The Slow Emergence of Self-Consciousness

Robert Ellrodt

in Seven Metaphysical Poets

Published in print May 2000 | ISBN: 9780198117384
Published online October 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191670923 | DOI:
The Slow Emergence of Self-Consciousness

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The metaphysical poets display various modes of self-awareness, which may, however, be distributed around two poles: the ‘self-consciousness’ of John Donne and George Herbert, and the self-reflexivity of Thomas Traherne, foreshadowed by some lines of Andrew Marvell and the philosophy of Edward Herbert. Two principles of Stoicism have apparently affected Donne: the call to ‘live within oneself’ and the recognition that self-knowledge is the hardest achievement. The elegies were among Donne's earliest poems: inwardness and self-consciousness, though they early appeared in his verse letters, mainly flourished in later works. At the turn of the century there were undoubtedly in England social and literary influences that could account for the self-assertiveness displayed by Donne in his satires and in Metempsychosis, but not for the persistent egocentricity detected in all his writings. The attention to the reflexive operations of the mind displayed in the writings of Edward Herbert and Traherne has proved different from the self-consciousness of Donne and George Herbert. Cartesian dualism was bound to lead either to the immaterialism of George Berkeley, anticipated by Traherne, or to a materialism divorced from all spirituality.

Keywords: John Donne; self-consciousness; elegies; metaphysical poets; self-awareness; self-reflexivity; egocentricity; mind; dualism

Chapter.  11079 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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