Вы находитесь на странице: 1из 22
Anna Riehl BlackwellOxford,ENLREnglish0013-83121475-6757©XXXOriginal2009
Anna Riehl BlackwellOxford,ENLREnglish0013-83121475-6757©XXXOriginal2009

Anna Riehl

BlackwellOxford,ENLREnglish0013-83121475-6757©XXXOriginal2009 LiteraryEnglishUKArticlePublishingLiteraryRenaissanceLtdRenaissance Inc.

English Literary Renaissance


Eying the Thought Awry: The Anamorphosis of John Donne’s Poetry

For sorrowes eye, glazed with blinding teares, Diuides one thing intire, to many obiects, Like perspectiues, which rightly gaz’d vpon Shew nothing but confusion, ey’d awry Distinguish forme (William Shakespeare, Richard II 2.2.16–20) 1

a Picture wrought to opticke reason, That to all passers by, seemes as they move, Now woman, now a Monster, now a Divell, And till you stand, and in a right line view it, You cannot well judge what the maine forme is (George Chapman, Chabot 1.1.68–72) 2

T he early moderns adored anamorphic conundrums that called for a process of discovery through perspective. They gazed at the

illegible smudges that defied reason, fantastical swirls that masqueraded as landscapes, and at grotesque features that were elongated to the extreme just before losing the last traces of resemblance to a human face. Curiosity excited by such images could be satisfied only by changing one’s point of view, thereby shortening and reforming the mysterious swirls and elongations into new shapes. Fascination with making and unmaking of such enigmas affected literature as well as visual culture, producing especially intriguing results in works of difficult writers like

I am grateful to Clark Hulse, John Huntington, William Engel, and Ilona Bell for their attentive comments and enthusiasm about this project.

1. William Shakespeare, The life and death of Richard the second , in Mr. VVilliam Shakespeares comedies, histories, & tragedies: published according to the true originall copies (1623), p. 30.

2. George Chapman and James Shirley, The tragedie of Chabot admirall of France: as it vvas presented by her Majesties Servants, at the private house in Drury Lane (1639), sig. B3.


© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc. Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.


English Literary Renaissance

John Donne. Ben Jonson’s grim prediction that Donne, “for not being understood, would perish,” 3 and the subsequent efforts of Donne’s critics and readers to gain insight and make his writings endure, suggest that his poetry itself forms an anamorphic mystery and that the interpretive history is a struggle for revelation. Donne admitted that in his own intellectual quests he refined his understanding as he reconsidered the subject of his meditation by “look[ing] upon it in another line, in another angle.” 4 If Donne’s references to “lines” and “angles” 5 evoke visual perspective, it is specifically anamorphic logic that at times seems to drive his poetic thought. Uncovering the mechanism of this logic brings to light new meanings hidden in the lines and angles of Donne’s com- plicated verse. “Anamorphosis,” from Greek, ana- (again) and morphe (shape), is a term more familiar to art historians than literary critics although the term has been applied to literary analysis in the past. 6 In the visual arts an anamorphic image reveals itself only when considered from an unconventional point of view (the spectator usually has to move to the side of the picture or use a mirror or a lens); when viewed centrically, such an image appears

3. Ben Jonson, Conversations with William Drummond of Hawthornden , in Ben Jonson , ed.

Ian Donaldson (Oxford, 1985), p. 599.

4. From The Sermons of John Donne , ed. George R. Potter and Evelyn M. Simpson, 10 vols.

(Berkley, 1953–1962), VI, 105–06. Quoted by L. E. Semler, The English Mannerist Poets and the

Visual Arts (Madison and London, 1998), p. 53.

5. See more examples in Semler, pp. 52–53.

6. The term “anamorphosis” has gained popularity among literary critics, mainly because of

Jacques Lacan’s absorption of this term. See “Of the Gaze as Objet Petit a ,” in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis , tr. Alan Sheridan (New York and London, 1978), pp. 67–119. Shortly before Lacan introduced the concept of the gaze as a central element of the anamorphic exchange between the viewer and the image, Jurgis Baltru ß aitis briefly applied the visual term anamorphosis to the fabric of language in Anamorphic Art , tr. W. J. Strachan (New York, 1977). For a useful survey of the treatment of the term “anamorphosis” by postmodern theorists, see Sylvia Söderlind’s essay, “Illegitimate Perspectives and the Critical Unconscious: The Anamorphic Imagination,” Canadian Review of Comparative Literature 17 (1990), 213–26. See also Jeanine Parisier Plottel, “Anamorphosis in Painting and Literature,” Yearbook of Comparative and General Literature 28 (1979), 10–19; Slavoj Z i z ek, Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge, MA, 1992); David R. Castillo, (A)wry Views: Anamorphosis, Cervantes, and the Early Picaresque (West Lafayette, 2001). Most recently, Eric B. Song’s essay draws on Lacan and Søren Kierkegaard as Song convincingly explores the experiences of both reading and viewing George Herbert’s anamorphic poem across its three axes (only two of which are immediately apparent) and as an integral whole (“Anamorphosis and the Religious Subject of George Herbert’s ‘Colloss. 3.3,’ ” Studies in English Literature 1500–1900 47.1 (2007), 107–21). Song argues that Herbert modifies the visual anamorphic technique so as “not only to inscribe lack, but also to overcome it” (p. 117).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


either distorted or concealed within another “easily decipherable” image. 7 A visual encounter with an anamorphic image is a profoundly unsettling experience. Presented with the obscurity of a tricky form, viewers are compelled to seek disclosure first through physical movement, and later through corresponding mental effort as they ponder the meaning of their discovery. The search for the advantageous viewing point demands an exercise of perceptions that comprise a linear advancement from mystery to revelation. However, once acquired, both images coexist in the viewers’ subjective memory, just as in the objective reality both images always exist simultaneously, even though they can be seen by the same pair of eyes only one at a time. Moreover, these images share the same material elements even as their meanings do not coincide. Finally, the remembrance of the unseen form enables the interpretive efforts that extend any anamorphic experience beyond the mere game of visual perception. The device of perspective picture —the sixteenth-century name for the visual composition that, in the seventeenth century, came to be called “curious perspective” or “anamorphosis”—originated in late fifteenth century Europe, coming on the heels of Leon Battista Alberti’s articulation of perspective painting in his influential treatise Della pittura (1435). 8

7. In this study the term anamorphosis is assumed to be interchangeable with “curious perspective,”

a term under which Ernest Gilman, following Jean-François Niceron, groups various distortions whose correction requires a mirror, lens, or change of the point of view. See The Curious Perspective:

Literary and Pictorial Wit in the Seventeenth Century (New Haven and London, 1978). I am less interested in the variety of gadgets that may be put to use in order to reshape an image than in the essential principle of such constructions: a shift from a conventional way of viewing rewards one with a clarification otherwise inaccessible.

8. See Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting , trans. John R. Spencer (New Haven, 1966), Book

I. The parents of anamorphic distortion are Alberti’s construzione legittima and corrective distortion. Construzione legittima prescribes the mathematical rules for representation of the three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface; corrective distortion adjusts the proportions of the images and sculptures according to their placement, taking into the account the curving surfaces of the ceiling, the distance between the viewer and the image, and the expected angle of the viewer’s point of view. The anamorphic distortion builds on the precision of the former and substitutes the latter’s silent correctiveness with an ostentatious display of distortion that chal- lenges the viewer to seek correction on her own. Anamorphosis was known in England as early as 1533 and 1546, the dates of Hans Holbein’s The Ambassadors and William Scrots’ anamorphic portrait of Edward VI. In the late sixteenth century the Scrots portrait was on public display in Whitehall Palace. For the studies of Albertian and curious perspective, see Harry Berger, “L. B. Alberti on Painting: Art and Actuality in Humanist Perspective,” in Second World and Green World:

Studies in Renaissance Fiction-Making (Berkeley, 1988), pp. 373–408; Joost Elffers, et al., Hidden Images:

Games of Perception, Anamorphic Art, Illusion from the Renaissance to the Present (New York, 1976); James Elkins, The Poetics of Perspective (Cornell, 1995); Lucy Gent, Picture and Poetry 1560–1620

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

144 English Literary Renaissance

Given contemporary discourse about the competition between art and poetry, an appearance of the anamorphic techniques in early modern verse is hardly surprising. The “vogue for perspective metaphors and analogies struck English writers hard in the 1590s and did not exhaust their interest until well into the Restoration.” 9 As demonstrated below, anamorphic turns are especially attractive for poets because they open up a possibility of doubling without sacrificing the integrity of the image or concept. Although literary criticism has traced the multivalent treatment of perspective in early modern writing, the anamorphosis, a peculiar management of perspective in a very specific way, has received significantly less attention. In his extensive study of curious perspective in the seventeenth century, Ernest Gilman has turned the discourse toward the scene where this device first originated and flourished: early modern visual production. Gilman brings together literary and pictorial wit through their common tendency to disrupt the rules of logic in discourse and perspective representation. 10 However, Gilman’s clever juxtaposition calls for an added reminder that in its subversion of the rules of conventional logic, anamorphosis, rather than basking in unpredictability, is subject to logic of its own. The rules of this logic are surprisingly stable. Because it proceeds from the rather stringent (even if playful) process of production and consumption of an anamorphic creation—production involving mathematical precision, and consumption proceeding according to a general plot enriched by individual variations—

(Leamington Spa, 1981) and “The Self-Cozening Eye,” Review of English Studies 34 (1983), 419–28; Clark Hulse, “Alberti and History,” in The Rule of Art: Literature and Painting in the Renaissance (Chicago, 1990), pp. 47–76; Martin Kemp, The Science of Art: Optical Themes in Western Art from Brunelleschi to Seurat (New Haven, 1990); Michael Kubovy, The Psychology of Perspective and Renaissance Art (Cambridge, Eng., 1989); Lyly Massey, “Anamorphosis through Descartes or Perspective Gone Awry,” Renaissance Quarterly 50 (1997), 1148–89 and Picturing Space, Displacing Bodies: Anamorphosis in Early Modern Theories of Perspective (University Park, Pa., 2007); Erwin Panofsky, Perspective as Symbolic Form , tr. Christopher Wood (New York, 1997); Allan Shickman, “‘Turning Pictures’ in Shakespeare’s England,” The Art Bulletin 59.1 (1977), 67–70. 9. Raymond Waddington, “An Unnatural Perspective: Ovids Banquet of Sence,” in The Mind’s Empire: Myth and Form in George Chapman’s Narrative Poems (Baltimore and London, 1974), p. 121.

10. “The language of wit is to the rules of logical discourse, and to the poetic styles that obey

them, as the curious perspective is to the Albertian rules of perspective in breaking the rules of the rational game, or at least putting them under strain

parodic internal subversion, wit deforms the conventions of expository logic in the one case, and of linear perspective in the other” (Gilman, pp. 86–87).

Wit delights By a kind of

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


it is hardly a “deformed” logic. Likewise, anamorphic constructions engender a rhetoric specific to their needs. To differentiate from con- ventional logic and rhetoric, I will refer to the principles and techniques in question as anamorphic logic and anamorphic rhetoric . Early modern literary critics concerned with anamorphic devices have focused primarily on George Chapman 11 and William Shakespeare. 12 There have been only a couple of attempts to extend this study to John Donne and no sufficient interest in applying it to the logical structures of his poetry. But Donne’s patterns of thinking are also profoundly

11. George Chapman’s poetry seems to be a natural subject in an inquiry into the early

modern anamorphic writing for two reasons: Chapman draws some of the most enticing poetic descriptions of anamorphic paintings, and the obscurity of his difficult verse, which makes sense

only after a substantial mental exertion, begs a comparison with the anamorphic distortion whose correction requires some effort. Waddington expounds Chapman’s Ovids Banquet of Sence , “contrived as a perspective poem” (p. 117). Waddington is mostly interested in Chapman’s explicit allusions to anamorphic paintings, as well as visual and perspectival constructions in general, with a moral emphasis “upon the human propensity to misinterpret the picture itself,”

a shortcoming of the senses that may be corrected by reason only (p. 123). Also of note is John Huntington’s intricate demonstration of the way Chapman’s syntax creates perspective tricks which consistently encode two often opposing meanings in the same lines. See “Virtues Obscured: Social Perspective and Meaning,” in Ambition, Rank, and Poetry in 1590s England (Urbana and Chicago, 2001), pp. 100–01.

12. Shakespeare’s most often visited anamorphic landmarks are Bushy’s allusion to a perspective

picture in Richard II and Orsino’s exclamation, “One face, one voice, one habit, and two persons,

/ A naturall Perspectiue, that is, and is not,” in the last act of Twelfth Night (F1, p. 274). Maurice Charney argues that “perspective imagery is essentially comic because it puts such a strong emphasis on effects of surprise, wonder, and the marvelous” (“ Twelfth Night and the ‘Natural

Perspective’ of Comedy,” in De Shakespeare a T. S. Eliot . Mélanges offerts à Henri Fluchère [Paris, 1977], p. 48). For Charney, comic devices like disguise, gender misrecognition, and plot entan- glements in Twelfth Night create a “mass of incongruous distortion” which finally becomes legible in the dénouement when “comedy celebrates correct perception, that moment when we finally ‘get it all together’” (p. 50). This approach stands in silent contrast to the notion that “the uncanny,” as maintained by the followers of Freud and Lacan, is an integral part of an anamorphic experience. See, e.g., S ø derlind’s account of Fernand Hallyn’s method (p. 217). In “Re-presenting the Effect of Gendered Subjectivity: Love, the Gaze, Anamorphosis in Twelfth Night ,” Yoko Takakuwa injects a Lacanian concept of anamorphosis in “gendered subjectivity” in Twelfth Night ( Q / W / E / R/ T /Y 5 [1995], 27–41). Another Lacanian critic, Ned Lukacher, articulates “the anamorphic structure of catharsis” of anamorphic disorder, clarification and displacement in Shakespeare’s Richard II, in “Anamorphic Stuff: Shakespeare, Catharsis, Lacan,” South Atlantic Quarterly 88.4 (1989), 872. Lukacher contrasts Lacan’s theoretical and Shakespeare’s literary anamorphosis. Lukacher revisits anamorphosis in Shakespeare in “Anamorphic Perspectives, Human (Im)postures, and the Rhetoric of the Aevum,” in Time-Fetishes: The Secret History of Eternal Recurrence (Durham, 1998), p. 72. Of special note is James L. Calderwood’s wonderful analysis of Midsummer Night’s Dream where he discovers an anamorphic correspondence between the two royal couples in the human and fairy world (“A Midsummer Night’s Dream: Anamorphism and Theseus’ Dream,” Shakespeare Quarterly 42. 4 (1991), 409–30).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

146 English Literary Renaissance

anamorphic. 13 In contrast to the more literal approach chosen by other critics, this study shifts the focus away from explicit references to anamorphic paintings to a mechanism for making sense of literary texts. Gilman’s premise that to certain writers the “curious perspective offers a model for manipulating language” 14 aptly articulates a detail in the big picture of early modern mentality. Both visual and verbal anamorphic models are engendered by the “habits of thought,” 15 patterns of thinking that, by the seventeenth century, pervade various media and modes of representation. 16 This analysis of Donne’s poetry demonstrates how such texts respond to reading in anamorphic terms. Even in the absence of explicit references to perspective, seeing, or painting, a text may nevertheless operate according to the rules of anamorphic logic and rhetoric. This essay unravels anew the complex argument of one frequently discussed poem and reveals the sparkling drama of one obscure verse letter.


Although “The Extasie” does not actually describe an anamorphic painting, its figurative representation and logical thinking are deeply anamorphic. What better technique than anamorphosis is there to fulfill the poem’s

13. In his analysis of the Pauline perspective in the Anniversaries, Gilman draws upon the

visual constructions that involve “glass” (a mirror or lens) as an aid for clarification. In particular, Donne’s concept of the “soul as a heavenly telescope” (p. 179) that after death allows one to

exchange the dark earthly perspective for divine clarity is paralleled in the poet’s struggle to create a witty language “despoyl’d of fallacies,” a language that can “join the two perspectives in a flash of insight” (p. 185). In “John Donne’s First Anniversary as an Anatomical Anamorphosis,” in Explorations in the Field of Nonsense, ed. Wim Tigges (Amsterdam, 1987), p. 101, Constance Elderhorst uses Gilman’s method to explain the image of Elizabeth Drury in the First Anniversary:

“To those on earth the image of Elizabeth Drury is distorted and seems hyperbolic, so it should


not be regarded from the usual point of view

‘twi-light of her memory’ (l. 74), adopt the proper perspective.”

Only those who have remembered

14. Gilman, p. 67.

15. I borrow this term from Debora Kuller Shuger, Habits of Thought in the English Renaissance:

Religion, Politics, and the Dominant Culture (Toronto, 1997).

16. In his study of English mannerist poetics, Semler dedicates a chapter to John Donne’s

prose and poetry. Although Semler does not sound the term itself, he makes references to anamorphic paintings and offers an intriguing suggestion that “A Letter to the Lady Carey, and Mrs Essex Riche, From Amyens” parallels the visual strategy under discussion (p. 53). Semler’s relevance to my study, however, lies mainly in his “interart approach” to the mannerist aesthetic:

namely, I share his conviction that “differing arts are often the diverse outworkings of a common aesthetic” (p. 42). For another study linking Donne’s poetry and the visual, see Ann Hurley, John Donne’s Poetry and Early Modern Visual Culture (Selinsgrove, 2006).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


commitment to capturing the extraordinary experience of ecstasy, spiritual, physical, and intellectual? Extending the anamorphic concepts from visual to verbal representation, from verbal imagery to thinking processes, not only unravels the poem’s logic and explains stark con- tradictions and inconsistencies in the argument, but also follows the pattern laid by Donne himself, who allows the anamorphic principles to seep from the poem’s narrative to its argument, from philosophical and erotic illustrations to insistent logical persuasion. Donne employs the techniques of anamorphic discovery to teach a lesson about the properties of love—a lesson offered to the reader of the poem, the observer within it, and above all his beloved, who inhabits both poetic and interpretive realms. The poet has inscribed these multiple audiences, as well as himself, into the anamorphic arrangement of “The Extasie.” He keeps the observer “Within convenient distance” (24), allowing the reader to follow along and convert the ecstatic spectacle into profound insights while the beloved (a uniquely privileged reader herself) is recruited to act out the anamorphic tableaus as well as heed the anamorphic rhetoric derived from the experience. 17 A part of the anamorphic quality of this poem is strictly thematic: the reconfiguration of nothingness that is a recurring issue in Donne’s poetry. Donne often renders the intangibility of the spiritual—soul, love—in terms of emptiness, imperceptibility of structure, and then proceeds to look for an intelligible form: an approach that parallels the epistemological premises of anamorphosis. 18 However, Donne is also likely to reverse the centric and eccentric viewpoints and end up preferring the unknowable spiritual entity precisely because its intelligible counterparts prove disappointing, lacking, or overwhelming. In this instance the spiritual unknowable is of necessity also the unseen. If intelligibility is inseparable from materiality, then the undecipherable nothingness is likened to the ultimate absence of the physical: air. For

17. “The Extasie,” pp. 277–80. All quotations from John Donne’s poems follow Poems, by

J. D. With elegies on the authors death (1633).

18. In “Aire and Angels,” e.g., the speaker first sees “Some lovely glorious nothing” similar

to a “shapelesse flame” (6, 3); dissatisfied with this spectacle, he seeks another point of view, allowing the amorphous spirit to assume the shape of the beloved (13). Eventually, it turns out that the correct point of view lies in the intermediate position that makes love perceptible and comprehensible without robbing it of its mysterious essence: “For, nor in nothing, nor in things / Extreme, and scattring bright, can love inhere” (21–22), pp. 211–12.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.


English Literary Renaissance

Donne, air is the ultimate realm of the spiritual, but the transparency of air does not benefit human vision: what the poet puts under scrutiny is not the objects contained in air, but air itself. In “The Extasie,” Donne severs and then puts back together the anamorphic coexistence of body and soul. In order to “advance their state” (15), he transports the souls out of the bodies and into their natural element, the air. This airy realm of nothingness is adjacent to the realm of the bodies; moreover, it is through the borderline region of air that the divine reaches out to the human: “On man heavens influence workes not so, / But that it first imprints the ayre” (57–58). However, if the airy nothingness can bear a divine imprint, it must possess a residual physical quality; even here, Donne longs to conceive of the incompre- hensible as somehow palpable, visible, as a kind of a fine canvas that is barely substantial and yet solid enough to be imprinted. In his urge to grasp the air, Donne dramatizes this liminal nothingness as a way of making it seen, heard, and comprehended. That the spectacle and dialogue of the two souls comprise a poetic fantasy which performs the double function of creating the philosophical as well as seductive definition of love is hardly a secret to Donne’s readers. However learned are its explanations of the symbiosis of bodies and souls, the seriousness of the poem’s conclusions is undermined by the artificiality of this dramatization. In this respect the poem is an imagined anamorphosis or, more precisely, an attempt to imagine the viewpoint that in a flash will turn “nothingness” into a shape, make the souls visible and audible, and thus exchange confusion for profound understanding. But the artifi- cial means of getting to know the unknowable preclude an absolute clarification of this apparent nothingness. The anamorphic simultaneity of the two visions survives the poem. Mixture and superimposition, the integral techniques of anamorphosis, are the prevailing concepts in this poem. The idea of two souls being one is analogous to an anamorphic image where the two entities share the same space and elements, yet both exist in their own right. Similarly, the souls of Donne and his mistress keep their uniqueness while being intrinsically united in a new, “abler” compound:

But as all severall soules containe Mixture of things, they know not what, Love, these mixt soules, doth mixe againe, And makes both one, each this and that. (33–36)

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


“Interinanimation” of the two souls (42) is a variant of anamorphic superimposition. As soul flows into soul (59), the mixture may be seen as either Platonic or erotic. However, some readers argue, the poem’s final suggestion that an analogous union should be allowed to the bodies destroys the sublimity and produces a new, flamboyantly erotic vision. A traditional account of the poem would say that Donne’s speaker describes the union of the souls in order to impress his beloved, put her mind in a comfortably sublime state, and then entreat her to follow the logic of union to its extreme and inevitable outcome: intercourse. The logic of this seduction is fairly unpretentious: since the two souls are intermixed, since the souls are (normally) inseparable from their bodies; therefore, the interpenetration of the souls calls for intercourse of the bodies. In this logical sequence, acknowledging the mixture of souls is tantamount to agreeing to the unification of their bodies. This startling shift of perspective from exalted to earthly has been a source of great distress for some readers and delight for the others. How- ever, the transition becomes less sensational if we see it as a link in an anamorphic sequence. When one approaches an anamorphic picture, the succession of viewing is as follows: 1) traditional (centric) point of view; 2) unusual (often lateral) point of view; 3) return to the centric point in order to inscribe the discovered image, now hidden, into the visible picture. “The Extasie” follows this pattern: the conventional, unrefined centric point yields a concept of earthly sexuality that Donne seeks to displace, and the spiritual is blurred into “nothingness.” Next, Donne fleshes out this “nothingness” in the image of the spiritual union. Finally, he dislodges this ethereal image by returning to a physical perspective that complicates the original presumption, inscribing the union of their bodies within the previously visible union of the souls. By the end of the anamorphic sequence, the concepts of spiritual and physical love are transformed: both unions, each discerned from a different angle, are present at the same time. An intelligible form of an anamorphic image subsists independently of the viewer’s gaze, and failure to see it does not ultimately negate its existence. Donne’s logic is conceptually anamorphic: it depends upon under- standing that seeing an image is not necessary to bring it into being. Having already happened on the plane of ideas, intercourse is an inevitable part of reality, whether it has occurred on the familiar physical plane or not. The result of this anamorphic journey is enrichment rather than contradiction.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

150 English Literary Renaissance

In the symbiosis of bodies and souls, the ecstasy is the catalyst for anamorphic revelation, the eccentric point of view: where the separate souls are visible within the bodies which are themselves mixed with the souls. It is the ecstasy that causes the souls to see something they could not make out before.

This Extasie does unperplex (We said) and tell us what we love, Wee see by this, it was not sexe Wee see, we saw not what did move (29–32)

Strangely, the souls are simultaneously the spectacle and the viewers or thinkers who relate what they now see. This unmasked artificiality of the discourse, in effect, preserves the integrity of the truly unknowable “nothing.” An anamorphic sequence is a sequence of perceptions: all the formal constituents of anamorphosis exist at the same time. In “The Extasie,” this simultaneity transpires in the dialogue when the souls both acknowledge and negate their separation from their bodies. The souls continue to hover and chat until the end of the poem, but they do consider at length returning to their bodies. 19 Although dramatically the point of view is consistent, rhetorically it is not: after all, in their temporary separation from the bodies, the souls discuss their typical state of being joined with these bodies, not actually in terms of escape or return, but more as their present condition—hence the present tense: “Nor are drosse to us, but allay” (56). The anamorphic fusion of body and soul is conveyed in the same tense: “Wee are / The intelligences, they the spheares” (51–52). The present tense is the key that these shifts are not temporal or sequential but simultaneous and thus anamorphic: points of view are changed temporally, but images and situations exist at the same time. The anamorphic game is even more apparent when one considers that Donne has implanted a viewer: a compassionate lover / observer. The reader is invited to follow the experience of that viewer, and thus to make sense of the poem’s anamorphic play. In addition to his desirable Platonic refinement, this observer is imagined standing “Within convenient

19. Theodore Redpath outlines their arguments for such return in his edition of The Songs and Sonets of John Donne (New York, 1983), pp. 324–25.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


distance” (24), a vantage point that will allow him to witness the entire experience and conversation of the ecstatic souls. This experience, much like an anamorphic process of discovering something from the eccentric point of view and then attempting to make sense of it, profoundly alters the audience: the observer is imagined to “part farre purer then he came” (28). Similarly, painted anamorphic images seek to unsettle their viewer, often in order to straighten out his moral values (both memento mori and erotic images, the favorite subjects of anamorphic paintings, have largely ethical implications). Thus, the two sequential points of view imagined for the audience within the poem are as follows:

1. “If any, so by love refin’d, / That he soules language understood” (21–22)

2. “To’our bodies turne wee then, that so / Weake men on love reveal’d may looke” (69–70, italics mine)

The audience’s part becomes especially important when, toward the end of the poem, the illegible object of contemplation becomes clearer: it is no longer the general spiritual realm of the souls’ activities, but love itself that inhabits the souls and materializes in the bodies:

To’our bodies turne wee then, that so Weake men on love reveal’d may looke; Loves mysteries in soules doe grow, But yet the body is his booke. (69–72)

The body and the soul have become equivalents of two different vantage points, and the two main ingredients of an anamorphic experience, mystery and revelation, are distributed between these points: love growing invisibly in the soul comes into view in the body. The view from a spiritually refined position is garbled for the uncouth viewer, yet may be sufficiently corrected if one opts for the bodily point of view reserved for such “weake men.” In contrast, for people sufficiently “by love refin’d,” the true centric viewpoint on the unknowable, instead of causing confusion, becomes meaningful. Thus the poem imagines two kinds of audience, distinguished according to their ability to assume the proper vantage point. The first observer only, having seen the hidden truth, will be able to recall it and make full sense of both views when he returns to the conventional point of view. In visual anamorphosis, only one image may be seen at a time, but once both images have been seen, when one image is visible, the

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.


English Literary Renaissance

other is not completely canceled out because it is now remembered. 20 In much the same way, the conventional point of view in the end of “The Extasie” is enriched with the revelations shown earlier from the unusual point. The final concept of the poem, therefore, also depends on essential anamorphic simultaneity and presents a synthesis of the two views. It brings the two perspectives together: “Loves mysteries in soules doe grow, / But yet the body is his booke.” In taking us from one point of view to the other, Donne’s purpose (and accomplishment) is precisely to convince us that the spiritual union will not be negated by the sexual. Since the spiritual and the sexual interpenetrate, although one is hidden while the other is manifest, depending on our point of view, inclination, and perspective, both are always present. The seductive force of the poem springs from persuasion that this situation is created by logical necessity: body and soul are almost monistically intermixed because they are two parts of the same anamorphosis. As a result, this particular instance of anamorphic logic allows an equivalent fascination with the spiritual and the physical. In a way, it configures Donne’s philosophical beliefs, transforming what seems a straightforward Platonic dualism into an essentially monistic vision. 21 Even in its critical history, this poem establishes itself as an anamorphic text that displays either a philosophical or a seductive reading, depending on the critic’s point of view. 22 The possibility of two opposing readings, each readily supported by the text, is a function of the narrative struc- ture of “The Extasie’s,” a structure that deliberately entertains two opposing vantage points of thinking before the poem achieves its com- plicated final fusion. An anamorphic interpretation explains that both modes expounded in critical analyses exist simultaneously whether they are seen or not.

20. This aspect of anamorphosis is closely connected to the concept of anamnesis, which

presumes that “knowledge is predicated on remembrance” (William Engel, Mapping Mortality:

The Persistence of Memory and Melancholy in Early Modern England [Amherst, 1995], p. 12). The epistemological value of an anamorphic construction is twofold: first, knowledge is achieved through the discovery of the correct point of view; next, knowledge becomes the product of remembrance of the discovered truth when it is no longer visible.

21. There have been many studies of Donne’s Neoplatonism in this poem; my interest lies

less with the topic of the soul and body than with the anamorphic character of Donne’s argument.

22. See Redpath’s comprehensive summary of the critical controversy in the explanation of “The Extasie,” pp. 323–27.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


In Donne’s poetry anamorphosis operates on a subtle level that involves not only imagery but also the logic of the poet’s thought and often the course of readers’ interpretation, both inside and outside the text. In “The Extasie” the anamorphic duality is recollected and narrated; in the verse letter “To M. M. H.” it is enacted and explicated. The preceding analysis of “The Extasie” demonstrates how the logical structure of a poetic argument may evoke or follow the mechanism of an anamorphic experience. Donne’s verse letter takes the translation of an anamorphic experience from visual to verbal even further because, as a text, this poem displays a distinctive self-awareness that is crucial to the poem’s fantastical plot and that is analogous to the visual makeup of anamorphosis. The poem’s instabilities of meaning—its concern with epistemological reliability (reality vs. illusion), its communicative disasters (meaning vs. non-meaning), its rhetorical tricks (hidden meaning visible only from an oblique point of view)—are shaped by the distinctly anamorphic doubleness that allows two different images or meanings to inhabit the same textual space. The mere narrative can be baffling. A brief summary of this verse letter is as follows. The speaker attempts to detain his unworthy letter, but then allows it to “goe” to the addressee, reciting a lengthy scenario of its encounter with its intended recipient; the narrative is capped by a series of instructions in the letter to observe the lady at close quarters once she places the paper in her cabinet. Specifically, the letter is ordered to watch for any signs of affection in the lady’s treatment of “his papers”—“he” being not the speaker but an unnamed personage whom the speaker “Would faine love” once sure that “he” “shall be lov’d of her.” 23 If this plot sounds perplexing, the reader must only remember that Donne has suspended our expectation of any logical sense in the poem’s first words: “mad paper.” The situation is further complicated by the fact that the entire text of this poem is set up from the start as anamorphic. Donne’s editors generally gloss the first words, “mad paper,” as a reference to the poem itself. 24 This explanation, however, omits the possibility that


23. “To M. M. H.,” pp. 106–08.

24. A. J. Smith glosses Mad paper stay as “the poet addresses his poem” (John Donne, The

Complete English Poems [London, 1986], p. 541) and C. A. Patrides glosses paper as “the poem

itself ” (John Donne, Complete English Poems [London, 1994], p. 296).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

154 English Literary Renaissance

the “mad paper” addressed throughout this verse letter may be a text entirely different from that of this particular poem. An identification of the two texts is not a simple matter, but rather an anamorphic super- imposition. The speaker addresses the text that his “braine did create” already—whereas the poem before our eyes is the address itself, and we witness it in the process of creation/utterance. Therefore, according to the poem’s internal plot, the “mad paper” chronologically precedes the poem entitled “To M. M. H.,” and yet this poem is the verse letter to Mrs. M. H. Thus the same text functions as both because of its anamorphic construction. To put it in the simplest terms, the reader can discern the “mad paper” in place of what we may call the centric text (the poem as it appears on the page, an address to the extra-textual “mad paper”) after adjusting his or her point of view. Although one cannot perceive the entire text of the “mad paper” with the utmost clarity, one can nevertheless glimpse its well-defined outline. In fact, the reader may reconstruct this absent “paper,” grasping that it probably is well-written and witty—the speaker’s trope of humility in his declaration of its “unworthinesse” (5) and lack of sense (16) is but obligatory—truthful (10–12) but not “wicked”(8–9), and its main contents are praises of the lady’s wit, virtue, honor, shape, beauty, and grace (29–32). One text is hidden within the other; but what makes this clever inscription anamorphic? The answer lies, first of all, in the poem’s setup:

it is marked “To M. M. H.,” but from the first line to the last, it is addressed to “mad paper” while Mrs. M. H. herself is referred to in third person. Only one other of Donne’s extant verse letters, “To M. T. W.,” addresses the poem instead of the recipient of the letter. The speaker’s bidding to his verse frames the message to Mr. T. W. that forms the core of the poem. Unlike “To M. M. H.,” there is no play with the double textuality: the direct address to the verse is not superimposed with an indirect address to the recipient; instead, the speaker bids, “Tell him,” and then dictates the exact message that could stand on its own. By comparison, in “To M. M. H.” the indirect address is not integral to the poem because its fiction involves two texts that are not identical to each other. This double textuality is anamorphic precisely because the two texts, like images in an anamorphic painting, share the same elements, and also because one text is readily available when the verse letter is examined from a conventional angle whereas the other text only appears when the reader attempts to grasp the contents of the “mad paper” by reading the lines from a new point of view.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


How do we know that one point of view is insufficient? When one confronts an anamorphic painting, one must have a clue that there is more to the image than what meets the eye directly. The obscurity or characteristic distortion of the directly accessible image prompts the viewer to seek another, corrective point of view. In Donne’s poem, the need for such readjustment is signaled by the decisive epistolary unconventionality of the first line where the apostrophe is directed to the letter instead of its recipient. Moreover, Donne reinforces this signal by indicating that the reader should not expect to sit back and take the poem at face value: trying to get at the contents of the letter in question is going to be a real challenge. Why is that? The paper, Donne hints, is “mad”; it makes little sense (16); it is a “saples leaf” (19)—spelled “shape- less” in several manuscripts. It is a mystery akin to Holbein’s anamorphic skull; the reader must make an intellectual move to glimpse its proper form. Unlike many texts whose adventures do not start until they come to be examined by a literary critic, this letter gets to break out of its generic and linguistic constraints and star in a melodrama followed by a spy story. “Mad paper” is not only personified, but is endowed with a colorful personality: it is insane, fearful, and sneaky. While it is sup- posedly unworthy and rather nonsensical, the speaker is prepared to send it to Mrs. M. H. The poem itself, for the most part, is a narrative of the “mad paper’s” upcoming adventures in Mrs. M. H.’s abode. Under the latter’s “perplexing eye,” the letter will become completely illegible; however, it will attempt to speak and thus declare its meaning after receiving the lady’s encouraging touch. Nevertheless, the “mad paper’s” aphasia persists; the letter remains a “cold speechlesse wretch,” but this time the speaker approves: “thou diest again, / And wisely; what discourse is left for thee?” (25–26). Here the reader finds out that the letter’s silence is caused less by its madness than by thematic limitations imposed either by decorum or by Mrs. M. H. herself:

“For, speech of ill, and her thou must abstaine, / And is there any good which is not shee?” (27–28). It is here that the “mad paper” makes use of an anamorphic trick. Prohibited to speak ill and disallowed to exalt Mrs. M. H., the letter resorts to an oblique praise, inventively justified by the speaker:

Yet maist thou praise her servants, though not her, And wit, and vertue, and honour her attend,

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

156 English Literary Renaissance

And since they are but her cloathes, thou shalt not erre If thou her shape and beauty and grace commend. (29–32)

Instead of praising Mrs. M. H., the “mad paper” will compliment her wit, virtue, and honor (her “servants”), and her shape, beauty, and grace (her “cloathes”). 25 The lady’s mental, moral, and physical attributes are thus peeled off and admired as if they do not comprise her essential identity. This rhetorical trick, however, is quite transparent because this tribute to the lady’s metaphorical “servants” and “cloathes” covers all the traditional aspects of the early modern poetry of praise. This reliance on the success of an oblique description is also anamorphic or pseudo- anamorphic in that this technique invites the listener to agree that her true self remains outside the limits of the discourse while it is actually placed at its very center. 26 Confident that the “mad paper” will get away with this shifty trick, the speaker proceeds to instruct its creation to set up a spy camp in Mrs. M. H.’s cabinet from whence the paper is to “marke” all the intricacies of the lady’s habits of perusal of her collection of letters. The speaker becomes positively inspired with the possibilities: he breaks out in a six-line sequence of anaphoric orders which bid the “mad paper” to “marke” this and that, but which do not make any provisions for these marks to be reported to him, making his undercover surveillance plan more rhetorically compulsive than practical. At this point perhaps the question of madness may be asked of the speaker as much as of his paper.

25. In Rosemond Tuve’s terms, here the logical division by whole into parts is claimed to be

a division of the substance with its accidents. See Elizabethan and Metaphysical Imagery (Chicago,

1965), p. 306.

26. Donne’s very first letter to Magdalen Herbert (July 11, 1607) addresses his desire to praise

her and her anticipated displeasure at being praised: “If this sound like a flattery, tear it out

can as ill endure a suspitious and misinterpretable word as a fault; but remember, that nothing is flattery which the Speaker believes; and of the grossest flatteries there is this good use, that they tell us what we should be. But, Madam, you are beyond instruction, and therefore there can belong to you only praise” (p. 142; in the Folger copy, erroneously inverted as 241). Donne attempts to justify his right to administer praise; in his verse letter, he instead pretends to follow the lady’s rules. Donne’s four letters to Magdalen Herbert are reprinted in Izaack Walton, The Life of Mr. George Herbert To which are added some letters written by Mr. George Herbert, at his being in Cambridge: with others to his mother, the lady Magdalen Herbert: written by John Donne, afterwards Dean of St. Pauls (1670). On Donne’s relationship with Magdalen Herbert, see Bettie Anne Doebler and Retha M. Warnicke, “Magdalen Herbert Danvers and Donne’s Vision of Comfort,” George Herbert Journal 10.1 & 2 (1986/1987), 5–22; Helen Gardner, “Lady Bedford and Mrs. Herbert,” in The Elegies and the Songs and Sonnets, ed. Helen Gardner (Oxford, 1965), pp. 248–58; H. W. Garrod, “Donne and Mrs. Herbert,” The Review of English Studies 21.83 (1945), 161–73.


© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


So here is a brief list of the “mad paper’s” adventures: written by the speaker, it is imagined to present itself to Mrs. M. H., make no sense as Mrs. M. H. gazes on it, momentarily remain silent in her hand, then deliver an itemized praise, and finally become a silent observer of Mrs. M. H.’s private doings. Fictional madness aside, there is certainly something vaguely anamorphic in this sequence of transmutations and oscillations: from nonsensical obscurity to muteness to brilliantly sensible speech to silence that is no longer troublesome but instead advantageous. However, one has to be wary when meaning or image undergoes a transformation in time: temporal changes are not anamorphic unless they are strictly superficial (i.e., perceptual and thus subjective) and unless they take place while the underlying essence (what we may call objective reality) remains intact. It is only upon this condition that a truly anamorphic process may take place because anamorphosis never forecloses the possibility of a reversal of the change at any moment in time. Both (or all, if there is more than one) configurations are always objectively present. In contrast, the “mad paper” behaves as if its struggle for an adequate expression is progressive and strictly temporal. The poem narrates the letter’s transformation from indecipherable blur to a clear speech as a function of its personification, largely supported and qualified by the speaker’s own ingenuity. The trope of personification, however, is a rhetorical trick—the very thing that the transparent ruse of the eighth stanza of the poem (the rationalized license for the oblique praise) teaches the reader to distrust. If the praise of the lady’s multiple virtues is stripped of its supposed obliqueness and is seen for what it really is, the praise of Mrs. M. H., what would happen if the “mad paper” was depersonified? For one thing, the agency of its adventures would be shifted from the paper to the speaker and the lady. Its alleged predicaments and transformations of expression would be transposed onto the consciousness of its creator and audience. The text of the letter would then be stable while its oscillation between illegibility and clarity, silence and speech, would become a matter of Mrs. M. H.’s perception as the perplexed lady looks at the letter (hence “perplexing eye” [13]), turns it in her hands (hence the magic touch of “her warme redeeming hand” [17]), and finally adjusts the position of the letter in order to make out its craftily flattering contents. Why, the entire affair may then prove to be but an elaborate dramatization of Mrs. M. H.’s myopic perturbations, making it all the easier to spy on her while she is going through her correspondence!

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.


English Literary Renaissance

Donne’s predilection for conceits certainly makes the above inter- pretation a possibility, and Donne himself gives us the key to it in stanza 8. What is important to my argument is not only that this interpretation allows us to view “To M. M. H.” as an enactment of an essentially anamorphic, however mundane, process that adjusts the point of view in order to grasp the meaning, but as another example of the persistent anamorphic quality of Donne’s verse in general: precisely the quality that makes his writing such a delectable material for scholarship and capable of accommodating different interpretative urges. Let us now look closer and examine an instance of the anamorphosis as a trope in this poem. As we have seen earlier, the letter writer takes great rhetorical pains to represent the addressee of his letter, Mrs. Magdalen Herbert. When he muses on the reasons why Mrs. M. H. will deign to hear out his pathetically shy and inarticulate epistle, he first compares her to a mother, and then points to her metaphoric identity as a queen:

Then as a mother which delights to hear Her early child mispeake halfe uttered words, Or, because majesty doth never feare Ill or bold speech, she Audience affords. (21–24)

Interestingly, Mrs. M. H.’s motherly qualities are wrapped in a fleeting simile, even as Mrs. Magdalen Herbert’s sons Edward and George Herbert were the reason for Donne’s friendship with her in the first place, whereas her majestic power is treated as her permanent value. It turns out that one of the poem’s rhetorical readjustments is a switch between these two aspects of Mrs. M. H.’s description: Donne seeks to emphasize her princely power even as he acknowledges her identity as a mother. His first move is tentative, introducing the concept of rulership without yet fully admitting Mrs. M. H. into it: she “lacks but faults to be a Prince, for shee, / Truth, whom they dare not pardon, dares preferre” (11–12). In the second instance, however, her majesty is treated as fully hers. However, one aspect does not cancel the other, and thus her eye “equally claimes love and reverence” (14). This anamorphosis of the lady as a mother or a prince, poignantly reminiscent of the late Elizabeth I’s two favorite identities, 27 is of the same variety as the painting described in

27. See, for instance, Carole Levin, The Heart and Stomach of a King: Elizabeth I and the Politics

of Sex and Power (Philadelphia, 1994), and Helen Hackett, Virgin Mother, Maiden Queen: Elizabeth I and the Cult of the Virgin Mary (New York, 1995).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


Antony and Cleopatra: “Though he be painted one way like a Gorgon, / The other wayes a Mars” (2.5.116–17), p. 349. 28 Admittedly, both images work to the letter’s advantage, but in the stanza that creates Mrs. M. H.’s either/or identity, the contents of the letter itself are destabilized. Is its text an incoherent babble (misspoken “halfe uttered words”) or a dangerous outspoken criticism (“Ill or bold speech”)? Is the letter an innocent “early child” or a clever adult fully in control of his language? As we have seen, for all the assertions of its madness, lack of sense, speechlessness and unworthiness, the paper’s

utterance, as sanctioned by the speaker, attests to the letter’s well-thought- out contents. The speaker’s concern with wickedness up to this point is

lifted once he postulates that the letter from “speech of ill


abstaine” (27). What is left, however, is truth—for it is the letter’s truthfulness that the speaker has asserted earlier (11–12). The letter’s praise of its addressee thus acquires a double support: its obliqueness is justified by a rhetorical trick; its truthfulness is vowed by the speaker. The dangers of truth and “bold speech,” it seems, are but the dangers of flattery. The expected political discourse thus turns out to be personal, and this turn brings on another switch of the poem’s point of view. Mrs. M. H.’s identities as a mother or a prince are now abandoned for a vision of her as a woman in love. Lining up three different personae that appear to the viewers walking along an anamorphic painting, George Chapman’s Allegre describes how the anamorphic substitution of one identity for another works in visual arts:

As of a Picture wrought to opticke reason, That to all passers by, seemes as they move, Now woman, now a Monster, now a Divell, And till you stand, and in a right line view it, You cannot well judge what the maine forme is. 29

In its alignment of the woman, monster, and devil, this example makes it clear that poets could exploit the anamorphic instability for the purposes

28. Chapman refers to the same type of anamorphic painting in All Fools: “a cozening

picture, which one way / Shows like a crow, another like a swan” (1.1.47–48); in Mortimeriados

(11.2337–38): “By prospective devis’d that looking nowe / She seem’d a Mayden, then againe a cowe” (quoted in Waddington, pp. 122, 121.)

29. Chapman and Shirley, Chabot, sig. B3.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

160 English Literary Renaissance

of pointing out hidden meanings and concealed identities: a technique equally expedient for praise and condemnation. In the case of “To M. M. H.,” John Donne’s line-up, of course, is entirely benign: now a mother, now a prince, now a lover. The addressee’s three identities flicker, share the same space, and give way to each other, as the point of view changes throughout the poem. If in reality Magdalen Herbert’s central identity is that of a mother, while she can be seen as a prince only eccentrically, the literal and the metaphorical are switched when a more assertive trope makes majesty, not motherhood, her central identity. 30 Then, as the poem turns, the entire arrangement is replaced by a new image, a sentimental woman of letters. By now, the paper’s own point of view has changed to an oblique one: watching her from the sidelines instead of facing her directly as before, it sees a vulnerable woman rather than a delighted mother or impartial prince. The entire “gaze” arrange- ment comes into play here: the unknowing Mrs. M. H. being watched and scrutinized, she no longer commands “love and reverence” with her own eye because the spying gaze is not reciprocal. The third view of the poem is a secret, intimate, and perhaps most accurate depiction of the indescribable Mrs. M. H. If this is so, the “mad letter”’s anamorphic escapades have achieved their purposes: turning the oblique views into centric meanings, and leaving the reader to “judge what the maine forme is.”


Many critics have noted that anamorphosis appears as a subject of early modern verse, and there have been some enlightening attempts to show how the authors’ inquiries into the complex bond between illusion and reality often take an anamorphic turn. My study seeks to recover another side of anamorphosis: the logical sequence of perception and interpretation that springs out at the recipient of an anamorphic revelation. Because this sequence unfolds in the mind of the reader of some early modern texts, anamorphosis appears to be an important part of the period’s

30. Interestingly, in Donne’s four extant letters to Magdalen Herbert, her motherhood has no place. In contrast, his second letter (July 23, 1607) brandishes the trope of monarchy: “your memory, is a State-cloth and Presence; which I reverence though you be away” and “to you, who are not only a World alone, but the Monarchy of the World your self, nothing can be added, especially by me” (Walton, pp. 143, 144).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.

Anna Riehl


rationality, of the structures of its logical thinking. The anamorphic principle is not registered in contemporary manuals on logic and rhetoric. Moreover, its use is not always deliberate; instead, anamorphic logic often manifests itself so delicately that in all its craftiness it begins to seem almost natural: a rhetorical method that has been internalized, not learned from a manual. As anamorphosis crosses over from art to poetry, the perception of the material surface in art is paralleled by the awareness of the metaphorical surface of the text. If, in Albertian terms, the surface of a regular perspective painting is regarded as a transparent window or a reflective mirror, the surface of an anamorphic image viewed from a conventional point is deliberately opaque. Similarly, when anamorphosis makes its appearance in the text, it negates the lucidity of language. Much like an artist, Donne exploits the opacity of the surface. He either presents us with obscurity or reconstructs familiar words, ideas, and images, causing them to lose their common transparency. These two practices correspond to the two kinds of anamorphosis in painting: that of initial amorphism followed by the discovery of a comprehensible image which is in turn followed by unexpected transformation of one image into another. The fascination with the contrast between the opaqueness and the transparency of paint as well as words makes anamorphosis a common ground for early modern artists and poets. This affinity allows anamorphosis to inhabit poetry readily, although its presence may escape notice and hide in well-known poetic devices. 31 Another correspondence between poetry and art is the adoption of the very logical structure of anamorphosis in a poetic text. The rules of this anamorphic logic make anamorphosis as a form of art innately suitable for traversing the divide between the visual and the textual. In the drama of anamorphosis, there are not two acts (as Baltrußaitis describes in The Mystery of the Two Ambassadors 32 ), but three: puzzlement, recognition,

31. The most frequent vehicle of anamorphosis in poetry is metaphor, a trope that has a

potential anamorphic quality in its own nature. This anamorphic quality, however, is realized only in the metaphors that involve a gap of substantial disparity between the vehicle and tenor. As much as the affinity of anamorphosis to metaphor and analogy is obvious, the former one is nevertheless distinct from the latter two. The substitution of images in metaphor and analogy is

guided by resemblance, whereas an anamorphic construct invites the viewer or reader to articulate the story told by the two terms, rather than to explain how one simulates the other.

32. Baltrußaitis, pp. 104–05.

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.


English Literary Renaissance

and meditation. 33 Once the process of optical recognition is complete, the content demands to be processed mentally. The implication that the reader or viewer is left with is intellectual rather than visual: it is a chal- lenge to articulate the connection between the two images. At that point, the process of reading the picture moves into the realm of the textual and epistemological. The mechanism of concealing and revealing, of stepping from one point of view to another in search of meaning, lies at the very heart of anamorphosis as a visual device. In Donne’s poetry in particular it becomes a technique that contributes to the powerful intellectual effect of his intricate verse.

auburn university

effect of his intricate verse. auburn university 33. According to Söderlind, Fernand Hallyn suggests that

33. According to Söderlind, Fernand Hallyn suggests that the third act in this drama is a “denouement, that forces the viewer to reconsider the hierarchical relationship between the two irreconcilable images” (p. 216).

© 2009 English Literary Renaissance Inc.