John Donne: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 2

By A. J. Smith; Catherine Phillips | Go to book overview

83.

Janet Spens

1909

The Oxford scholar Janet Spens discovered a disquieting likeness between her own age and the early seventeenth century (Two Periods of Disillusion, 1909, pp. 3-41).

[Spens argues that the similar spirit of the two eras accounts for Donne's likeness to some late nineteenth-century poets.]

The fundamental grief alike of the late nineteenth century and of the early seventeenth century is that we are not truly living, and it is taken for granted that emotion is life.

The idea is expressed most directly by Donne, 'who casts', says Mr Gosse, 'his shadow over the whole century'. Donne is the epitome of what is most characteristic of his time, and his extraordinary resemblance to Browning on the one hand and to Arnold on the other is highly significant. A certain allowance must be made, of course, for the method of expression, but if this is done he appears at times amazingly modern and intimate. Donne is full of the idea of man's corruptness and littleness, and his explanation is that the men of the day are of the Afterborn. His cry is almost exactly the same as Arnold's, that we are pigmies, miserable shadows of our forefathers. Like Arnold he is inconclusive, for though for himself his quest ended in conscious and perfect satisfaction, his final vision was not uttered in poetry, and even taking his prose there is a chasm of thought and feeling over which no bridge is thrown. For us therefore he remains an 'imperfect speaker', but all the nearer to us, perhaps, because of his uncertainty.

The key to Donne's nature is an insatiable thirst for intense spiritual existence. He scarcely sees the external world at all. One of the few passages in which inanimate nature is mentioned is the description in the 'Anatomy' of the new made Earth, and its beauty for the poet depends entirely on shimmering and changeful colour.

When Nature was most busy, the first week
Swaddling the new-born earth, God seemed to like

-295-

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John Donne: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 2
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • General Editor's Preface v
  • Contents vii
  • Preface xi
  • Acknowledgements xii
  • Note on the Text xiv
  • Introduction xv
  • 1. - Henry Morley 1
  • 3. - William Minto 3
  • 5. - Alice King 15
  • 9. - Edmund Gosse 24
  • 11. - George Edward Bateman Saintsbury 26
  • 13. - Margaret Woods 31
  • 15. - W.F. Collier 50
  • 17. - Gamaliel Bradford 52
  • 21. - Sir Edmund Kerchever Chambers 70
  • 25. - George Edward Bateman Saintsbury 89
  • 29. - Thomas Bird Mosher 102
  • 31. - Augustus Jessopp 105
  • 32. - Anon., Academy 108
  • 35. - Henry Augustin Beers 115
  • 44. - Francis Thompson 180
  • 46. - Anon., Academy 184
  • 48. - Anon., Nation 187
  • 52. - Anon., Quarterly Review 206
  • 59. - Rudolf Richter 221
  • 69. - Charles Eliot Norton 249
  • 73. - Martin Grove Brumbaugh 254
  • 74. - Charles Crawford 255
  • 76. - Herbert John Clifford Grierson 259
  • 79. - Alfred Horatio Upham 272
  • 83. - Janet Spens 295
  • 84. - Phoebe Anne Beale Sheavyn 302
  • 85. - William Macdonald Sinclair 303
  • 89. - Herbert John Clifford Grierson 317
  • 93. - Evelyn Mary Simpson (Née Spearing) 352
  • 94. - Anon., Nation 353
  • 95. - Felix E. Schelling 356
  • 97. - Rupert Brooke 359
  • 100. - Ernest Percival Rhys 370
  • 102. - Sir Sidney Colvin 390
  • 106. - David Macleane 395
  • 107. - Ezra Pound 396
  • 118. - Logan Pearsall Smith 410
  • 126. - Louise Imogen Guiney 432
  • 128. - Herbert John Clifford Grierson 437
  • 132. - Stuart Petre Brodie Mais 451
  • 134. - Elbert Nevius Sebring Thompson 453
  • 137. - William Butler Yeats 457
  • 138. - Robert Seymour Bridges 458
  • Appendix A. 463
  • Appendix B. 467
  • Appendix C: 474
  • Index 475
  • The Critical Heritage Series 502
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