A Donne A Day 24: The Relique

As so often happens, I began this reading with great admiration for the poem and ended more than a little awestruck by it.

Some thoughts on that awe. A successful or at least meaningful performance demands commitment, in time; a committed process or a process of commitment, in other words. And from that commitment, vital meanings emerge. So meaning both precedes and follows from commitment. Commitment is exclusive, true: this, not that emphasis; this, not that timing; this, not that commentary. That exclusivity forces decisions, and decisions help to make or discover meaning (or both). (“Reason also is choice,” writes Milton.) At the same time, commitment can lead to a heightened awareness not so much of multiple meanings as of multiple nodes of meaning within the overall semantic shape or experience of the whole, and the way the modes connect to each other. Commitment demands connections, unless the commitment is completely random and blundering. Perhaps even then.

I’m aware I’m describing another version of the hermeneutic circle here: you can’t understand the whole unless you understand the parts, but you can’t understand the parts unless you understand the whole. Here’s the distinction, though, at least to my mind today: apprehension precedes comprehension, and commitment is the connection between them. There’s not a bottomless pit of ambiguity, nor is there a fierce conviction of one single interpretation, as a result of this commitment. Rather, there is a readiness, and an occasion of answerability, a time when I am called upon (by myself, in this case, but also by the presence of my teachers and mentors whom I have internalized) to give an account of the ongoing work of this poem.

That its work is ongoing I have no doubt.

Postscript: A Donne a Day 25 will be another take of the poem and commentary. Unfortunately, the quality of the recording is not as good: I thought I was using my Snowball USB mike, but in fact I was using the built-in mike on the tablet PC. You’ll hear lots of room tone, and not as clear or intelligible a recording of my voice. Still, the contrast, and the value of the initial take, are potentially interesting enough to warrant the duplication.


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