1834 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Robert Aris Willmott, in English Sacred Poets (1834; 1839) 1:278-79.



No reader of Donne's poetry would imagine him to have been a high-minded enthusiast, overflowing with romance and kindliness. While he was in Spain, he prepared to visit the Holy Sepulchre, and only relinquished the undertaking when convinced of its impracticability. And when he wrote from the fire-side in his parlour, "in the noise of three gamesome children, and by the side of her whom he had transplanted into a wretched fortune," and therefore laboured the more to beguile her sorrows by his "company and discourse," all his words were dictated by domestic tenderness. As a poet, he has not had his reward; he has perished through not being understood. His friend, Ben Jonson, considered his applause the guarantee of future fame, and was fond of repeating that passage in the Calm—

And in one place lay
Feathers and dust, to day, and yesterday.

His versification is modulated with no art, and the location of the words is often careless and incorrect; but some of his strains have a depth of meaning, and a solemnity of thought, not found in his smoother rivals.... But though his poetical fame has been extinguished, his eloquent and splendid prose can never pass away. The sermons of Donne are a mine of gold, from which no diligent student will depart without an abundant treasure.