The Logic of Excess
Religious Paradox and Poetical Truth in Donne’s Love Poetry
This paper investigates John Donne’s rhetorical strategies and lyrical outcomes in the light of the increasing scepticism, following the crisis of the century-old epistemological and religious framework undermined by the Reform and the new science. It focuses, in particular, on the recurring use of paradox in the profane context of Songs and Sonnets, which shows how Donne draws upon the religious discourse preserving its ‘sacred’ form but adapting it to secular contents and persuasive purposes, devoid of any orthodox transcendence. Moreover, the analysis of Donne’s religious paradoxes reveals the poet’s will to compete with the religious authority by mimicking its argumentative style and its limit-expressions (according to Ricoeur’s definition), in order to build and defend his own ‘poetical truth’. Finally, the paper underlines how Donne’s poetry anticipates one of the main features of modern secularization: the role of the arts (poetry included) as the only possible fictional shelter able to compensate for the loss of religious faith.