1882 ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Rev. John Donne

Epes Sargent, in Harper's Cyclopaedia of British and American Poetry (1882) 41-42.



Donne (1573-1631) was born in London, and as a child was a prodigy of learning. He became Chaplain in Ordinary to James I., and Dean of St. Paul's. Much against the wishes of his devoted wife, he accompanied Sir Robert Drury on an embassy to Paris. While there, Donne had a singular vision, which is often reproduced among stories of psychical or supersensual power. He saw (as Izaak Walton narrates) the apparition of his wife enter his room, bearing a dead child; and shortly after he heard that his wife had been delivered of a still-born child at the very moment. The best known poetical writings of Donne are his Satires, and The Progress of the Soul. His poems are characterized by brilliant wit, depth of reflection, and terseness of language; but his versification is generally rugged and uncouth, and he is often so obscure as to task the closest attention.