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How John Donne Uses The Prevelant Theories Of Astronomy (Copernican And Ptolemaic) In His Poetry

1259 words - 6 pages

Today, we have a thorough understanding of the structure of our universe. We know that the earth is round, is the third planet from the sun, and the sun is the center of our universe. We also know that the space around our universe simply goes on forever - it is infinite. We know a great deal more, but these are the basics, and it is these fundamental facts that took humans so long to truly understand. It took mankind thousands of years of study and observation to accurately know the universe, and throughout those years, many false theories were offered.John Donne (1572-1631 A.C.E.) is a poet best known for his use of metaphysical conceits . His poetry and prose reflect a deep knowledge and ...view middle of the document...

The heavens were perfect, whereas the earth was imperfect.Claudius Ptolemy (90-168 A.C.E.) created a mathematical model of the Aristotelian universe. This was a highly complex epicycle model, which explained the motion of the planets rotating around the earth, and their retrograde actions. Aristotle's theory of the Earth being at the center of the universe, and Ptolemy's supporting model were widely endorsed. The Catholic Church was the strongest supporter of the belief in the Ptolemaic universe or what the Church called the "Divine Order" (Dent 3). This support was given, for the Scriptures refer to the earth as the center of the universe . Since the Middle Ages, it was taught that the only path to true understanding was through faith and anyone who contradicted the geocentric theory was condemned of hearsay.In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543 A.C.E.) put forth his theory of a sun-centered universe . He proposed that the Earth and all the known planets revolve in separate circular orbits (spheres) around the sun. In addition, an outermost sphere carried all the stars around the sun. Having an outermost sphere was because the concept of an infinite universe had not yet been theorized. Thomas Digges later proposed this infinite hypothesis. He later broadened Copernicus' concept by eliminating the outer sphere and suggesting the idea of universe and space being never-ending with stars at varying distances in an infinite space (Internet Shakespeare Editions).Donne's poetry reflects an innate knowledge of both the Ptolemaic and Copernican theory. His writing, although employing both theories, suggests the truth being that of Copernicus'. In "An Anatomy of the World", Donne wrote that "...new philosophy calls in doubt: / the element of fire is quite put out; / the sun is lost, and the earth, and no man's wit / can well direct him where to look for it" (205-208). The fire being "put out" refers to the Copernican theory falsifying the concept of the four elements and their relation to the spheres. As a parallel, the Ptolemaic theory was also "put out". Humanity's perception of the universe had been gravely altered: what was thought to be fact was false and "no man's wit", or intellect, could offer direction; doubt prevailed over confidence.Donne also used astronomical theories as a basis for his elaborate metaphors. In his "The Ecstasy", the speaker is declaring the union of his and his lovers' souls through their physical and spiritual love. The speaker is discussing the spiritual love they feel for one another, and the physical act of making love. The...

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