Before I begin my rave on John Donne, I would like first send anybody interested to one of my favorite and most useful web sties. Luminarium is the labor of love of Anniina Jokinen. The site is not affiliated with any institution nor is it sponsored by anyone other than its maintainer and the contributions of its visitors through revenues from book sales via Amazon.com, poster sales via All Posters, and advertising via Google AdSense.
This web site has (for free) great biographies, as well as most of the works of the authors listed!! http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/.
Also Digital Donne-http://digitaldonne.tamu.edu -a great online source for digital images of Donne’s manuscripts and early editions. Texas A&M has a great collection of Donne’s Works and has many useful resources available. (check it out, it is worth it especially the listing of variants) I currently have a few pre 1700 editions of Donne,please let me know if you are interested to see more information.
To write about John Donne makes me nervous, there has been so much already written about Donne, BUT this is not what makes me nervous. What stirs me is What Stirs me in general. Reading Donne reminds me of a tension that exists at the border between the individual and the society in which he lives, calling into the question of free will and ontological conflicts, when I write about Donne I can’t help but share in Donne’s struggles and share his exposure. His words strip me naked of the defense mechanisms of the inarticulate.
Superstition, individuality, reason, religion, love, fear, death, responsibility….
Most of the poetry I like to read deal with many of these subjects and they all negotiate this sort of tension, which to me is ever present in Donne. The conflict,tension and contradiction in Donne’s writings were lived by Donne. His Life is as full of passion and loss as his poem. For a great biographic essay I’ll send you to Anniina Jokinen “<http://www.luminarium.org/sevenlit/donne/donnebio.htm>
Article citation: Jokinen, Anniina. “The Life of John Donne.” Luminarium.
22 June 2006. [Date you accessed this article].
Donne, was in constant transformation, and during this transformation he documents himself , both the abandoned risk and the calculating ambition that we all face in life. Unlike a mere mortal Donne does not ever tire of the constant conflict, he presses on and continues in a sustained state of flux.
“There ’s nothing simply good nor ill alone;
Of every quality comparison
The only measure is, and judge opinion.”
“Metempsychosis” is the title of a longer work by the metaphysical poet John Donne, written in 1601. The poem, also known as the Infinitati Sacrum,consists of two parts, the “Epistle” and “The Progress of the Soule”. In the first line of the latter part, Donne writes that he “sing[s] of the progresse of a deathlesse soule” full text of Metempsychosis or Infinitati Sacrum from Luminarium Editions.
As a person who reads,almost constantly, the words of dead authors,I have to admit to a fascination with survival of the soule beyond the body. Donne exposes both his struggles and changes personal life and in the intellectual, religious and political environment of his time. These some how to transect the temporal particular and are appropriate to all of us. Donne, while exposing his self-identity to us: he joins us in a moral accountability, we all must share. ” Ask not for who …”
We all must read and share words, and this bond is explored by Donne who articulates a philosophical position which is “the early modern condition” Constant repositioning of the individual discourses of natural philosophy, medical, political and religious inquiry, the self is in constant conflict. Donne’s verses are constantly genre-defying, never allowing us to forget that the times he live in are the times WE live in. Every day each of us take the apple from Eve.
“This soul to whom Luther and Mahomet were
Prisons of flesh; this soul which oft did tear,
And mend the wracks of the Empire and late Rome,
And lived when every great change did come.”
138F Donne, John.
Poems, &c. By John Donne, late Dean of St. Pauls. With Elegies On The Author’s Death. To which is added Divers Copies under his own hand, Never before Printed.
London: In the Savoy, Printed by T.N. for Henry Herringman, at the sign of the Anchor, in the lower-walk of the New-Exchange, 1669 $7,500
Octavo, 4.2 x 6.5 inches. Fifth edition. A4, B-Z8, Aa-Dd8. A1 and Dd8 are both blank and present in this copy. This copy is bound in contemporary full mottled calf. It has been sympathetically rebacked with raised bands and gilt title to spine. One text leaf was torn and repaired. The modern bookplate of noted Donne collector Mr. O. Damgaard-Nielsen is pasted inside the front board. The book is bound in a very humble full calf binding in the style of the period (a charming gentleman in a common coat). This is the last and most complete edition of Donne’s poetry published in the seventeenth century, and the only Restoration printing. Many textual changes were made in this edition, and five new poems were added, including “To His Mistress Going to Bed,” and “O My America! My New-found-land.”
“The poetry of Donne represents a sharp break with that written by his predecessors and most of his contemporaries. Much Elizabethan verse is decorative and flowery in its quality. Its images adorn, its meter is mellifluous. Image harmonizes with image, and line swells almost predictably into line. Donne’s poetry, on the other hand, is written very largely in conceits— concentrated images which involve an element of dramatic contrast, of strain, or of intellectual difficulty. Most of the traditional ‘flowers of rhetoric’ disappear completely. For instance, in his love poetry one never encounters bleeding hearts, cheeks like roses, lips like cherries, teeth like pearls, or Cupid shooting arrows of love. The tears which flow in A Valediction: of Weeping, are different from, and more complex than, the ordinary saline fluid of unhappy lovers; they are ciphers, naughts, symbols of the world’s emptiness without the beloved; or else, suddenly reflecting her image, they are globes, worlds, they contain the sum of things. The poet who plays with conceits not only displays his own ingenuity; he may see into the nature of the world as deeply as the philosopher. Donne’s conceits in particular leap continually in a restless orbit from the personal to the cosmic and back again.” (Norton Anthology)
Wing D-1871; Keynes 84; Wither to Prior 291.