John Donne composed his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions (1624) to share a revelatory experience of illness with readers. Yet, in the book's final chapter, Donne himself indicates that bodily pain is nearly incommunicable. This raises a question: How can Donne hope to share his illness with readers when he believes its physical symptoms resist communication? This essay argues that Donne bypasses this impasse by formally recreating one of his illness's contemplative symptoms: the vexed temporal disorder caused by interpreting one's world from within a sick body. Because this symptom arises from Donne's inability to order the events of his illness, he is able to recreate it within readers by likewise disordering the Devotions' narrative. By sharing this contemplative “torment” with readers, the Devotions democratizes Donne's difficult path toward spiritual revelation. In doing so, it demonstrates that narrative form can bridge the communication gap between the suffering writer and his readers.
Research Article|January 01 2016
Jessica Tabak; “O Multiplied Misery!”: The Disordered Medical Narrative of John Donne's Devotions. Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 1 January 2016; 46 (1): 167–188. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10829636-3343159
Download citation file: