I am not in isolation because I have can
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Vivivan Bearing, an accomplished professor of seventeenth-century English literature, has taken a
I am not in isolation because I have cancer, because I have a tumor the size of a grapefruit. No. I am in isolation because I am being treated for cancer. My treatment imperils my health. Herein lies the paradox. John Donne would revel in it. I would revel in it, if he wrote a poem about it. My students would flounder in it, because paradox is too difficult to understand. Think of it as a puzzle, I would tell them, an intellectual game. (She is trapped.)
Or, I would have told them. Were it a game. Which it is not. (Escaping.) If they were here, if I were lecturing: How I would perplex them! I could work my students into a frenzy. Every ambiguity, every shifting awareness. I could draw so much from the poems.
I could be so powerful.
(Scene change. Vivian stands still, as if conjuring a scene. Now at the height of her powers, she grandly disconnects herself from the IV. Technicians remove the bed and hand her a pointer.) The poetry of the early seventeenth century, what has been called the metaphysical school considers an intractable mental puzzle by exercising the outstanding human faculty of the area, namely wit.
The greatest wit- the greatest English poet, some would say- was John Donne. In the Holy Sonnets, Donne applied his capacious, agile wit to the larger aspects of the humane experience: life, death, and God.
In his poems, metaphysical quandaries are addressed, but never resolved. Ingenuity, virtuosity, and a vigorous intellect that jousts with the most exalted concepts: these are the tools of wit. (The lights dim. A screen lowers, and the sonnet "If poysonous mineralls," from the Gardner edition, appears on it. Vivian recites.) ...