commenting on) the persuasions of the Songsand Sonnets. The title thus raises the problem of "token[ing]. Indeed. even as it self-destructs. faithfulness of the love it is meant to stand for-or as a sign pointing to positing two distinctive voices that argue at crosspurposes (the first sentimentally Petrarchan.providing nothing less than an antidote to the verbal magic of other Donnean lyrics. the hazards of written communication-of letters lost or mis-taken. like so many of the Songs and Sonnets. so Petrarchan (if only parodically so) and yet wittily metaphysical. particularlysince "The Token" offers no explicit warrant to divide the poem against itself. To our modern ears the word has perhaps narrowed to a "toy. in that case. pledge. A simpler reading might be more defensible. whether his own or the beloved's. so (deliberately) untrustworthy. guaranteeing their meaning and truthfulness. it is not among Donne's masterpieces (if it is his at all). more controversially. It is implicitly self-reflexive as well: the sonnet is itself a "token" sent to the beloved. so argumentative and yet patently unpersuasive-in a word. either by separating the first stanza from the rest or. . or evidence of love. not entirely successful) expression of a poet-lover seeking either to give or gain assurances and to allay anxiety. "The Token" declares itself Donne's own. and absence. a souvenir or remembrance. a text about texts or "tokens. witnessing. double-voiced inversion of other poems in the Songsand Sonnets. but to authenticate such messages. fullness. I am left to conclude that Donne alone. loss. still. guaranteeinglove by means of either verbal or material signs. the title itself reminds us that the poem. II I can imagine several objections to the preceding." as well as "a word or material object employed to authenticate a person.266 COLLEGE ENGLISH (1-2)-so in Donne's "The Token": the act of swearing itself acknowledges the power and presumed presence of falsehood.To me the poem becomes more interesting. a metadiscourse."that is." when read as a self-reflexive. or communication" (OED)." of evidencing." one specifically requesting a word. a "token" can serve either as a guarantee of truthfulness and authenticity-of the presence. of forgery and duplicity that a well-chosen "token" would obviatemade it crucial not simply to send and receive messages at a distance. the poem may not be worth the trouble.the second wittily anti-Petrarchanand "metaphysical").

more passive versions of reading fail to acknowledge the radical disjunction between rhetorical and grammatical codes. and the reader's participation in the courtly "game" of coterie literature includes the detection. the coterie reader becomes involved actively in the de/construction and critique or "answering"of a specific poem by a specific. . ethical) fallacy or false argument. of (logical. in fact. imaginatively. familiar author. does reading deconstructively genuinely increase our understanding of its workings? To some-though I would not agree-the preceding might seem little more than a perversion of close-reading. is the beloved's expected response? I would complicate Cathcart'sinterpretation by observing that the reader must answer on behalf of the addressee. My interpretation of "The Token" treats it as a poem both belonging to and completed by the reader. Taking "The Token" as one of several examples. that the reader becomes. "unreadability. A mark of coterie literature is the nearly equal status it imparts to readers and writers alike. indeed.) It is not. parodist) of the Petrarchan stance and becomes. "Dialogue and Controversia" 11-14). thereby.. Dwight Cathcart suggests that such a poem's ending imperative ("But sweare . The patent unpersuasiveness of "The Token" is simply part of the "readinggame" which the poet himself participatesin when he first acts intertextually as a "reader"(that is." rather the plurality and the activityof meanbut ing that deconstruction stresses.(As Paul de Man argued. What. with some portion of his attention not on the poem but on the response to the poem by the person being addressed"(31). and viceversa."While one might readily acknowledge the ambiguity of its emblems and ending couplet. and refutation.) Yet the problem. even the failure. it . impossible? Does Paul de Man need such a poor disciple?" (A complaint against theoretical "fashion"is often a complaint against the failures of "discipleship"and inferior applications of the theory. The reader is expectant. To claim that Donne's poem fails in "tokening"or signifying and evidencing the poet's love would be a commonplace in deconstructive criticism: the failed persuasion. a reader might legitimately ask.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 267 It might be argued that I have rendered the poem "unreadable.if so. a "reader"of other emblem poems in the Songsand Sonnets. more subtly. in fact. one waits for execution. described above. substituting aporiafor the well-worn New Critical conand Or.") has "the discernible effect of leaving the reader off balance: the command has been given. would simply mark the moment when reading oscillates between apparently mutually exclusive meanings-when grammaror logic gives way to rhetoric. In very real ways. "Why must every poem be made to say the same thing-that a text's 'rhetoric' makes meaning 'indeterminate' and reading." perhaps the above does no more than replicate previous deconstructive analyses. though very much still the creation of its author. of persuasion is a theme of the English courtly lyric generally (Baumlin. the addressee whose response completes the poem. cepts of "paradox" "ambiguity. The sort of reading that I have offered is poststructuralistin name only. rhetorical.

anti-historical in turning its back on fascism and the atrocities of Auschwitz. anti-humanist in reducing individual human personality to a "mere" effect of language. However apt. Whether or not literature is misread when treated as "philosophy. the double-voiced nature-of much early-modern discourse. doubt. deconstruc- . after all. then. to the play of rhetoric. of rhetoric. itself but a part of the total human habit of thought. Sloane)-not to mention the more "militant" versions of Pyrrhonist skepticism. Apparently wedded to linguistic skepticism. In other words."Deconstruction. of religious faith and doubt? Conviction in one area necessitates doubt and denial in others: doubt. recreating for the modern reader the skeptical habits of mind that educated individuals in the Renaissance adopted. intersects and expands and undermines and explodes the grammar of poetic discourse. ultimately. as a systematic function of language. Without claiming this feature either for all literary periods or for all literature of the Renaissance. such criticism has deflected attention away from the points recent theory has made quite well. to the ways that rhetoric. which is of equal urgency. simply. of course. The fact that not all Renaissance texts are grounded in skepticism should not surprise. Lehman). deconstruction become defensive weapons in a world where competing arguments-competing rhetorics-vie for dominance. Rhetoric. in part through the grounding of their education in Ciceronian/Academic skepticism (Kahn. it is also true that Renaissance literature exceeds and embarrassesdeconstruction in curious ways. But while deconstruction reminds us about certain features of Renaissance discourse. which were in fact recovered and made fashionable during the Renaissance (Popkin). one that complicates the ways its verbal structures are able "to mean." I am referring.268 COLLEGE ENGLISH reflects the habits of critical reading that define Donne's own early-modern agewhich is an age." assuming that any theory bears the "sins"of its father (Hirsch. remains balanced by belief. quintessentially. denial."the fact is that poetry-early-modern poetry especiallycontains within itself a powerfully destabilizing force. anti-political in denying texts their force as action-inthe-world.) Deconstruction has been accused of being anti-aesthetic (specifically. (Is not Renaissance intellectual culture a battle ground. the Renaissance was the first "modern" age to adopt skepticism as part of its theory of knowledge. I do suggest that deconstructive readings serve to identify and explore the "rhetoricalmoment" or "turn"in a text. and. teaches us to recognize the intertextuality and rhetorical play-that is. Poststructuralism has taught modern readers to attend to the epistemological and rhetorical skepticism of many early-modern texts. the moment when competing motives of language subtly intersect and undermine one another's claims. is a more powerful instrument than New Criticism recognized in its Empsonian concept of "ambiguity. antipoetic) in confusing "literature"with "philosophy" and elevating its own critical acts to a mode of creative writing. The attacks are strident and often ad hominem"against (de) Man.

Analogies. the lovers' united souls are said to "endure not yet / A breach. who must Like th'other foot.modes of conceivingrelationships the universethat reify. Thus the poet fashions golden circles or wedding bands for himself and his beloved. as devicessubordinate argument they arein the scientifictradition. if the'other doe. Yet when the other far doth rome."More." for example. instead. And growes erect. to and explanatory in proof.insteadof being. the "metaphysical conceit"-an extended argument-by-analogy assuming truth in one aspect of material reality to be reflected elsewhere. from recordings of absence to celebrations of presence. and hearkens after it. Wordsaretreated if theyareequivalent things. the Donnean conceit often claims to be invested with occult powers.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 269 tion has proved unwilling to step outside of its epistemology. than a line of rhetorical argument. to the action of the "stiffe twin compasses": If [our souls] be two. In the ending of "AValediction: Forbidding Mourning.. Brian Vickers elaborates on the connections between occult philosophy and analogic reasoning: while Baconian science distinguishes "between words and things and between literal and metaphorical language. are. as to for the the Manipulate one and you manipulate other. (25-34) By inscribing its circle around a center-point or "fixt foot" (27) the compass creates. Donne's poetry exploits a range of rhetorics beyond skepticism as it claims to turn language from "arbitrarysign" to sacrament. makes no show To move. The soule the fixt foot. the conceit becomes an "artificer-"or "wielder-of-persuasion. "faithful"reader uncovers powerful confirmation of Donne's hermeticism. . however. they are two so As stiffe twin compasses are two. but doth. Instead.andcanbe substituted them. Rudnytsky (193) observes. / And makes me end. And though it in the center sit. but an expansion" (22-23)-a "golden analogy"which the poet extends hermetically. whose own "firmnes"makes his "circlejust. "like gold to ayery thinnesse beate" (24). It leanes." the occult tradition "does not recognize this distinction" (95). as Peter L. In contrast. Should it surprise that emblems lie at their material/referential/hermeneutic center? In the vocabulary of sophistic rhetoric. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" we confront that structure of argument most associated with Donne's poetry. There.. where I begunne" (35-36)-an assertion of fidelity sealed by the occult powers of this emblem-charm. Such wilt thou be to mee.hieroglyphically even. as it comes home. the careful. obliquely runne. the alchemical symbol for gold: 0.

but we are to questionit nonetheless. "The Token" thus reminds us that Donne's most celebrated lyrics often succeed in persuading readers of the truth and ultimate reality of their subjects. do not harme Nor question much That subtile wreath of haire.270 COLLEGE ENGLISH rigidify. Donne's poetry provides both a critique and a defenseof the "metaphysicsof presence. by rendering love (and language) sacramental. and the breakthrough he hopes to accomplish.Donne's response to the problem of poetic presence/absence is simultaneously rhetorical and theological in . partake of the realm of semiology as well as Presence that of love's theology" (Poetic 30)." (Of course deconstruction. Donne transforms of "metaphysics"into a theology presence. oscillating between the polarities of faith-in the "mystery" and "sign" (4)-and of doubt: we are not to "question much" (2) the bracelet-charm of hair. And keepe these limbes. (Vickers 95) Of course. the sign you must not touch. its meaning and its efficacy.and ultimatelycome to dominatethought. at least in its Derridean mode. the poet in Donne's "Sonnet: The Token" refuses to be "used by" such analogies-and not surprisingly. Will leave this to controule. while other authors. (1-8) Surely the poem appeals to our trust." thus offering a critique of the "metaphysicsof presence"a critique. knowable human being.One no longer uses analogies: One is used by them.") Indeed. texts. Viceroy to that. For 'tis my outward Soule. Similarly. Murray Krieger writes. Refering to Sir Philip Sidney'sAstrophil and Stella. His task.since the poem rejects "conceited" argument outright. her Provinces. traditions often remain unconscious of their logocentric assumptions. the rhetorical triumph of such poems as "The Canonization. Donne's poetry plays deliberately and consciously with the problems of presence and absence: with good reason. In this regard." and "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" demands no less than a "leap of faith" from readers. but do so while admitting the powerful co-presence of skepticism and doubt. of stable meaning and stable. that is. our reading must be kept constantly in motion. One might add that. More than "metaphysical"in manner. is born out of the critique of philosophical essentialism or "logocentrism. Still. from dissolution. his poetry is styled "metaphysical. the opening stanza of "The Funerall"seems boldly to assert the power of verbal-material signs to sacralize experience: Whoever comes to shroud me." "The Ecstasy. which then to heaven being gone. "what the poet is trying to bring about-whatever his skepticism about his chances for his literal success-is a miracle of linguistic presence as much as a miracle of quasi-religious presence. which crowns my arme. In contrast. The mystery.

Swear. not I. take its arguments "on faith"?When one admits that such "materialtexts" as emblems fail to preserve and protect love-when the powers of love-charm are stripped altogether from human relationships-where is one left? By what means can one guarantee another's fidelity? When Hamlet demands that Horatio and Marcellus "nevermake known" the ghost's visitation. Marcellus. to a lesser order than the "saving sacraments"of baptism and communion. Catholic sacraments (including priesthood and marriage) were reduced to "sacramentals"-that is. my lord. Having made this distinction. we must note the doctrinal distinction often made between sacramentand sacramental. In order to appreciate fully the cultural significance of Hamlet's ritualized behavior. already. Hamlet. Horatio.5.John Donne 13. a Greek word for "persuasion.144-49) And they swear no less than three times. the English Church continued nonetheless to value such rites as analogous to . but swear't. in faith.and this is a point poststructuralisttheory fails to acknowledge.. the sword itself offered as an instrument to guarantee their oath."is used throughout the New Testament to mean "faith":rendered an effect of persuasion. thereby rejecting the theological ground upon which other of Donne's lyrics pitch their tents. in a second reading. the theologization of poetic argument entails.. for discussion of the rhetorical/theological implications of pistis. and it is no accident that pistis. "Sonnet: The Token" rejects the "mystery" of emblems and language. indeed. Upon my sword. In faith. my lord.. he stages an elaborate swearing ritual: Both. a (trans-)substantiationof language and a rendering of poetic emblem as "mystery" and sacrament. faith becomes radicallya rhetorical event. My lord. We have sworn. Indeed. the poem's refusal to persuade is but one of many rhetorical strategies operant within the Songsand Sonnets. Nor I. my lord. at the same time. once again. an additional possibility remains. Hamlet. Of course. upon my sword. see Kinneavy 33-35). Having doubted "The Token. So.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 271 implication. Hamlet. Nay. an act of interpretation and response (Baumlin. Though bound to a linguistic skepticism. given their lack of Scripturalsanction. (Hamlet 1. But. Marcellus. we will not.In Anglican theology. being wholly committed to its ownskepticism." can we not now. Ghost. a rhetorization of theology. five of the seven traditional.

troth must be "plighted" in a single. Rather. Ending with the phrase. he invokes theology to guarantee his rhetoric. by implication."Donne wittily (blasphemously?)asks God to "Sweare by thy selfe. (John Milton's divorce tracts failed. In our own age. love poetry). and not by the external powers of charm and sacrament. All we can know. trust.3.136). why "The Token" refuses such ritualization? Perhaps the oath. to sway Anglican opinion against the absolute. becomes the Laudian equivalent of "to swear. "no more" (18)." When Shakespeare'sParolles says "I'll take the sacrament" in surety of his truthfulness (All' Well. as if God Himself must "swear by"his own divinity in order to guarantee His promised grace-as if the formality of the verbal ritual itself matters at least as much as the character and intention of participants. "I think thou lovest me" is all one can be certain about. III As critical fashion shifts away from deconstruction. "modern"reality of contractual relations and personal responsibilities. is our own mind. but how many of us believe that such a material object and "text" as a sword or Bible will itself either protect or punish the oath-taker? For Donne's age. Earlier I stated that "the poem is not to be trusted.For "The Token" refuses to compel our belief and assent. it seems time to reappraisethe contributions poststructuralisttheory has made to our understanding and teaching . after all. it would seem that the poem-placed last among the Song and Sonnets-imparts a powerfully ironic sense of finality to one's reading of the 1649 edition.4. the poet leads his readers into the thoroughly secular or mundane. Read this way. In "A Hymne to God the Father. though themselves unnecessary for salvation. that at my death thy Sunne / Shall shine" (15-16). including the sign of the cross. truth. Another's words-"I love you"-can only be accepted on faith. but only if we ourselves prove trustworthy. The verb "to sacrament. free act of reading/act of faith. because High-Church Anglicanism included among "sacramentals"a range of other traditionally Catholic rituals. one might still swear truthfulness with one's hand on the Bible. it would seem that the problem of trust belongs not to the poem but to its reader-participants(which can include the poet and his beloved): perhaps we can trust the poem. a world in which the individual is compelled by conscience.272 COLLEGE ENGLISH sacrament and able to participate in divine reality. then.Do we really wonder."indeed. from the perspective of Cartesian consciousness."From this second vantage point. not another's. Having refused to ritualize love (and. indissoluble sacramentalityof marriage. one does not simply "swear" but rather "swears by" some divinely sanctioned power.)I make this point. the use of holy water-and the taking of oaths. "The Token" calls into question the culture's naive (residual) reliance on swearing rituals as well as its belief (though unconscious and equally residual) in the "persuasions"of love-charm.

of mythicsubstructs. It may be some years before the Variorum consulted the major modern editions (Grierson. Many recent critics have sought to pound nails into its coffin. in the meantime. (Intentionality and 12-13) While the causes of poststructuralism'sorbit in the American academy are more complex than the above passage acknowledges. both early and modern.a ferretingout of the a as It (to inconsequential the piece of literature). historyof ideas. theoriesof genre.which saw literature the meansto biography. then." At best. The effects of reading. we can say that deconstruction has completed itself as a theory and no longer generates entirely new insights. the best evidence for authorship (and for the various strands of my argument) lies not in the poetry's print history but in its prior transmission in manuwill eventually turn to script. in other words." and the few mentions of the poem in book-length studies typically extend to three sentences or less (I cite the most relevant of these). Shawcross. be incorporated into a poetics of authorial presence and intentionality.Wollman).Docherty).informs me that work on "The Token" remains in an early stage. Shawcross.teaches us to acknowledge aporiaas the "rhetoricalmoment" within literary texts. "Updating". Some would be pleased to read Renaissance texts as if deconstruction had "never happened. and. Deconstructive readings of Donne include Tilottama Rajan's" 'Nothing Sooner Broke' " and at least two book-length studies (Baumlin. Shawcross describes deconstructionist and "strictly reader-based criticism. in fact. As John T. There exists one article-a brief note by Francis Manley-devoted specifically to "The Token. I have authorship. need not subvert authorial intention. still I agree with Shawcross:deconstructionist strategies of reading can. a Variorum editor of the Songsand Sonnets. and that no ultimate decision has been made regarding its sheds light on the subject.Sullivan." with of amalgamated the insightsandapproaches authorial presence.John Donne. Sullivan II. and "The Token" in particular.past). nor is their only explanation an unconscious linguistic/rhetorical excess. Among broader applications of decon- . the canon and arrangement of Donne's Poemsis of course a construction of his editors. it has taught us what it could.of form. we should consider whether poststructuralistreadings have left an enduring legacy. until we learn to approach historical rhetoric with greater sophistication. would seem that such excessesare indeedpastandwith theirdemisehasbeguna declinein the viability suchstrictly of and criticism. Printed posthumously. the like. Smith.DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 273 of Renaissance literature. NOTE 1.We move into new fads." It has been a worldof reactionagainstthe excessesof the past(I hope. Still. "Arrangement". we ought not to ignore the insights that deconstruction-that sophistic/ated rhetorical instrument of modern theory-enables in reading the Renaissance. Yet Ernest W. Donne's poetry in general. Redpath. Patrides) as well as recent discussions of Donne manuscripts and editing (Pebworth. a rather complex story that editors of the long-expected Donne Variorum write. which include the "indeterminacy"and aporiadescribed in deconstructive criticism. Doubtless. Let us poststructuralist deconstructionist will criticism retainthe insightsandapproaches thesenew critof hope thatliterary ical "systems. Gardner.

"Dialogue and Controversia English Renaissance Literature: Historicizing the Reader's Response. Norfolk. Roland." Seven Typesof Ambiguity. CT: New Directions. ton UP. Eliot. Felperin. Donneand the PoetryofMoralArgument. 1932. Helen.Oxford: Clarendon P. Quotations from Donne's poetry are taken from Helen Gardner'sJohn Donne:The Elegiesand The Songsand Sonnetsand John Donne: The Divine Poems.and Jonathan Goldberg. TheResistance Theory. Columbia: U of Mis.Ann Cathcart."incidentally. ed. 79-99. 1994. 1991. 1975. ed. Text.John. Brooks. Jonathan. My own use of the term "fashioning. Nancy J. 1977.New York:Methuen. 1990.Oxford: Clarendon P. the latter much indebted to the pioneering Renaissance studies of Stephen Greenblatt. Gardner. New York: Hill and Wang. Selected Essays. New York: Riverhead. .Oxford: Clarendon. Cleanth. 1986. James S. Howard Felperin and Brook Thomas explore the many fruitful relations between deconstruction and New Historicism. 139-48. Dwight. San Diego: Harcourt. William. New York:Oxford UP. DoubtingConscience: Arbor: U of Michigan P. 1983. Mind and Art. 1986. Howard. . Murray Krieger. and English Renaissance Goldberg. The Well-WroughtUrn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry. John Donne: The Elegiesand The Songsand Sonnets. in Baumlin. VoiceTerminalEcho.Ed. John Donne: Conservative Revolutionary. Poetic Presence. Empson. Carey. has nothing to do with Greenblatt's. John Donne. 3d ed. S. WORKS CITED Princeton: PrinceAndreason.274 COLLEGE ENGLISH struction to Renaissance poetry. Trans. Docherty. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P.London: Methuen. John Donne: The Divine Poems. see RichardMachin and Christopher Norris. The WesternCanon: The Booksand Schoolof the Ages. to de Man. Post-Structuralist Readings. Undone. John Donne and the Rhetorics Renaissance of -souri P. "Contextualizing the Canon: The Case of Donne. 1967. 1965. VoiceTerminalEcho: Postmodernism Texts. "A Valediction of Weeping." Publicationsof the Missouri Philological Association19 (1994): 1-20. Music. Bloom Harold." The Usesof the Canon:ElizabethanLiteratureand Contemporary Theory. 1953. Discourse. 1981. 1952. Image. Paul. Stephen Heath. 1947. Thomas. C. T.New York:Harcourt. Wlad Godzich. John Donne:Life. Barthes.

The Historyof Scepticism from Erasmusto Descartes." Machin and Norris 20-37. 1985. Chicago: U of Chicago P. Ted-Larry. 1944. Ithaca: Cornell Prudence. Stephen. Mohan. Renaissance Self-Fashioning: From More to Shakespeare. Tilottama. and Christopher Norris. 1964. " 'The Sight of God': Donne's Poetics of Transcendence. The Songsand SonetsofJohn Donne."John DonneJournal 3 (1984): 1-21. 1980. Kinneavy. ed. James L.PoeticPresence Illusion: Essays CriticalHistoryand Theory. London: Oxford UP. and Lehman. " 'Nothing Sooner Broke': Donne's Songs and Sonets as SelfConsuming Artifacts. 2d ed. Peter L. 1987." TexasStudiesin Languageand Literature24 (1982): 185-207. Moloney. 1987..New Delhi: Arya. The PhoenixRiddle: Interpretation CriticalTreatment Donne's of LovePoems. ed. Greek RhetoricalOrigins of ChristianFaith: An Inquiry. Harper. Marotti. 1956. 1972. Victoria. Hirsch. Words and the Escape of the Gods. Pebworth. Murray. New York:Oxford UP. London: Methuen. Kahn. timore: Johns Hopkins UP. 1938. NH: UP of New England.Urbana: U of Illinois P. Arthur E John Donne. eds. Poetry. Rudnytsky. and An Jha. "The Yale School as a Theological Enterprise. The Deconstructionof Literature: Criticism After Auschwitz. ThePoemsofJohn Donne. UP. CoteriePoet. 1979.London: Dent. Patrides. Signs of the Times:Deconstruction the Fall of Paul de Man.2 vols. Michael Francis. in Baland Krieger. Rajan. Francis. Post-Structuralist Readings English of UP. 1985. Richard H. Roger. C. David. C. in and Skepticism the Renaissance." ModernLanguageNotes 74 (1959): 385-88. HerbertJ. "Chaucer's Rosary and Donne's Bracelet: Ambiguous Coral. New York:Poseidon. Hanover. Grierson. "ManuscriptPoems and Print Assumptions: Donne and His Modern Editors. A. Richard."Renaissance Modern Studies27 (1983): 1-29 New York: Popkin.John Donne:His Flightfrom Medievalism. .DONNE'S "THE TOKEN" 275 Greenblatt.Cambridge: Cambridge Manley. and Poole. 1991. Machin. Madison: U of Wisconsin P."ELH 49 (1982): 805-2 8. "Presentation and Representation in the Renaissance Lyric: The Net of -~. Redpath. David H. Theodore. Rhetoric. 1991. 1986. The Complete EnglishPoemsofJohn Donne..

tieth-Century Vickers.John T. Berkeley: U of California P. 1970. Urbana: U of Illinois P. 1994. Woodbridge. Linda. and the End of HumanistRhetoric. Brook. University Park. "The Arrangement and Order of John Donne's Poems. 1991. "The 'Press and the Fire': Print and Manuscript Culture in Donne's Circle. 119-63. 1974. John Donne: The Complete English Poems." Poems in Their Place:The Intertextuality and Orderof PoeticCollections. John T. II. . ed. "Analogy versus Identity: The Rejection of Occult Symbolism. Smith. 95-163. Swearingand Perjuryin Shakespeare's Plays. 1984. Thomas O. Frances A. The CompletePoetry of John Donne. Judah. Ernest W. The Scythe of Saturn: Shakespeareand Magical Thinking.New York: St. tat. The New Historicismand Other Old-Fashioned Topics. "Who Was Reading/Writing Donne Verse in the Seventeenth-Century?" John DonneJournal 8 (1989): 1-16. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P. 1986. Donne. ers. A. 1971. Garden City. Shakespeare. G. London: Allen and Unwin." Occultand ScientificMentalitiesin the Renaissance. Brian VickNew York:Cambridge UP. 1947.276 COLLEGE ENGLISH Ed. Martin's.Milton. John DonneJournal 9 (1990): 141-48. Stampfer. 1979. The Riverside Shakespeare. Shawcross.William. Ed. 1580-1680." EnglishLiteraryManuscripts. "Updating the John Donne Listings in Peter Beal'sIndexof II. Princeton: Thomas. Blakemore Evans. Some Liminal Means to Literary . Shirley. 1991. Richard B. NY: Archon.. Elizabethan Matephysical Imagery:Renaissance Critics. Rosemund. Neil FraisEd.Chicago: U of Chicago P. ed. Brian.New York: Funk and Wagnalls. J. Shawcross. Wollman. John Donne and the MetaphysicalGesture. Poeticand Twenand Tuve. •- . 1985. Intentionalityand the New Traditionalism: -Revisionism. PA: Pennsylvania State UP. Sullivan.. Sloane. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. Princeton UP. 1967.." Studiesin EnglishLiterature33 (1993): 85-97.

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