1836 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Richard Cattermole, in Sacred Poetry of the Seventeenth Century (1836) 2:53.



The life and character of Donne have been made familiar to his countrymen by the affectionate biography of the poet's friend and parishioner, Walton. He was the first, and certainly the most vigorous of that poetical school which the critics have held up to ridicule under the character of "metaphysical," — a term sufficiently alarming to modern ears to have had the effect of limiting the popularity of those writers who have been assigned to the class so stigmatized. Another inexpiable offence of Donne's is the harshness of his versification. Admitting that he is frequently rugged and sometimes obscure, the judicious critic will yet not deny to this once favourite writer, the praise of a true and often a delightful poet; nor will it surprise him, that more than is needful has been said on both points, in times which abound with readers more capable of relishing voluptuous sweetness of language than of appreciating depth of sentiment and originality of thought; and ignorant that it is necessary to reflect on what is read, if we would correctly judge and effectually profit. There is much, undoubtedly, in the volume of Donne's Poems, which cannot be more fitly disposed of, than as "Alms for Oblivion;" but there is also much, for the sake of which it is worth while making one more attempt to avert the fulfilment of Ben Jonson's prediction, that "for want of being understood he would perish."

The chief prose works of Donne are his "Pseudo-Martyr," "Essays in Divinity," a volume of Devotions — but above all, his "Sermons."