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paradox, John Donne, poetry, negative theology


John Donne's complicated use of paradox is nowhere more inviting than in the grammatical and conceptual use of the word "nothing," especially when Donne chooses to give this noun the quality of substance and presence, rather than using it to denote the absence of anything. Two poems in particular, from the Songs and Sonets, give affirmative existence to a nothing in order to make distinct arguments regard- ing the status of an existing thing. Both “Negative Love” and “A Nocturnal Upon S. Lucy’s Day, being the shortest day” rely on this paradox to give a precise definition of the word nothing. The definition arises from two over- lapping and intersecting discourses called paradox and negative theology.