Processes of Reformation in Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions: Bells, brass, and the reader’s work

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This essay offers a reassessment of the famous bells in Donne’s Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624) and suggests that we should read these bells as one kind of dissolvable body among many. Donne builds on the established understanding of bells as subjects, with voices and identities; he joins conversations about their tenacious survival as objects, practices, and sounds in the post-Reformation church. In the 1620s, bells were objects that were always potentially on the point of being melted down and reformed: their bodies, like Donne’s own, were vulnerable to dissolution but could also generatively be re-made. Bells help Donne to develop an artisanal poetics, drawing on sculptural metaphors in which matter is continually melted and re-formed, to model the continuous work that the Devotions demands of its readers. I suggest that we might pay more attention in literary study not only to form and matter but also to the processes of formation—these moments of (re-)making—that act as a middle term between the two.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)217-242
Number of pages26
JournalEnglish Literary Renaissance
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2021

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