Spirits, Vitality, and Creation in the Poetics of Tommaso Campanella and John Donne

In discussions over the meaning of "genius" in the Renaissance, there is at the very least agreement that the term was associated with heightened powers of perception and creativity. Whether defined in terms of Neoplatonic notions of inspiration, Aristotelian/Galenic theories of the humors (and of melancholy in particular), or rhetorical theories of invention, ingegno is acknowledged as having denoted an unusual mental energy and flexibility which facilitated the creative process.1 It is the psychic mobility with which ingegno was consistently linked that I intend to emphasize here, and in particular its frequent identification with those volatile spirits that were centrally important in both Aristotelian/Galenic humoral psychology and in the Neoplatonic and hermetic traditions of natural magic. In this respect I am less interested in the early-modern "debate" over the origins of genius between Aristotelian naturalism and Neoplatonic supernaturalism than I am in the continuities between these two very often intersecting traditions.

Though instances of the close relationship between genius, spirits, and creativity can be culled from a plethora of sources from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, I will examine Marsilio Ficino’s De Vita and Antonio Persio’s Trattato dell’Ingegno dell’Huomo in order to lay the groundwork for a discussion of poetics in Campanella and Donne. While the De Vita first revived an interest in spiritual magic and psychology in the Renaissance, about 100 years later Persio’s Trattato provided the most sustained study of the pneumatic nature of ingegno. In the latter portion of this topic, I will examine the perspectives on poetic utterance formulated in Campanella’s Poetica and Donne’s Anniversaries in the context of this tradition. Though the Poetica and the Anniversaries (both roughly contemporary with Persio’s Trattato) are very different kinds of works, they exemplify a wider (though by no means universal) trend in which poetry and the process of creation were associated with the inner spirits. Donne and Campanella, I will suggest here, situate poetry somewhere between the conventional alternatives of Aristotelian imitation and divine inspiration by identifying the creative activity or psychic mobility of "ingegno" as, to some degree, the subject itself of poetic utterance.

If, on the one hand, poetic "invention" entails the process of dis-covering and thus representing a particular objective truth or reality, it is also—perhaps more interestingly—about the activity of creation itself insofar as such activity is closely tied to the creative energies that permeate the cosmos. As a kind of dynamic "exhalation," that is, the poem "embodies" as much as it "represents." This latter conception is of course still a long way from later notions of the radically subjective autonomy of the creative genius; but it may, perhaps, represent a step in that direction.

Spirits, Vitality, and Ingegno in Marsilio Ficino and Antonio Persio

"The priests of the Muses," claims Ficino in his De Vita, have not sufficiently cared for "that instrument with which they are able in a way to measure and grasp the whole world. This instrument is the spirit, which is defined by doctors as a vapor of blood—pure, subtle, hot, and clear."2 Though our physical selves are confined and delimited, our pneumatic selves are profoundly permeable to influences of all kinds, since light, color, odors, and voices are all airy, and it is through the inner spirits that we are able even to interact with "the very spirit of the world and with the rays of the stars through which the world spirit acts."3 The poet, the singer, and the musician, therefore, have a privileged access to the energies that animate the cosmos:

But remember that song is a most powerful imitator of all things. It imitates the intentions and passions of the soul as well as words; it represents also people’s physical gestures, motions, and actions as well as their characters and imitates all these things and acts them out so forcibly that it immediately provokes both the singer and the audience to imitate and act out the same things. By the same power, when it imitates the celestials, it also wonderfully arouses our spirit upwards to the celestial influence and the celestial influence downwards to our spirit. Now the very matter of song, indeed, is altogether purer and more similar to the heavens than is the matter of medicine. For this too is air, hot or warm, still breathing and somehow living; like an animal, it is composed of certain parts and limbs of its own and not only possesses motion and displays passion but even carries meaning like a mind … Song, therefore, which is full of spirit and meaning—if it corresponds to this or that constellation not only in the things it signifies, its parts, and the form that results from those parts, but also in the disposition of the imagination—has as much power as does any other combination of things [e.g., a medicine] and casts it into the singer and from him into the nearby listener. It has this power as long as it keeps the vigor and spirit of the singer, especially if the singer himself be Phoeban by nature and have in his heart a powerful vital and animal spirit.4

The poet’s or singer’s efficaciousness is tied less to abstractive intellectual faculties than it is to those pneumatic faculties (imagination in particular) that yield an immediate connection to the cosmic spirits mediating between the earthly and the celestial, and which are emanations of God’s creative vitality. It is the spirit’s power, vigor, and mobility that launches it towards the stars, investing song with the power to "heal" both the singer and the listeners.

It is important to note that the concept of creation implicit in the above is neither a conventional theory of imitation, nor a conventional theory of inspiration. If song "imitates" it does so most importantly not because it represents a particular "res’" or subject-matter, but because it embodies the powers, emotions, and energies of both that which it represents and of the singer. Indeed the primary "matter" of song, in this case, is not "materia" in the typical sense of the word as used in rhetorical theory, but literally a spiritual "substance"—more or less energized depending on the vigor of the singer. Likewise, though in one sense the singer here is inspired, he or she is not simply a mouthpiece of divine raptus, but rather, he "arouses the celestial influence downwards to our spirits." In this respect the song is a bridge which permits an audience to sense or to experience the vitality of the universe through the singer’s own. Much has been made, rightly, of the importance granted by Ficino to the melancholy temperament as the basis of creative genius, but it is also important to understand that the solitariness of the melancholic thinker has for Ficino less to do with a proto-Romantic embrace of one’s alienated subjectivity than it does with the psycho-physiological fact that the melancholic’s spirits are concentrated in the brain due to the constant activity of thinking or imagining.5 Indeed, according to Ficino "the spirits which derive from a melancholy humor are exceptionally fine, hot, agile, and combustible," and this is the reason that such humor is identified with an acute ingegno capable of penetrating into hidden realities.6

As Carol Kaske notes, the De Vita was one of Ficino’s most popular works. Written in 1480, it went through 30 editions, the last one published in 1647.7 This may seem an odd fact for a work that was primarily intended as a medical guide for the "priests of the muses," a manual of sorts through which one might learn to achieve and maintain that healthy vitality of the spirit that was essential for the life of the mind. What probably fueled a recurring fascination with this work is its tendency to suggest almost inexhaustible continuities and intersections. Spirit is at the center of these connections: it is the "subtle knot," to borrow a phrase from John Donne’s Extasie, that links body to soul, earth to the stars, the planets and the sun to human beings, God to humankind, human beings to each other, and so on. It is air, breath, music, voice, light, and life. For followers of Ficino such as Agrippa and Paracelsus, as well for other Renaissance philosophers such as Telesio and Bacon, spirit was the seat of generation and vitality—a kind of cosmic DNA that made possible the cohesion, and variety, of creation.8

The close identifications that Ficino established between ingenium, imagination, poetic utterance, and spirits in the De Vita do not by any means yield a systematic vision of either genius or of poetry,9 but they do suggest some interesting possibilities which may further complicate our understanding of Renaissance notions of creativity. Most important, perhaps, is the idea that songs or poetic utterances are not simply representational in the conventional sense of the word. In addition to their function as signs conveying a particular meaning or content, the words of song and poetry are also literal exhalations of spiritus through which a tangible connection is created between singer, audience, and the celestial spirits immanent in the universe. Song, in this respect, has an animating function. It carries the vital and creative energies that imbue the cosmos. The degree of its animation, moreover, depends on the vitality of the singer’s or poet’s own spiritual powers. In other words, the song has "power" insofar as it embodies the creative vigor of the singer’s own spirits. Medically, song restores health to the listener through a process that we might call re-animation. Thus song occupies a gray area between a kind of "empiricist" psycho-pneumatology, and magic. In one sense Ficino’s song is magical, since words have an efficacious power. In another, however, song functions according to the "scientific" logic of spirits, be they bodily or celestial. Words, in this respect, have power insofar as they are uttered and therefore breathed forth as a charged emanation of their singer’s pneumatic vigor. Though certainly for Ficino it is important to know what words to speak in the context of the various celestial benefices one is connecting to, nonetheless pneumatic vitality seems to be of equal importance in terms of the song’s efficaciousness.

Though followers of Ficino such as Agrippa emphasized the magical dimension of his thought, others who were equally interested in the operations of spirits did not necessarily see a need to tie such discussions to magic. So, for example, D.P. Walker has noted that though Francesco Giorgi’s De Harmonia Mundi is much indebted to Ficino’s theories on spirits and celestial influences, it avoids any mention of magic.10 Like Ficino, however, Giorgi identifies spirit as the locus of creative vitality in the universe as well as in human beings.11 Perhaps the clearest example connecting human creativity in particular to spiritus is Antonio Persio’s Trattato dell’Ingegno dell’Huomo, a treatise written approximately 100 years after Ficino’s De Vita, and roughly contemporary to the works of Tommaso Campanella and John Donne. Persio begins his Trattato by rejecting the priority of both astrological and temperamental (humoral) causes of genius.12 Each plays a role in the constitution of genius, but the real seat of ingegno is spirit. Spirit is the seat of life and vitality in human beings as well as in the world as a whole, and because "spirit is present to life itself, as its end and without mediation, for this reason it is necessary that its function be to conserve and multiply itself."13 In human beings, "the more our spirit is similar to that of the sun, the more it will make us ingenious and inventive and judicious, such spirit being as it is entirely luminous, hot, subtle, white, agile, and vivacious."14 Indeed, it is precisely because the spirit’s function is to create and preserve life that Persio views the ingegno as pneumatic in nature. It is, after all, through their capacities for inquiry and invention that human beings not only assure their own survival, but continue to improve their lives:

Because our spirit came from the heavens and became a part of the world, it desires in our bodies every greatness and exaltation, all the more so because due to its subtleness it well perceives its own nobility and excellence, and understands the deficiencies of many things which it would need in its body; and from this sense of need is born desire and appetite, and from this the power of ingegno and of human nature are stimulated either by nature or by other men to seek out new things, or to perfect those already found.15

In this respect, the operations of ingegno are really an aspect of the work of generation and conservation that spirit performs in the universe as a whole. Moreover, the spirit of human beings is particularly worthy of admiration, being both more "noble and more celestial" than the spirit of animals.16

Persio’s emphasis on the link between vitality, spirits, ingegno, and conservation, though already implicit in Ficino, is strongly indebted to Telesio’s materialist notion of the soul as a corporeal spiritual substance, and to his notion of conservation understood as the universal instinct to preserve and perfect life.17 Throughout, however, Persio attempts to reconcile Telesio’s sober materialism with the Neoplatonic (and in particular Ficinian) emphasis on love by insisting on the continuities between the lover and the scholar. Persio’s emphasis in this regard is on the restless passion that fuels inquiry: "but to proceed further, I say that our spirit, due to its hot nature, always desires to seek out new things, always investigates, always uncovers some occult thing by means of his ingegno."18 It is a passion that revels not only in the specific object of knowledge, but in the process of coming to know, a process which in and of itself is pleasurable because it is based in the sensation of the fiery vitality and creativity of the spirit. Thus, for example, Persio offers a fascinating parallel between the union of two illicit lovers, whose commingling of ardent spirits often yields an exceptional child, and Titian’s "pneumatic" engagement with his model:

[Titian] … according to his own testimony as well as that of those who were present when he was working, when he wanted to draw or paint some figure, having before him a living woman or man, his corporeal sight was so moved by the object and his spirit penetrated so deeply in the model he was depicting, that he seemed to be aware of nothing else, and to the bystanders he seemed to have left his body with his spirit. And it was thought that due to this self-abstraction he was able to create little less than another nature in his works, so well could he express the flesh-tones and the features of the model. The same thing happens between a man and a woman who love each other, spending their best spirits in the process of generation, as also happens with those, who in creating some composition which they weave with animation, imbue it with the highest feelings and elocution that they have.19

Insofar as the painting is the "product" of a union between Titian’s and the model’s spirits, it is, in a sense, a living being. In Persio’s examples, the emphasis is placed on creation as a process that has more to do with the "expense" and generation of vitality than on the production of a discrete object. The work that is made—be it a painting or a text or a human being—is exceptional insofar as it is animated by the vitality of its makers, and the pleasure that it provokes has to do with the quickening of our own spirits. In Persio’s words, "a noble ingegno becomes happy and joyous in the presence of beautiful persons, because our spirit becomes more subtle and is enlivened in seeing the proportions of a beautiful figure."20

Ingegno, in Persio’s expansive vision, is much more than the quality of purposive intelligence or creativity or inquisitiveness, though it is these things as well. As the highest manifestation of our spiritual selves, it is the location of our most vibrant sense of vitality; it is most proximate to that "spirito universale" that binds and enlivens and conserves all of creation; it is also the origin and the medium of our desire to seek out and to unite with that which perfects us, be it the occult mysteries of nature, the beauty of art, a person’s virtue, or the angels of heaven.21 To practice creativity is in itself, besides the utility of particular discoveries or achievements, to align oneself with the vitality of God’s universe.

The Poetics of Vitality in Tommaso Campanella and John Donne

Tommaso Campanella’s theory of poetry grows out of the pansensism that is central to his writings in natural philosophy. Like Antonio Persio, Campanella was deeply indebted to Telesio’s thought, and in Del Senso Delle Cose e della Magia he elaborated upon the latter’s notion of the world as sensate by privileging, like Ficino and Persio, the pneumatic connectedness of all creation. "The world," he announces immediately under the title of his work, "is a living and sentient statue of God, and all its parts and particles are conscious—some more some less—to the degree necessary for their own conservation and for the conservation of the larger whole in which they are consentient."22 All creation is alive and sensate because all beings, animate and inanimate, are ensouled by a "hot, subtle, and lively spirit, capable of impression and immediate sensation, like the air."23 Though Campanella allows that human beings are unique in possessing a mind that is directly infused by God, he is generally more interested in exploring the implications of the "consenso" or "conspiracy," by which all creatures are connected.24 Rather than taking the slow and indirect route of discursive logic and cognitive abstraction, Campanella argues that we can achieve a more tangible and more compelling knowledge of God and of his creation by accessing those vital energies that link us directly to the world as "sensation and life and soul and body, statue of the Most High."25 Campanella insists, for example, on the etymological relationship between "sapere" (knowledge) and "sapore" (taste) to convey the sensual immediacy that his mode of inquiry entails.

Often, moreover, Campanella seems to have been less interested in the practical applications of this kind of approach to reality than in its moral benefits. In the epilogue to Del Senso delle Cose, Campanella offers a striking evocation of the moral imperative of his cosmology:

Like worms within an animal are all animals within the World; nor do they imagine that the World might be sensate, just as the worms in our stomach do not think that we feel and have a soul greater than theirs … Blessed he who reads in this topic and learns of the nature of things from it, and not from his own whim, and learns too the divine art and government, and consequently makes himself similar to and at one with God, and sees that everything is good, and that the bad is relative … And he thus takes pleasure in, admires, reads, and sings the infinite, immortal God.26

Campanella exhorts us to perceive, indeed to feel, the common "sense" shared by all of creation. By so doing, we recognize ourselves as part of a larger, vital whole made and animated by God, and through this recognition we will realize that the deepest fulfillment of our instinct for conservation—for the preservation of our lives—lies in our joyous participation in the harmony of God’s creation, a participation that yields a vision of mutability as encompassed within the embrace of eternity. Campanella’s natural philosophy is, therefore, at the same time moral philosophy, because it calls for an awakening of the senses, a reorientation of perspective through which knowledge of ultimate truths turns out to be something that is immediately available, and can be directly tasted, rather than abstractly conceived.

In the Philosophia Rationalis, the most ambitious and extensive exposition of his ideas, Campanella grants poetry the highest status among the disciplines,27 and, in a fairly provocative move, he defines the poem as a "magical instrument,"28

"the most perfect manifestation of vocal magic."29 According to Campanella, the feeling of the "perfect conservation of our own life" is the greatest pleasure that human beings can experience, and the magic of poetry is most capable of arousing such sensation.30 This magic works in three ways. In the first place, poetry’s meter replicates the natural rhythms of our inner spirits. As our spirit comes into contact with the pneumatic pulsations of metric utterance, it experiences a sense of purification, expansion, and animation; it literally experiences its own conservation through the renewal of its vitality. In the second place, Campanella locates the power of poetry in its imitative function. He rejects, however, the Aristotelian theory of mimesis, by locating the pleasure felt in a representation not in the experience of recognition of the object depicted, but in our admiration of the skill of the artist as it vividly reminds us of the "potentia" (power) and "sapientia" (wisdom) of humankind through which we conserve and perpetuate ourselves.31 Poetic skill, in other words, manifests the creative capacities through which human vitality is preserved.

The third aspect of the magic of poetry is that it speaks directly to the senses: "Poetry is a reversed form of science, because it first speaks to the will, not to reason, as do the other sciences."32 By speaking directly to the senses, it is more likely to transform its audience: "Because poetry is the most perfect manifestation of vocal magic, it moves souls more powerfully … by presenting objects to the feelings and communicating its own emotions."33 Finally, in keeping with his emphasis on tangibility, Campanella also advises the poet to avoid the creation of fables and to engage rather with the real world insofar as it is the living statue of God. The noblest forms of poetic expression are the psalmic praise of God and of his creation, and the philosophic or scientific poem.

Readers who turn to Campanella’s poetics intrigued by citations about poetry as a "magical instrument" may find themselves disappointed by how limited in some ways the claims for this magic really are. Setting aside the effects of meter on spirit, Campanella’s description of the power of poetry does not seem so different from the universally accepted rhetorical theory of the affectus, whereby eloquent speech moves the emotions of human beings. Indeed, though the first version of his poetics (1596) is substantially similar to the second (1612-38), nowhere in the first does he use the term "magic." So why did Campanella insist on including in the second version a term that, in the climate of the Counter-reformation, may have seemed provocative? It may be useful in this context to turn to a little noticed definition of magic that Campanella provides in Del Senso:

Everything that scientists do in imitation or aid of nature through unknown arts, is called a magical operation, not only by lowly peasants, but even by civilized men … While the art is not understood, it is called magic: after, it becomes vulgar science.34

Magic, in other words, is simply an art or discipline—operating through the pneumatic permeability of the world—whose procedures are not understood yet, and whose effects thus simply seem miraculous. From Campanella’s pansensistic perspective, of course, this follows logically. If all things are alive and interconnected by spiritual means, then all actions and operations in the world must be understood in terms of this dynamic "consent." As he states in the Poetica, the growth of harvests from a few seeds is greater magic than the multiplication of five loaves and two fish to feed 5,000 people, but since the latter is a rare event, it is more admired.35 The reason Campanella defines poetry as magia, I believe, is that his real concern is to resist what pulls us away from a feeling of imbrication—what leads us to feel separate or distinct from God’s living statue. The poet, by possessing a particularly dynamic and subtle spirit through which he penetrates into the vitality of all things, by reviving through meter the very motions of the spirits occulted within us, and by choosing to be grounded in the truths of nature and of our lives, infuses in his reader a sensation, a taste (sapere-sapore) of his own vital and productive connection with humankind, with nature, and with the processes through which the world, God’s living statue, continues to be animated.36 From this perspective our abilities, our arts, are always-already magical. Poetry is magical not because it does something out of the ordinary, but because it yields in us a sense of the ordinary as extraordinary, that is, of greater moral efficacy than any abstract dialectical discourse. Its pleasures are at once aesthetic, ethical, and physiological.

On first sight, John Donne’s gloomy account of the world’s atrophy in the Anniversaries would seem to have little to do with Campanella’s affirmation of the world’s vitality and of poetry’s capacity to realign us with it. Yet these works do not simply reduce to a contemptus mundi motif. That Donne conceived of poetry as a particularly effective means of projecting its speaker’s forcefulness and charisma has been readily recognized, but in the Anniversaries he provided a much more intense and sustained reflection on poetry’s "powers" which yielded some unique claims.37 These claims, I will suggest, are closely linked to his perception of the world in these poems in terms of spirits and vitality.

No doubt the most famous passage from the two elegies is the one from the Anatomy that associates the decay of the world with the rise of what Donne calls "new Philosophy":

And new Philosophy cals all in doubt,

The Element of fire is quite put out;

The Sunne is lost, and th’earth, and no man’s wit

Can well direct him where to looke for it.

And freely men confesse, that this world’s spent,

When in the Planets, and the Firmament

They seeke so many new; they see that this

Is crumbled out againe to his Atomis.

‘Tis all in pieces, all cohaerence gone. (FA ll. 205-13)38

"New philosophy" calls into question traditional beliefs in the organic cohesiveness of the universe. The vital unity of the world gives way, under the anatomizing gaze of scientists and astronomers, to a sense of the world as inert matter with no special place in a randomly ordered cosmos. In the context of this loss of corporate identity, "euery man alone thinkes he hath got / To be a Phoenix, and that then can bee / None of that kinde, of which he is, but hee" (FA ll. 216-18). Willfully-affirmed distinctiveness becomes the only ground for identity. We are reminded of the contrast Campanella draws between those "blessed ones" able correctly to read in the topic of nature the consenso among all things, and those whose perspective on reality is determined by "their own whims." In this context, Donne imagines the meridians and parallels by which the astronomer measures the heavens as a "net throwne / Upon the heauens, and now they are his owne. / Loth to goe vp the hill, or labour thus / To go to heauen, we make the heauen come to vs" (FA ll. 278-82).

It is important to note that nowhere in these poems does Donne question the objective claims of the "new Philosophy." What concerns him more than the empirical accuracy of its descriptions of the cosmos is the isolated and morally impoverished sensibility that it yields. In the primary conceit of this elegy, of course, it is Elizabeth Drury’s death and absence that yields such a barren world, but in the specific context of scientific discourse, the forsaken alternative to "new Philosophy" is described in a less frequently noticed passage on natural magic:

What Artist now dares boast that he can bring

Heauen hither, or constellate any thing,

So as the influence of those starres may bee

Imprisond in an Herbe, or Charme, or Tree,

And doe by touch, all which those starres could do?

The art is lost, and correspondence too.

For heauen gives little, and the earth takes lesse,

And man least knowes their trade, and purposes. (FA ll. 391-8)

The "artist" here is the magus-astrologer whom Donne imagines as no longer able, in this "spent" world, to access those hidden virtues and influences that are the wellspring of creative vitality throughout the cosmos.39 The deadness of the world, in other words, is associated here with a loss of connection to those vital spirits that guaranteed the continued coming into being of the world—spirits that could be in various ways channeled or manipulated by those who perceived and understood the complex network of correspondences between the heavens and the earth.

The nostalgia or regret expressed here does not of course necessarily reflect Donne’s belief in the operative claims of natural magic. The image of the artist "boasting" even hints at the skepticism Donne elsewhere expressed about some of these claims (in Love’s Alchemy for example). Indeed, Donne’s lament that "the art is lost, and correspondence too" inconsistently blames both the magical operators (who have forgotten their craft), and the cosmos they operate in (which is lacking in correspondences). If the poem describes a world whose objective reality does not allow "commerce twixt heauen and earth," then no amount of "recollection" on the part of esoteric practitioners can remedy this. Whether the loss described is based on objective facts or a failure of imagination, the poet’s chief preoccupation seems to be the perspective on reality that we are left with in a post-magical context, a perspective from which the cosmos is no longer viewed as a living, organic, and therefore divinely constituted whole. This is the principal reason for which the world is declared dead in this sequence of poems.

Indeed, the figurations that describe Elizabeth in vita in the Anatomy insistently allude to the occult powers or virtues that were of central importance in the traditions of natural magic from Ficino to Paraclesus and Agrippa. Elizabeth’s virtue is imagined as something much more tangible and vibrant than an abstract ideal. It is a dynamic pneuma or spiritual force that integrated the cosmos and thus preserved the vital link between God and humankind. Donne describes her, using Paracelsian terminology for the vital spirits occulted in nature, as an "intrinsique Balme" and "preservative" (FA l. 57). He also refers to her several times as a celestial influence or emanation (FA ll. 378, 415) whose vital essence "did inanimate and fill / The world" (FA ll. 68-9). She was an agent of alchemical sublimation whose "vertue … so much refin’d" drove out the "poysonous tincture" of original sin (FA ll. 17782); she was a "Magnetique force" of sympathetic attraction "that should all parts to reunion bow" (FA ll. 221-2). Her virtue was "the Cyment which did faithfully compact / And glue all vertues, now resolv’d, and slack’d" (FA ll. 49-50). She was the principle of life itself, "from whom / Did all things verdure" (FA l. 364). At her death, Donne claims, the "vital spirits" of the world were dissipated (FA l. 13).

As John Carey and others have noted, throughout his writings Donne tended to seek an imbrication of the physical and the spiritual.40 He was consistently fascinated with that "subtle knot"—the pneumatic juncture of the corporeal and the incorporeal—that, as he puts it in the Extasie, "makes us man" (l. 64). The Anniversarie poems confirm this view. Though their trajectory takes us from the lifeless corpse of the world to Elizabeth’s swift flight to heaven, Donne’s imaginative focus remains insistently on Elizabeth as the link between earth and heaven, as the vital "balsamum" or "preservative" that endowed the world with life. In Elizabeth’s absence, Donne invests his own poems with the integrative role she performed. By poetically embodying Elizabeth, he tells us later (in the Second Anniversary), the world may be "embalmed" and "spiced" (SA l. 39). "Balm," in Paracelsian philosophy, is another term for the "astral body" or principle of vitality occulted in all things, and indeed Paracelsus argues that even corpses preserve some of this vitality, since in his essentially dynamic vision of matter there is no such thing as absolute lifelessness.41 By associating his poetic utterance with Paracelsian "balm," Donne endows it with the task to "conserve" life. As in the case of Campanella, poetry embodies a vital and generative energy that is the currency of the "commerce twixt heauen and earth" (FA l. 399).

We should remind ourselves, at this point, that Elizabeth was in fact a nobody. She was a 14-year-old girl who, as Ben Jonson pointed out, did not in objective terms merit the praise she received.42 To remember Elizabeth is therefore really to will a sign into existence that will fill the gap opened up by the natural magicians. Donne takes over the role of the magician in restoring the "commerce twixt heauen and earth," but he does so in a very different context, a context in which traditional magical correspondences are in doubt. What these poems do, therefore, in "creating" Elizabeth, is to preserve or "conserve" our sense of the divine vitality inherent in human beings in the face of mortality, contingency, and epistemological uncertainty.

In the last lines of the Anatomy, Donne affirms that "verse hath a middle nature" (FA l. 473) whose function is to preserve the memory of Elizabeth, while the earth keeps her body, and heaven her soul. It is poetry, for both Campanella and Donne, that most effectively bridges the gap between earth and heaven, and perhaps also between magical and non-magical conceptions of language. Just as Campanella sees poetic utterance as having the unique power to pluck at the chords of life and generation, so Donne affirms the generative power of his verses: "These Hymes may worke on future wits, and so / May great Grand-children of thy praises grow" (SA ll. 37-8). For both poets, there is something crucially at stake in "animistic" perceptions of the vitality of the world. If, as Donne acknowledges, the concrete claims of magic may not remain viable in light of the "new Philosophy," nonetheless its conception of the world and its creatures as intimately linked to their divine maker is of crucial moral value, and it is up to the poet to preserve this conception through the creative process itself. The poet, in this context, is neither Aristotelian imitator, nor inspired mouthpiece of God. Rather, the act of poetic making becomes an individually willed participation in the vitality which is God’s continued gift to us, however we choose to perceive the universe we inhabit. What the poet dis-covers, through the inventive activity that produces his poem, is the redemptive creative energy that makes such invention possible.

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