“A Lecture, Love, in Loves Philosophy”: Donne’s Illuminating Anatomizations

  • Michael A. Winkelman
Part of the Cognitive Studies in Literature and Performance book series (CSLP)


Who reads love poetry, and why? These are not entirely idle questions. Conventionally, writers of amorous verse have had two main motives. The first is to sweet-talk a choice ingénue into fooling around: “One would move Love by rithmes” (Sat2, 17; e.g., Flea, ElBed). The other is to relieve the one-sided longing of a for-lorn individual, a venerable custom Donne plays with in “The triple Foole” (see chapter 8). Reading it, however, can be cathartic too, as it rehearses familiar emotional states in apposite terms. Mindful of this, one tack common among the fourteenth-century founders of the Renaissance lyric tradition was explicitly to address their works to interpretive communities already versed, as the saying goes, in what the scrittori were striving to say. Dante, Petrarch, and Boccaccio all seek to preach to the choir in this way. Dante’s first sonnet in La Vita Nuova salutes other romantics “in our Lord’s name, which is Love” (Salute in lor signor, cioè Amore).1 Likewise, Petrarch commences his monumental, confessional Rime sparse by defining a compassionate yet battle-hardened target audience: “Where there is anyone who understands love through experience, I hope to find pity, not only pardon” (ove sia chi per prova intenda amore / spero trovar pietà, non che perdono, Rime sparse 1, 7–8).


Cognitive Approach Romantic Love Amorous Writing Interpretive Community Human Leukocyte Antigen System 
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    In a sermon, Donne asserts that “All love which is placed upon lower things, admits satiety; but this love of this pureness, always grows, always proceeds” (Sermons, I.iii, 199), while in “Loves infinitenesse,” he states: “Yet I would not have all yet, / Hee that hath all can have no more, / And since my love doth every day admit / New growth, thou shouldst have new rewards in store” (23–26). See also Joseph Grennen, “Donne on the Growth and Infiniteness of Love,” JDJ 2 (1984): 131–39.Google Scholar
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    The leukocyte antigen system is, of course, also known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC). It has been found that individual human’s distinctive smells relate to genes involved in the immune system, and that MHC variety between parents correlates with healthier offspring. To a degree as yet undetermined, we prefer lovers who smell right to us; however, women taking birth-control pills don’t have this capability, and sometimes find they lose romantic interest in their men when they go off the pill so as to try and conceive. See Sheril Kirshenbaum, The Science of Kissing: What Our Lips Are Telling Us (New York and Boston: Grand Central Publishing, 2011), 103–20 (and sources cited therein).Google Scholar

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© Michael A. Winkelman 2013

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  • Michael A. Winkelman

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