Noam Flinker: "John Donne and the Anthropomorphic Map"


Renaissance commonplaces about the connections between the microcosm and the macrocosm take on greater relevance when read in the context of what Gandelman called "The Mediterranean as a Sea of Sin" in light of an anthropomorphic map by Opicinus de Canistris (1984, Fig. 1; 1991: 85). He explains: "One sees 'the woman', mulier, whose head and nose constitute the coastline of North Africa (present Morocco and the Cape of Tanger), thrusting her nose toward the ear of 'the man', vir, whose head is constituted by Spain and whose armed hands correspond to the Italian peninsula and Greece. According to the inscriptions deciphered by [Georg] Salomon, what she says is: venite commiscemini nobiscum, 'come, copulate with me!' Opicinus represents the world as a gigantic and geographical copulation" (Gandelman, 1984: 245).

This kind of cosmic sexuality is an important context for Donne's associations between sexual love and geography. It adds a significantly erotic element to the more traditional scholarship on Donne and maps. Aside from Shami's summary discussion, there has been work done on Donne's use of cordiform maps (Robert Sharp) and of T-in-O maps (Donald Anderson). To this we can now add the eroticism of the anthropomorphic map tradition.

Eroticism is a crucial element in Donne's ludic perception of the correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm. A sexually charged cosmos in which the world is "a gigantic... copulation" is a poetic analogue to the context of spiritually focused erotic desire which electrifies the poems. The cosmos which is itself driven by sexual tension is a suitable place for Donne's presentation of love. This is at the heart of Hemingway's use of Donne's meditation in his novel which celebrates the love of a couple for whom the earth move during love-making.1 That is, the poetic intensity of the erotic connection between Hemingway's microcosmic lovers is intensified by the perception that their union is somehow acknowledged by the macrocosm.

In addition to the prose of Meditation 17, Gandelman's article cites a number of different Donne poems in terms of the connection between maps, geography and love. These texts communicate slightly different nuances of experience by means of the metaphor. The earliest of these is the famous "Elegie: Going to Bed" in which Donne's speaker urges his mistress to undress. This elegy moves back and forth between playful sexual innuendo and an interest in the emotional and spiritual aspects of the speaker's love. While the geographical metaphors help to articulate intensity of feeling, the anthropomorphic map tradition serves to remind us of their sexual roots. The operative technique is another aspect of the "spontaneous reversals" to which Gandelman refers.

Near the opening, the elegy playfully presents the speaker's sexual tension, first in terms of suggestively phallic warfare and immediately afterwards in language of cosmic sexuality:

The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tir'd with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heavens Zone glittering,
But a far fairer world incompassing. (Donne 1968: 3-6)


1. Cf., for example, the following dialogue:

"'Maria, I love thee and thou art so lovely and so wonderful and so beautiful and it does such things to me to be with thee that I feel as though I wanted to die when I am loving thee'.
'Oh', she said. 'I die each time. Do you not die?'
'No. Almost. But did thee feel the earth move?
'Yes. As I died. Put thy arm around me, please'." (1968: 160) [RETURN]

Page - 1     Page + 1

AS/SA Nº 8, Article 7 : Page 3 / 7

© 1999, Applied Semiotics / Sémiotique appliquée

E-mail to the editors
Pour écrire à la rédaction