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Mayne, attached to Poems by John Donne , p. Life, p. Poems, vol. QQQ Donne is a thoroughly original spirit and a great innovator; he is thoughtful, indirect, and strange; he nurses his fancies, lives with them, and broods over them so much that they are still modern in all their distinction and ardour, in spite of the strangeness of their apparela strangeness no greater perhaps than that of some modern poets, like Browning, as the apparel of their verse will appear two hundred years hence.
Frederic ives carpenter, introduction, to English Lyric Poetry, , , p. David Hannay An English journalist and author, David Hannay was mostly known for his biographies and newspaper work. QQQ one of the most enigmatical and debated, alternately one of the most attractive and most repellent, figures in english literature. David hannay, The Later Renaissance, , p. Though long overshadowed by his famous progeny, Stephen was a prolific author and critic whose agnostic ideals shine through his analysis of Donne. QQQ in one way he has partly become obsolete because he belonged so completely to the dying epoch.
The scholasticism in which his mind was steeped was to become hateful and then contemptible to the rising philosophy; the literature which he had assimilated went to the dust-heaps; preachers condescended to drop their doctorial robes; downright common-sense came in with tillotson and south in the next generation; and not only the learning but the congenial habit of thought became unintelligible.
Donnes poetical creed went the same way, and if pope and parnell perceived that there was some genuine ore in his verses and tried to beat it into the coinage of their own day, they only spoilt it in trying to polish it. But on the other side, Donnes depth of feeling, whether tortured into short lyrics or expanding into voluble rhetoric, has a charm which perhaps gains a new charm from modern sentimentalists. Arthur Symons John Donne A British playwright, poet, translator, and critic, Arthur Symons was as much of a Renaissance man as he paints Donne to be in the portrait excerpted below.
He published numerous volumes of his poetry and essays, and was also praised for his editorial work on volumes by Shakespeare and Ernest Dowson. QQQ Was the mind of the dialectician, of the intellectual adventurer; he is a poet almost by accident, or at least for reasons with which art in the abstract has but little to do. Then it is the flesh which speaks in his verse, the curiosity of woman, which he has explored in the same spirit of adventure; then passion, making a slave of him for loves sake, and turning at last to the slaves hatred; finally, religion, taken up with the same intellectual interest, the same subtle indifference, and, in its turn, passing also into passionate reality.
But he writes nothing out of his own head, as we say; nothing lightly, or, it would seem, easily; nothing for the songs sake. QQQ John Donne is of interest to the student of literature chiefly because of the influence which he exerted on the poetry of the age. Reuben post halleck, History of English Literature, , p. John W. In the piece below, though Hales professes himself an admirer of Donnes, the author rails against the metaphysical school of poetry, arguing that Donnes poetic gifts were perversely directed, and that the metaphysics represent a certain bad taste of [the] day.
Haless main issue with the metaphysical school is what may be called its fantasticality, its quaint wit, elaborate ingenuity, far-fetched allusiveness. This was the most prominent criticism leveled against Donne in the nineteenth century and, indeed, prior to that time and Hales demonstrates the continuing authority of the argument in the early twentieth century.
Paradoxically, Hales assails the fact that Donnes reputation has suffered because of this idea: Donnes contemporary reputation as a poet, and still more as a preacher, was immense; and a glance at his works would suffice to show that he did not deserve the contempt with which he was subsequently treated. Nonetheless, Hales reproduces the argument himself, demonstrating that the chief complaint against the metaphysical poets is the very nature of metaphysical poetry itself.
QQQ Donnes contemporary reputation as a poet, and still more as a preacher, was immense; and a glance at his works would suffice to show that he did not deserve the contempt with which he was subsequently treated. But yet his chief interest is that he was the principal founder of a school.
Johnson has given the title of the Metaphysical; and for this title there is something to be said. Donne, says Dryden, affects the metaphysics not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses where nature only should reign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love.
But a yet more notable distinction of this school than its philosophising, shallow or deep, is what may be called its fantasticality, its quaint wit, elaborate ingenuity, far-fetched allusiveness; and it might better be called the ingenious, or Fantastic school. Various and outof-the-way information and learning is a necessary qualification for membership. Donne in one of his letters speaks of his embracing the worst voluptuousness, an hydroptic immoderate desire of human learning and languages.
The thing to be illustrated becomes of secondary importance by the side of the illustration. The more unlikely and surprising and preposterous this is, the greater the success. From one point of view, wit, as Dr. Johnson says, may be considered as a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtility surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and though he sometimes admires is seldom pleased.
Dryden styles Donne the greatest wit though not the best poet of our nation. The taste which this school represents marks other literatures besides our own at this time. But it was he who in england first gave it full expressionwho was its first vigorous and effective and devoted spokesman. This misspent learning, this excessive ingenuity, this laborious wit seriously mars almost the whole of Donnes work.
For the most part we look on it with amazement rather than with pleasure. We weary of such unmitigated clevernesssuch ceaseless straining after novelty and surprise. We long for something simply thought, and simply said. Though not published till much later, there is proof that some at least of his satires were written three or four years before those of hall.
Thus the charge of metrical uncouthness so often brought against Donne on the ground of his satires is altogether mistaken. Thomas humphrey Ward, , vol. A renowned intellect and essayist, Hazlitt comments below on Donnes satirical works, stating that in his satires, Donne strove to demonstrate disagreeable truths in as disagreeable a way as possible, or to convey a pleasing and affecting thought of which there are many to be found in his other writings by the harshest means, and with the most painful effort. Ultimately Hazlitt concludes that he does not admire Donnes satires as much as his other works for this reason; they are too filled with contempt and dogma for Hazlitts liking, who seemingly preferred a lighter, defter approach to satire.
Hazlitts critique of Donnes satires reflect those made by critics of his other works, and those studying Donnes body of work may find it suggestive to compare Hazlitts criticisms to others presented in this collection. Donne, who was considerably before cowley, is without his fancy, but was more recondite in his logic, and in his descriptions. The sentiments, profound and tender as they often are, are stifled in the expression; and heaved pantingly forth, are buried quick again under the ruins and rubbish of analytical distinctions.
The following may serve as instances of beautiful or impassioned reflections losing themselves in obscure and difficult applications. This simple and delicate description is only introduced as a foundation for an elaborate metaphysical conceit as a parallel to it, in the next stanza. This is but a lame and impotent conclusion from so delightful a beginning.
Whoever comes to shroud me, do not harm nor question much that subtle wreath of hair, about mine arm; the mystery, the sign you must not touch. The scholastic reason he gives quite dissolves the charm of tender and touching grace in the sentiment itself For tis my outward soul, Viceroy to that, which unto heaven being gone, Will leave this to control, and keep these limbs, her provinces, from dissolution. But since this God producd a destiny, and that vice-nature, custom, lets it be; i must love her that loves not me. The satirist does not write with the same authority as the divine, and should use his poetical privileges more sparingly.
Donne may be justified in applying to himself; but he might have recollected that it could not be construed to extend to the generality of his readers, without benefit of clergy. William hazlitt, from on cowley, Butler, suckling, etc. Walker and arnold Gower, , vol. Unsigned The unsigned piece below, published in an early nineteenth-century literary magazine, is quite critical of Donne, suggesting that, In pieces that can be read with unmingled pleasure, and admired as perfect wholes, the poetry of Donne is almost entirely deficient.
Almost every beauty we meet with, goes hand in hand with some striking deformity, of one kind or another; and the effect of this is, at first, so completely irritating to the imagination, as well as to the taste, that, after we have experienced it a few times, we hastily determine to be without the one, rather than. John Donne purchase it at the price of the other. Though the author considers Donne learned and in possession of a strong wit, he dislikes the poets fantastical imagination a criticism shared by Hazlitt and Lightfoot in above excerpted texts and suggests that Donne lacks sensitivity and taste.
In fact, the author generally criticizes the entire school of metaphysical poetry, writing that the metaphysical poets had little simplicity of feeling, and still less of taste. They did not know the real and intrinsic value of any object, whether moral or physical; but only in what manner it might be connected with any other object, so as to be made subservient to their particular views at the moment. The author does, however, find little gems in Donnes works to admire, phrases, lines and passages that are not encumbered by the poets numerous faults, and in sharing those particular moments in Donnes poesy with the reader, the author is perhaps initiating a larger conversation about the merit of individual pieces of work in Donne, though students studying the author will more likely find this authors criticisms a more useful springboard in constructing their own arguments about Donne.
QQQ Theobald, in his egregious preface to shakspeare, calls Donnes poems nothing but a continued heap of riddles. We shall presently shew that he knew as little about Donne as he himself has shewn that he knew about shakspeare. Donne was contemporary with shakspeare, and was not unworthy to be so. We do not mind the images and illustrations of a sentiment being recondite and farfetched; and, indeed, this has frequently a good effect; but if the sentiment itself has any appearance of being so, we doubt the truth of it immediately; and if we doubt its truth, we are disposed to give it any reception rather than a sympathetic one.
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This was the crying fault of all the minor poets of the elizabethan age; and of Donne more than of any other: though his thoughts and feelings would, generally speaking, bear this treatment better than those of any of his rivals in the same class. These persons never acted avowedly, though they sometimes did unconsciously on the principle that an idea or a sentiment may be poetical per se; for they had no notion whatever of the fact. They considered that man was the creator of poetry, not nature; and that any thing might be made poetical, by connecting it, in a certain manner, with something else.
They saw at once how far it was available to them, but nothing whatever of the impression it was calculated to make for itself. We are speaking, now, of a particular class or school of poets of that day; for they differed as much from all others, and were as much allied by a general resemblance of style among themselves, as the Delia cruscan school. There is also this other grand difference in favour of the latter,that, whereas the Delia cruscans tried to make things poetical by means of words alone, they did it by means of thoughts and images;the one considered poetry to consist in a certain mode of expression; the other, in a certain mode of seeing, thinking, and feeling.
This is nearly all the difference between them; but this is a vast difference indeed: for the one supposes the necessity of, and in fact uses, a vast fund of thoughts and images; while the other can execute all its purposes nearly as well without any of these. But it is not at present our intention to go into a general discussion of that particular school of poetry to which Donne belongs; but merely to bring to light some of the exquisite beauties which have hitherto lain concealed from the present age, among the learned as well as unlearned lumber which he has so unaccountably mixed up with them.
We say unaccountablyfor it is impossible to give a reasonable account of any poetical theory, the perpetual results of which are the most pure and perfect beauties of every kindof thought, of sentiment, of imagery, of expression, and of versificationlying in immediate contact with the basest deformities, equally of every kind; each given forth alternately in almost equal proportions, and in the most unconscious manner on the part of the writer as to either being entitled to the preference; and indeed without ones being able to discover that he saw any difference between them, even in kind.
Before doing this, however, it may be well to let the reader know what was thought of Donne in his own day, lest he should suppose that we are introducing him to a person little known at that time, or lightly valued. The day in which Donne lived was the most poetical the world ever knew, and yet there can be little doubt, from the evidence of the fugitive literature of the time, that Donne was, upon the whole, more highly esteemed than any other of his contemporaries.
We do not, however, mean to attribute all. But the greater part of the admiration bestowed on him, was avowedly directed to the poetical writings. This may serve, in some degree, to account for the total neglect which has so long attended him. But the reader who is disposed, by these remarks, and the extracts that will accompany them, to a perusal of the whole of this poets works, may be assured that this unpleasant effect will very soon wear off, and he will soon find great amusement and great exercise for his thinking faculties, if nothing else even in the objectionable parts of Donne; for he is always, when indulging in his very worst vein, filled to overflowing with thoughts, and materials for engendering thought.
The following short pieces are beautiful exceptions to the remark made just above, as to the mixed character of this poets writings.
The first is a farewell from a lover to his mistress, on leaving her for a time. For clearness and smoothness of construction, and a passionate sweetness and softness in the music of the versification, it might have been written in the present day, and may satisfy the ear of the most fastidious of modern readers; and for thought, sentiment, and imagery, it might not have been written in the present day;for, much as we hold in honour our living poets, we doubt if any one among them is capable of it.
The following is one of these. The versification too, is perfect. These passages may always be unravelled by a little attention, and they seldom fail to repay the trouble bestowed upon them. But they must be regarded as unequivocal faults nevertheless. The following is, doubtless, high-fantastical, in the last degree; but it is fine notwithstanding, and an evidence of something more than mere ingenuity.
For clearness of expression, melody of versification, and a certain wayward simplicity of thought peculiarly appropriate to such compositions as these, the most successful of our modern lyrists might envy the following trifle: the MessaGe send home my long strayd eyes to me perhaps the two short pieces which follow, include all the characteristics of Donnes stylebeauties as well as faults.
The comparison of the nerves and the braid of hair, and anticipating similar effects from each, could never have entered the thoughts of any one but Donne; still less could any one have made it tell as he has done. The piece is altogether an admirable and most interesting example of his style. Whoever comes to shroud me, do not harm. Before i sigh my last gasp, let me breathe The following particularly the first stanza seems to us to express even more than it is intended to express; which is very rarely the case with the productions of this writer.
The love expressed by it is a love for the passion excited, rather than for the object exciting it; it is a love that lives by chewing the cud of sweet and bitter fancy, rather than by hungering after fresh foodthat broods, like the stock dove, over its own voice, and listens for no otherthat is all sufficient to itself, and like virtue its own reward.
WoMans constancy now thou hast loved me one whole day The whole of the foregoing extracts are taken from the first department of Donnes poetrythe love-verses. What mean these ladies, which as though They were to take a clock to pieces go so nicely about the bride? The two first lines of the following are very solemn and far-thoughted. There is nothing of the kind in poetry superior to them. We shall, however, notice and illustrate each class briefly, in order that the reader may have a fair impression of the whole body of this writers poetical works. The epistles of Donne we like less than any of his other poems, always excepting the religious ones.
Though it will not exactly bear quotation, perhaps the most poetical, as well as the most characteristic of the epistles is the imaginary one the only one of that description from sappho to philaenis. The following is finely thought and happily expressed. Be then thine own home, and in thyself dwell; inn anywhere, continuance maketh hell. We can afford no other extract from the epistles, although many most curious ones might be found; but pass on to the Funeral elegies.
They have all the faults of his style, and this one above all. But there is one poem printed among these, which we shall extract the greater portion of, and which the reader will find to be written in a somewhat different style from that of almost all the others that we have quoted. There is a solemn and sincere earnestness about it, which will cause it to be read. The poem seems to have been addressed to his mistress, on the occasion of his taking leave of her, after her having offered to attend him on his journey in the disguise of a page. General readers are probably acquainted with Donne chiefly as a writer of satires; and, in this character, they know him only through the medium of pope; which is equivalent to knowing homer only through the same medium.
The brilliant and refined modern attempted to give his readers an idea of Donne, by changing his roughness into smoothness, and polishing down his force into point. Donnes satires are as rough and rugged as the unhewn stones that have just been blasted from their native quarry; and they must have come upon the readers at whom they were levelled, with the force and effect of the same stones flung from the hand of a giant.
The following detached character is the only specimen we have left ourselves room to give of them. Therefore i suffered this; towards me did run a thing more strange than on niles slime the sun eer bred, or all which into noahs ark came: a thing, which would have posed adam to name: stranger than seven antiquaries studies, Than africs monsters, Guianas rarities, stranger than strangers; one, who for a Dane, in the Danes Massacre had sure been slain, if he had lived then; and without help dies, When next the prentices gainst strangers rise.
Beza then, some Jesuits, and two reverend men of our two academies, i named. Under this pitch he would not fly; i chaffed him; but as itch scratched into smart, and as blunt iron ground into an edge, hurts worse: so, i fool found, crossing hurt me; to fit my sullenness, he to another key his style doth dress, and asks, What news? We had intended to close this paper with a few examples of the most glaring faults of Donnes style; but the reader will probably think that we have made better use of our space. We have endeavoured to describe those faults, and the causes of them; and not a few of themor of those parts which should perhaps be regarded as characteristics, rather than absolute faultswill be found among the extracts now given.
Those who wish for more may find them in almost every page of the writers works. They may find the most far-fetched and fantastical allusions and illustrations brought to bear upon the thought or feeling in question, sometimes by the most quick-eyed and subtle ingenuity, but oftener in a manner altogether forced and arbitrary; turns of thought that are utterly at variance with the sentiment and with each other; philosophical and scholastic differences and distinctions, that no sentiment could have suggested, and that nothing but searching for could have found; and, above all, paradoxical plays of words, antitheses of thought and expression, and purposed involutions of phrase, that nothing but the most painful attention can untwist.
But, in the midst of all, they not only may, but must find an unceasing activity and an overflowing fullness of mind, which seem never to fail or flag, and which would more than half redeem the worst faults of mere style that could be allied to them. Unsigned, Retrospective Review, , pp. Henry Alford Life of Dr. Donne One of Donnes most renowned editors, Henry Alford was a celebrated English literary and theological scholar and author in his own right.
A longtime dean at Canterbury, Alford was also a prominent photographer, poet, and translator, and his four-volume New Testament in Greek changed the way in which scholars examined biblical text. The text below is from Alfords edition of Donnes works. In it Alford labels Donne a wit in an age of wit. The laudatory piece acts as an introduction to Donnes sermons, pieces that Alford suggests are arrangements are often artificial and fanciful; but always easily retained, and instructive to the Scripture student and that Alford hopes will become standard volumes in the English Divinity Library.
Alford also offers interesting discussions of Donnes rediscovery in the nineteenth century and how the term metaphysical came to be applied to Donnes works in the first place. Donne is a rare instance of powers first tried, and then consecrated. That he should have gained among the moderns the reputation of obscurity is no wonder; for, on the one hand, the language of one age will always be strange to those who live in, and are entirely of, another of a totally different character; and again, this intricacy of words frequently accompanies subtle trains of thoughts and argument, which it requires some exertion to follow.
But it must be remembered that obscurity is a subjective term, that is, having its place in the estimation of him who judges, and not necessarily in the language judged of; and is therefore never to be imputed to an author without personal examination of his writings. Whereunto all this tendeth is a note which never need be placed in his margin, as far as the immediate subject is concerned. But it is not in diction, or genius, or power of thought, that we must look for the crowning excellence of these sermons.
We find in them, what we feel to be wanting in most of the great preachers of that and the succeeding age, a distinct and clear exposition of the doctrines of redemption, as declared in the scriptures, and believed by the church in england. That these remarks are not to be taken without exception; that Donne does fall, upon comparatively minor points, into very many puerilities and superstitions; that the implicit following of the Fathers is, in divinity, his besetting fault, and often interferes with his lucid declarations of the truth, no impartial reader of his sermons can deny.
The reader of the following sermons will find sentences and passages which he will be surprised he never before had read, and will think of ever after. While the one is ever guessing at truth, the other is pouring it forth from the fulness of his heart. While the one in his personal confessions keeps aloof and pities mankind, the other is of them, and feels with them. Donnes epistolary writings are models in their kind.
This labour of compression on his part has tended to make his lines harsh and unpleasing; and the corresponding effort required on the readers part to follow him, renders most persons insensible to his real merits. That he had and could turn to account a fine musical ear, is amply proved by some of his remaining pieces. Johnson should have called him a metaphysical poet, is difficult to conceive. What wittily associating the most discordant images has to do with metaphysics is not very clear; and Johnson, perhaps, little thought that the title which he was giving to one of the most apparently laboured of poets, belonged of all others to his immortal contemporary, who is recorded never to have blotted a line a greater man that Dr.
Johnson, even Dryden, has said in his dedication of Juvenal to the earl of Dorset, that Donne affects the metaphysics; probably meaning no more than that scholastic learning and divinity are constantly to be found showing themselves in his poems. The personal character of Donne is generally represented to us to have undergone a great change, between his youth and the time when he entered holy orders. This representation is countenanced by the uniform tenor of. That his manners were the manners of the court and the society in which he lived, is the most reasonable and the most charitable sentence; and the reader who values what is truly valuable, will rather consider the holiness and purity of his more mature years, than any reproach which report or his writings may have fixed on his youth; and with the charity which rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth, will look rather on these sermons and Devotions, in which he has built himself and the church a lasting memorial, than on the few scattered leaves, which betray after all, perhaps, no more than simplicity and fearlessness of natural disposition; and that he snowed what others have concealed.
Mankind are always more apt to judge mildly of one whose heart is open; and to sympathise where confidence is given. With no writer is this more the case than with Donne. For it is by intimate moral and critical acquaintance with himself that he becomes powerful over the thoughts and feelings of our kind in general; and, as the greatest of public speakers says in his Funeral oration, That the praises of others are only tolerable up to a point of excellence, which the hearer thinks he could have equalled5, so it may be generally said of the productions of the greatest minds, that they are most valued, and take most hold of the universal heart of mankind, when the man uttering them is shown to have been what all might have been, and to have felt what all have felt.
For myself, what i have acquired from them has been invaluable; and i can only wish that they may give as much instruction and delight to the reader, as i have received in editing them. Walton, a frequent hearer of Donne, thus characterises his preaching: a preacher in earnest, weeping sometimes for his auditory, sometimes with them; always preaching to himself like an angel from a cloud, but in none; carrying some, as st. Life of Donne. Wit he did not banish, but transplanted it; taught it both time and place, and brought it home to piety, which it doth best become.
For say, had ever pleasure such a dress? Mutatis mox ille modo formaque loquendi tristia pertractat; fatumque, et flebile mortis tempus, et in cineres redeunt quod corpora primos. Methinks i see him in the pulpit standing. Mayne of christ church: thou with thy words couldst charm thine audience, that at thy sermons, ear was all our sense; yet have i seen thee in the pulpit stand, Where we might take notes, from thy look, and hand; and from thy speaking action bear away More sermon, than some teachers use to say.
Baptism and the lords supper, see the whole of ser. The sacrificial nature of the lords supper, vol. The real presence, in ditto, vol. For an instance of puerility and superstition, see vol. Methusalem, with all his hundreds of years, was but a mushroom of a nights growth, to this day; all the four monarchies, with all their thousands of years, and all the powerful kings, and all the beautiful queens of this world, were but as a bed of flowers, some gathered at six, some at seven, some at eight, all in one morning, in respect of this day.
But as an indulgent father, or a tender mother, when they go to see the king in any solemnity, or any other thing of observation and curiosity, delights to carry their child, which is flesh of their flesh, and bone of their bone, with them, and though the child cannot comprehend it as well as they, they are as glad that the child sees it, as that they see it themselves;such a gladness shall my soul have, that this flesh which she will no longer call her prison, nor her tempter, but her friend, her companion, her wife , that this flesh, that is, i, in the re-union and redintegration of both parts, shall see God: for then one principal clause in her rejoicing, and acclamation, shall be, that this flesh is her flesh; in my flesh shall I see God.
Between these two, the denying of sins which we have done, and the bragging of sins which we have not done, what a space, what a compass is there, for millions of millions of sins! Thucydides, book n. Donne, The Works of John Donne, , vol. Unsigned The following excerpt, from an anonymous mid-nineteenth-century magazine, deigns to name and illustrate some of [Donnes] peculiarities as a poet.
The author suggests that the first of Donnes flaws is that his versification is about the very ruggedest that ever has been written. The author adds that any text from Donne would prove this point, and a later fault of the poets the author of the article points out is the average flow of his verse, noting that, though there are exceptions, most of Donnes works lack a tolerable smoothness of versification.
The third peculiarity faults Donnes wit: Another quality, equally against his popularity, is his profundity of thought, and the constant attention which is therefore required in order to understand him. This has always been a common criticism of Donne, and remained so until T. Eliot reintroduced this aspect of the poet in a more favorable light in the early twentieth century.
The fourth flaw concerns Donnes love poems, which the author below suggests seem rather to be inspired by a love of love, than by any very powerful passion for the object of whom they chiefly discourse. Though the text does provide an example of Donnes love poetry that goes beyond this flaw, the author generally disapproves of this portion of Donnes oeuvre. Lastly, the author suggests that much of Donnes remaining work, anything below what he labels Donnes second class, is troubled by an inexplicable, incommunicable aura.
This aura relates both to Donnes unsettled versification as well as his at-times impenetrable wit. Ultimately, the claims presented in the essay below.
Works reflect much of the criticism Donnes work faced in both the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries, and are often echoed in the other excerpts presented in this collection. QQQ For every individual reader of the poems of John Donne, there have probably been a hundred readers of the exquisite life of him, by izaak Walton.
Unprefaced by this life, no edition of Donnes poems ought ever to have appeared. Finally, in his latterly blameless and holy life, we behold his defence against those who might otherwise have been inclined. Though too often neglected, it is one of the first duties of the critic, in his estimation of the merits and demerits of a literary production, to point out, as far as may be in his power, what of those merits and demerits belong to the author, and what to the time he wrote in.
Therefore english intellect was at its height in the age Donne wrote. Mental philosophy was profounder and purer than it had ever been before; but it was occasionally wronged by an attempt to wed it with physical science: a marriage of which the times forbade the bans, because the latter was as yet unripe. Religion, also, in various ways, enhanced the poetic liberty of the time: especially it extinguished that false shame which Romanism had attached to the contemplation of the sexual relations. The purity of these relations had been for long ages lied away by the enforcement, as a permanent doctrine, of what st.
But the Reformation had arisen, and commanded, that what God had declared to be clean, no man should call common. The command had been received with an obedience which had not, in Donnes time, been deadened or destroyed by the poisonous taint of Romanism, which yet lurked in the doctrine, and afterwards developed itself in the life-blood of the new era. The consequence was, that the sphere of nature was yet widened to the rejoicing poet, who now revered true chastity all the more that he was no longer obliged to bow down to the really unchaste mockeries of her unblemished form, which had been set up for his worship by the harlot, Rome.
The subtle singers of Donnes time knew that they might as well endeavour to solve an irrational equation, or to express, in terminated decimals, a surd. But they knew that a comprehension of her character was no indispensable qualification for depicting it; and accordingly, and therefore, they have depicted it, as no poets had ever done before, or have done since. We now proceed to name and illustrate some of his peculiarities. We shall not extract any particular lines to prove this assertion, since we shall make few quotations which will not prove it.
This defect will always prevent Donne from becoming popular: fit and few will be his audience as long as poetry is read. Though his poems may be read once through, as a kind of disagreeable duty, by the professed student of english literature, they will be pored over, again and again, as true poetry should be, only by the most faithful and disciplined lovers of the muse.
With these latter, however, Donne will always be a peculiar favourite. By them his poems will be valued as lumps of precious golden ore, touched, here and there, with specks of richest gold, and almost everywhere productive of the shining treasure,. By such readers even his worst versification will be pardoned, since no sacrifice of meaning is ever made to it,it thus becoming so much more palatable to the truly cultivated taste than the expensive melody of some modern versifiers.
Donnes poems seem to divide themselves naturally into three classes: i. We will notice the contents of each class in its order. Most lovers love their object because they confound her with their ideal of excellence. Donne seems ever aware that his is the mere suggestion of that ideal which he truly loves. We give the following noble poem entire.
Moving of thearth brings harms and fears, Men reckon what it did and meant, But trepidation of the spheres, Though greater far, is innocent. Dull sublunary lovers love Whose soul is sense cannot admit. But we by a love, so much refined, That our selves know not what it is, inter-assured of the mind, care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Donne to his wife at the time he then parted from her to spend some months in France. The above is the only entire poem, and indeed the only considerable passage of continuous beauty in the love-poems. There are indeed little exquisite touches without number, starting up here and there, like violets in the rough, and, as yet, leafless woods. Unfortunately, or shall we say, fortunately?
Wordsworth The divine aura that breathes about his works, is not to be found by the chance reader in any particular passage or. This only reveals itself to the loving student of the Muses, and departs from him who departs from them, or endeavours to a-muse himself by carelessly attending to their songs. The longest and most famous of these epithalamions, has scarcely a quotable passage.
We give the following passage, which seems to illustrate our assertion, combining, as it does, the fantastic beauty of the former, the maturer thought of the latter, and the faults of both. Donnes satires,to speak of which we now come are, to our mind, the best in the english language. This was fully felt by the gentlemanly Donne, who, in his satires, resorts more often to the simple and the crushing strength of truth, than to the cat-o-nine-tails of invective.
We quote largely from satire iii. Throughout all our former quotations, there was a tolerable smoothness of versification: sometimes there was the sweetest music; but they were, in this, exceptions to the rule. The above passage is a good specimen of the average flow of Donnes verses. But who, that, loving best of course the marriage of sound and meaning, would not yet prefer climbing, with Donne, these crags, where all the air is fresh and wholesome, to gliding with Thomas Moore, over flats, from beneath the rank verdure of which arises malaria and invisible disease?
Fortunately, however, in most editions of popes writings, the original crudities are printed side by side with the polished improvement upon them; as sometimes we see, up-hung in triumph at the doors of writing-masters, pairs of documents to some such effect as this:i. This is my handwriting before taking lessons of Mr. This is my handwriting after taking lessons of Mr.
The theme is the appearance of a reduced courtier. We had marked many more passages for quotation from the satires, but we must, for want of space, hurry on, skipping the letters, which are. We will take only one of the elegies and string some of its gems together without remark, her pure and eloquent soul spoke in her cheeks, and so distinctly wrought, that one might almost say, her body thought. They who did labour Babels tower to erect, Might have considerd that, for that effect, all his whole solid earth would not allow nor furnish forth materials enow; and that his centre, to raise such a place, Was far too little to have been the base; no more affords this world foundation to erect true joy.
The Divine poems are, for the most part, very poor, compared to these elegies; but here, as everywhere, splendid thoughts and splendid words abound. With these extracts we conclude, hoping that we shall have introduced many of our readers to hundreds more like them, by having sent them to the volume out of which we have copied. Unsigned, Lowes Edinburgh Magazine, , pp. John Alfred Langford An Evening with Donne The English scholar, critic, and journalist John Alfred Langford writes below of the great religious poets spawned by England, and proposes that old, antiquated, and venerable Donne ranks high amongst them.
After providing a brief biography of Donne, Langford writes of that chief characteristic of the metaphysical poets that all nineteenth-century critics commented upon: their wit. Langford, however, unlike many of his contemporaries, seemed to relish the puzzling opportunities the wit of Donne and his ilk presented to him: Forsaking the pure and genial naturalness of the Elizabethan poets, they seek by strange and farfetched allusions, similes, and figures, to clothe a simple thought in party-coloured garments; and to offer it to the reader in as many varied aspects as the most violent twistings and torturings of this brave English language would allow.
Extremely learned, in whatever was considered learning in their day, they ransacked all their store in the search for refined, recherche, and difficult analogies. Physics, metaphysics, scholastic literature, were made to bear tribute to their love of the blue-eyed maid chimera. Langford thus becomes one of the most ardent defenders of the metaphysical voice in his era, and students examining this aspect of Donnes work will surely find his argument an impassioned counterpoint to many of the others presented in this text.
QQQ among the many glories of english literature, not the least is her possession of so long a list of truly religious poets. Montgomery; the soul-raising thought of the nature-loving Wordsworth; and not to mention others of high and lofty fame, whose works the world will not willingly let die, we have him with whom we propose to spend the present eveningthe old, antiquated, and venerable Donne. Johnson has offered some very curious reasons why religious poetry has not been successful in attaining a very high state of excellence. We venture to opine that in this respect the Doctor has committed himself, by giving a verdict which posterity will not confirm.
We could select from our religious writers passages unequalled, in all that constitutes high poetry, by any equal number of passages from the greatest bards who have not especially devoted their talents to religion, such as Byron and shelley, for instance. Why, the greatest of every land, and of every faith, are the religious ones, whether we look at the sublime old hebrew bards, with the fires of sinai, and the thunders of the lord! Well has a modern poet said, The high and holy works, mid lesser lays, stand up like churches among village cots: and it is joy to think that in every age, however much the world was wrong therein, the greatest works of mind or hand have been Done unto God.
But now to Donne. There is a class of poets known as the metaphysical. Their chief characteristic is their intellectualism. Forsaking the pure and genial naturalness of the elizabethan poets, they seek by strange and farfetched allusions, similes, and figures, to clothe a simple thought in party-coloured garments; and to offer it to the reader in as many varied aspects as the most violent twistings and torturings of this brave english language would allow.
The metaphysical poets, says Dr. Johnson, were men of learning; and to show their whole endeavour, but, unluckily, resolving to show it in rhyme, instead of writing poetry, they only wrote verses, and very often such verses as stood the trial of the finger better than of the ear, for the modulation was so imperfect, that they were only found to be verses by counting the syllables.
Goethe has well said in one of those world-famous Xenien of his, What many sing and say, Must still by us be borne! But of these poets, if we except cowley, Donne holds the highest place.
John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets
These combined must surely make a poet of no ordinary power. This twilight of two years, not past nor next, some emblem is of me, or i of this, Who meteor-like, of stuff and form perplext, Whose what and where in disputation is, if i should call me anything, should miss. The critic we have quoted above as saying that Donne was saturated with all the learning of his times, also says of him That he was endowed with a most active and piercing intellectan imagination, if not grasping and comprehensive, most subtle and far-dartinga fancy rich, vivid, and picturesqueand a wit admirable as well for its caustic severity as for its playful quickness.
This is particularly applicable to his satires, which are the precursors of Dryden and popes. We may say of them, what can be said of but few satires, that they possess more than a temporary interest, and may be read with profit and advantage at the present time. The following piece illustrates pretty well the best and worst qualities of Donne. Moving of th earth brings harms and fears, Men reckon what it did and meant,. But trepidation of the spheres, Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers love Whose soul is sense cannot admit absence, because it doth remove Those things which elemented it. The lines are quaint, but their spirit fine. Think in how poor a prison thou didst lie after, enabled but to suck and cry. Think, when twas grown to most, twas a poor inn, a province packed up in two yards of skin, and that usurped or threatened with the rage. But think that death hath now enfranchised thee, Thou hast thy expansion now, and liberty; Think that a rusty piece, discharged, is flown in pieces, and the bullet is his own, and freely flies; this to thy soul allow, Think thy shell broke, think thy soul hatched but now.
George MacDonald Dr. Most famous for his fairy tales and fantasy novels, MacDonald inspired the works of such authors as W. Auden, J. Tolkein, and Madeline LEngle. In the piece below, MacDonald, like many of his contemporaries, praises Donne for his intellect and wit but chastises the poetical qualities of the man, echoing earlier complaints that Donnes poesy is rugged and his rhythm is often as bad as it can be to be called rhythm at all. QQQ he Donne is represented by Dr. Johnson as one of the chief examples of that school of poets called by himself the metaphysical, an epithet which, as a definition, is almost false.
Johnson classed them. What this mode was we shall see presently, for i shall be justified in setting forth its strangeness, even absurdity, by the fact that Dr. Donne was the dear friend of George herbert, and had much to do with the formation of his poetic habits. Just twenty years older than herbert, and the valued and intimate friend of his mother, Donne was in precisely that relation of age and circumstance to influence the other in the highest degree. The central thought of Dr.
Donne is nearly sure to be just: the subordinate thoughts by means of which he unfolds it are often grotesque, and so wildly associated as to remind one of the lawlessness of a dream, wherein mere suggestion without choice or fitness rules the sequence. Donne would sport with ideas, and with the visual images or embodiments of them.
Whatever wild thing starts from the thicket of thought, all is worthy game to the hunting intellect of Dr. Donne, and is followed without question of tone, keeping, or harmony. John Donne, so far from serving the end, sometimes obscures it almost hopelessly: the hart escapes while he follows the squirrels and weasels and bats.
This is clearly the result of indifference; an indifference, however, which grows very strange to us when we find that he can write a lovely verse and even an exquisite stanza. Greatly for its own sake, partly for the sake of illustration, i quote a poem containing at once his best and his worst, the result being such an incongruity that we wonder whether it might not be called his best and his worst, because we cannot determine which. The first stanza is worthy of George herbert in his best mood. But with what a jar the next stanza breaks on heart, mind, and ear! Whilst my physicians by their love are grown cosmographers, and i their map, who lie Flat on this bed, that by them may be shown That this is my south-west discovery, Per fretum febrisby these straits to die; here, in the midst of comparing himself to a map, and his physicians to cosmographers consulting the map, he changes without warning into a navigator whom they are trying to follow upon the map as he passes through certain straitsnamely, those of the fevertowards his southwest discovery, Death.
Grotesque as this is, the absurdity deepens in the end of the next stanza by a return to the former idea. But the first half of the stanza is lovely: my reader must remember that the region of the West was at that time the land of promise to england.
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But the next stanza is worse. The three stanzas together make us lovingly regret that Dr. Donne should have ridden his pegasus over quarry and housetop, instead of teaching him his paces. The next i quote is artistic throughout. There is no sign of his usual haste about it. Wilt thou forgive that sin, through which i run, and do run still, though still i do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done; For i have more. Wilt thou forgive that sin which i have won others to sin, and made my sins their door?
John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets - Google книги
Wilt thou forgive that sin which i did shun a year or two, but wallowed in a score? When thou hast done, thou hast not done;. For i have more. What the Doctor himself says concerning the hymn, appears to me not only interesting but of practical value. What a help it would be to many, if in their more gloomy times they would but recall the visions of truth they had, and were assured of, in better moments! But thou wouldst have that love thyself: as thou art jealous, lord, so i am jealous now.
Rhymed after the true petrarchian fashion, their rhythm is often as bad as it can be to be called rhythm at all. Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste; i run to death, and death meets me as fast, and all my pleasures are like yesterday. They see idolatrous lovers weep and mourn, and, style blasphemous, conjurors to call on Jesus name, and pharisaical Dissemblers feign devotion. Then turn, o pensive soul, to God; for he knows best thy grief, for he put it into my breast. From rest and sleep, which but thy picture be, Much pleasure, then from thee much more must flow; and soonest our best men with thee do go, Rest of their bones, and souls delivery!
Why swellst thou then? ResURRection sleep, sleep, old sun; thou canst not have re-past as yet the wound thou tookst on Friday last. What a strange mode of saying that he is our head, the captain of our salvation, the perfect humanity in which our life is hid! When one has got over the oddity of these last six lines, the figure contained in them shows itself almost grand. Through his poems are scattered many fine passages; but not even his large influence on the better poets who followed is sufficient to justify our listening to him longer now.
George MacDonald, from Dr. Donne: his Mode and style, Englands Antiphon, , pp. Edmund Gosse John Donne In the essay below, part of a larger work on Jacobean poets, Gosse begins by classifying Donnes work into seven distinct categories. The first are the satires, which Gosse suggests are brilliant and picturesque beyond any of their particular compeers, though they still suffer from the flaws that suffuse all Elizabethan satire.
After pausing to examine the poem The Progress of the Soul or Poema Satyricon , Gosse next classifies Donnes epistles, or poems structured as letters, which includes a brief but useful discussion of Letter to the Countess of Huntingdon. Gosse does not generally admire Donnes epistles, writing that the epistles are stuffed hard with thoughts, but poetry is rarely to be found in them; the style is not lucid, the construction is desperately parenthetical. Next for Gosse are the Epithalamia, the marriage-songs. Gosse considers these works inspired by Edmund Spenser, and labels them elegant and glowing.
Fourth are the Elegies, a grouping of Donnes secular works that Gosse believes are often marred by inconceivable offences against good taste. Gosse finds Donnes fifth category of work, his funeral elegies or requiems, almost as curious as the Epithalamia, though lovely sudden bursts of pure poetry are more frequent in the Funeral Elegies than in any section of Donnes poetry which we have mentioned. The sixth classification of Donnes work includes the Holy Sonnets, which includes a closer examination of Holy Sonnet 17, Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt.
The final classification is that which Gosse finds most interestingDonnes amatory lyrics. Gosse suggests these works are personal, confidential, and vivid; the stamp of life is on them. Works After he classifies Donnes work, Gosse defends the poets meter.
Rejecting earlier critical claims that Donnes work is rugged and lacks versification, Gosse writes that Donne intentionally introduced a revolution into English versification. It was doubtless as a rebellion against the smooth and somewhat nerveless iambic flow of Spenser and the earliest contemporaries of Shakespeare, that Donne invented his violent mode of breaking up the line into quick and slow beats.
Though Gosse still considers Donnes scansion violent, he does defend it, noting that far from being an almost accidental poet, Donnes harsh versification was the conscious act of a poet at the height of his intellectual gifts, an experiment that, while not always successful, is certainly worthy, in Gosses mind, of admiration and serious consideration. QQQ The poems of Donne were not published until after his death.
The first edition, the quarto of , is very inaccurate and ill-arranged; the octavos of and are much fuller and more exact. Donne, however, still lacks a competent editor. We have no direct knowledge of the poets own wish as to the arrangement of his poems, nor any safe conjecture as to the date of more than a few pieces. The best lyrics, however, appear to belong to the first decade of James i. These are seven in number, and belong to the same general category as those of hall, lodge, and Guilpin.
They are brilliant and picturesque beyond any of their particular compeers, even beyond the best of halls satires. But they have the terrible faults which marked all our elizabethan satirists, a crabbed violence alike of manner and matter, a fierce voluble conventionality, a tortured and often absolutely licentious and erroneous conception of the use of language. The fourth is, doubtless, the best written, and may be taken as the best essay in this class of poetry existing in english literature before the middle-life of Dryden; its attraction for pope is well known.
The verse marches with a virile tread, the epithets are daring, the thoughts always curious and occasionally sublime, the imagination odd and scholastic, with recurring gleams of passion.