Ask not for whom this review tolls John Donne may be one of the best kept secrets of English literature I never knew such a man could exist A poet, writer, and theologian who does his own thing and has a hell of a vendetta against death This book gives us all of his poetry and a lengthy selection of his prose which I think is better I read this as a library book but now I know I will have to buy this book hopefully the paperback will be an updated publication The book includes letters many written in rhyming verse , elegies, Essays of various things, prose of various things, and naturally sermons which are his strongest works most of them from late in his life including his magnum opus Death s Duell sic My favorite works were from his Juvenilia Or Certaine Paradoxes, And Problems, it shows definitively for me that this is the era where British wit was codified and he was a master at it I also have reviewed his 17th meditation from his Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions which has changed the way I think of death in a sense a lot of proto existential in that meditation.
Because some of the events in his life and his very lengthy terminal cancer, that he must have had for 20 years before dying of it, death became a big theme of most of his work It was a muse and a burden for him and he treated it like an annoying enemy or thorn that was in his side I think his strongest writing is his contemplation on death and his faith in the resurrection that gave him a cockiness towards death that is amazing to behold think of him as not playing chess with Death but instead flipping over the chessboard and telling him to fuck off But death was not the only thing he talked about He had been from a prominent Catholic family and when King James I came to power restrictions on Catholics were eased some Despite this James wanted Donne to convert to Anglicanism and after a long thought, his devotion to the King won out and he became an Anglican Priest and was appointed Dean of Saint Paul s Cathedral in London His independent nature, though, was strong He wrote quite uncensored about erotic love, divine love which is why he is often labeled a metaphysical poet , women s rights to be fair he wasn t as forthright in public as he wanted to be, but he did feel personally that women needed to have a bigger role in society especially when it came to jobs, than they were getting , everyday societal life, and God Now I want to take a little time to discuss a very controversial essay he wrote one that is still controversial now and that is his essay Biathanatos which is still shocking that a theologian would stake out such a position on such a subject I have read the excerpt of it that was printed here but I have not seen the whole thing Here is the sub heading of the work A Declaration of That Paradoxe sic Or Thesis, That Selfe sic Homicide is not so Naturally Sinne sic , That it May Never Be Otherwise Yeah that came out of left field amongst the other works in this book, though there are several letters included that discuss this work as he only sent it to a few of his friends and it was not published until long after he was dead I often wonder why he is not referencedas he is a late contemporary of Shakespeare, but then again a lot of people who were unluckily enough to write at the Bards time have been neglected Well I will say that he is a writer worth reading for the expertise, wit, passion, conviction, and amazement of his words and ideas I can t say muchright now but if I can think ofI will add it, but I will say that if you consider yourself a serious reader of English literature don t skip out on John Donne I d keep writing but I think i hear a bell
read for class.
Here s where I started, as a Freshman at Amherst College, an enthusiasm for verse I did not entirely comprehend a classmate of mine, Schuyler Pardee, and I went to our wonderful professor, G Armour Craig, with a proposal Could we perhaps translate Donne for modern students He was genial, did not laugh at us, though our project never got off the drawing board Perhaps he recommended further courses, I cannot recall What I do recall is that my classmate was one of the dozen fellow poets in my class, but he also was the first person I knew to commit suicide, a few years after graduation When I got to U MN grad school, I took Leonard Unger s 17C English Poets seminar, wherein we read Donne and his heirs I wrote on Herbert and Andrew Marvell the latter I later pursued in my Ph.
, This Critical Age Deliberate Departures from Literary Conventions in 17C English Verse, advised by Leonard Unger When I told him I wanted to write on Marvell, Leonard suggested the broader topic which proved so fruitful to me Though one might not know it from his criticism, especially in American lit like TS Eliot, Leonard Unger I considered a professor of comparative literature For example, his good friend Saul Bellow and he once composed, during lunch at the U MN Faculty Club on the top floor of the Student Union, a verse translation of the first lines of the Wasteland in Yiddish At a postdoctoral seminar at Princeton I first encountered the Donne First Edition, 1633 I was befuddled, like its first readers, by the intermix of body bawdy and religious poems Having just completed my dissertation which noted Donne s having lifted The Indifferent wholesale from Ovid, As II.
iv , among the things Donne borrows is his shocking and dramatic shift of pronouns from third to second person, I can love her and her, and you and you Ovid has sive aliqua est, and six lines later, sive es docta, then a couplet later, back to third person, est quae, then back to you, tu, quia tam longa es line 33 He took his surprising shifting of tones, from distant connoiseur to precipitant lecher his dramatic pyrotechnics In my community college teaching career, I would recite a couple of Donne s poems from memory,his Song, Go and catch a falling star, illustrating adunata, the catalog of impossibilities, and sometimes his holy sonnet, At the round earth s imagined corners, blow Your trumpets, Angels, and arise, arise Now for your delectation, an adunata, list of impossibilities Go, and catch a falling star Get with child a mandrake root Tell me where all past years are Or who cleft the Devil s foot Teach me to hear mermaid s singing Or to keep off Envy s stinging Or find What wind Serves to advance and honest mind.
Note an Impossibility for an Honest Mind to advance eventrue now four centuries later, with criminals, international money launderers in Federal offices, including, we suspect, the Launderer in Chief if Putin, then the Chief Launderer s buddy It may also be true in academics, to my relief, an explanation of how my advancement has come pretty late In grad school, another of Leonard Unger s students was advanced, because he flattered a different, declining professor, quoted him verbatim to his face on his Ph.
D orals The early onset professor admired his own insights, from a student s mouth, and advanced him to a job at his own graduate institution, Princeton I was very happy to get a community college job, where I spent 40 years engaging the heart of America hygienists, nurses, firemen, police, teachers, actors, movie house directors, managers of restaurants and cultural performance centers.