A comparison of the imaginative response of Donne and Milton to a selection of theological doctrines
This comparative study of the response of Donne and Milton to a selection of theological doctrines is made in an attempt to reach a deeper understanding of their imaginations. It is divided into three main sections, dealing with the creation of the world; the soul; and the Incarnation of Christ. In order to establish first the position of their theology in relation to Christian tradition, I begin each section with a discussion of the development of the beliefs with which it is concerned, dealing with classical, patristic, scholastic, and Reformation writers. The purpose of this is not so much to trace influences, as to show what beliefs were available to the poet, and thus what personal choices he made. But if a poet is to be understood as a poet, rather than as a theologian, we must look not only at what he believes, but at how he believes it. The mere statement of belief, faithfully held, does not indicate in itself either its imaginative or emotional significance to the poet. Therefore, the comparison of one poet with another reveals more clearly the imaginative response of each to his beliefs; and both Donne and Milton have left ample evidence both of what they believed, and of its imaginative expression. Thus I make a careful, chronological study of what Donne and Milton state themselves to believe, based particularly on Donne's sermons, and Milton's De Doctrina Christiana, and then I exa-nine how consistently these beliefs are upheld both explicitly and implicitly in their poetry and prose works. I discuss the aspects of doctrine which seem most attractive to them, and the images in which they choose to express them. Thus their attitude towards quite minor points of dopma can be seen as part of a much wider imaginative emphasis, and certain preoccupations may be found afrain and afain in the context of different doctrines.