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Customer Review

on 13 March 2012
John Donne is widely appreciated for his combination of wit (meaning agility of mind) and emotion, uniting the two in crisp yet melodic poetry - although for centuries his verse was thought to be unmusical. A unified sensibility is what T.S Eliot found in him, meaning that a thought was an experience to him just like the scent of a rose. He is my favourite poet with certain lines lingering forever in the mind: "Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,/ Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time" where the last line drags out its rhythm to echo the sense. A poem such as "The Will" requires a decoding of each stanza: read the final line in each verse first so that you see why he is bequeathing a certain aspect of himself to a particular recipient - and yet it is also a moving poem from a disappointed and cynical lover. Donne is valued for his conceits (extravagant analogies); the drama in his treatment of topics; the density of his language; the immediacy even colloquialism of his language; the range of his references, many scientific; his intellectual capacites along with strength of emotion; his variety of sentence structures; the deft skill of the way he changes direction in argument and his direct appeal to a reader. His contemporaries thought him original though Dr Johnson found "the most heterogenous ideas...yoked by violence together". This volume contains his complete poetic works and is an authoritative text yet a reader might be happier with a selection of the best poems (love and religious) with explanatory footnotes. If you do not need the Verse Letters and/or Anniversaries in their fulness you might want the Songs and Sonnets only and concentrate on them before moving on to this exhaustive compilation. Another possibility is "The Metaphysical Poets" where selected poems can be read in context. (I have reviewed the Helen Gardner edition on this site also.)
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