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John Donne, critical commentary, poetry


John Donne's "A Lecture Upon the Shadow" has given rise to extensive critical commentary, most of it devoted to the shadow imagery in the poem. However, no one, to date, has proposed a satisfactory explanation for the shadow's shift in meaning from the realm of natural phenomena to that of conjecture and imagination. Pierre Legouis has concluded that "the similitude does not hold good ... it is imperfect." Yet an acceptable explanation is possible and the similitude does hold good when the poem is considered in terms of its dominant structural pattern, the Bonaventuran meditation. In keeping with meditative practice, the imagery in this poem develops cumulatively, drawing upon the nexus of meanings associated with shadows in the seventeenth century.