John Donne: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 2

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


Schelling frequently cited Donne in a study of English lyric poetry (The English Lyric, 1913, pp. 55, 62-3, 67-70, 76, 80,93, 96-7, 142, 275, 294).

[Schelling characterizes Donne's poetry by its eschewal of the furniture of Renaissance verse, the choice epithets and diction, mythic properties, similitudes drawn from nature.]

In place of all these things discarded, he enriched the lyrical poetry of his day with a new poetic style of surprising directness, with a vocabulary free from the accepted smoothness and over-indulgence in figure, and with a versification, abrupt and harsh at times, but always vigorous. Donne applied to the lyric the freedom, in a word, of the best dramatic verse of his day. Above all, he furnished lyrical poetry with a totally new order of metaphor, drawn from his study of the dialectics of divinity and especially from the technical nomenclature of contemporary science. In the difficult and often recondite allusions of Donne's poetry the literature of his successors found a new and undiscovered mine, and his influence became patent and widespread in the lyric almost before he could have been well aware of it himself. To Donne, his total break with the past, his mannerisms, ingenious similitudes, even, to some extent, his cynicism-however some of it may have been an affectation of his wit-were genuine and innate qualities of his genius; in his imitators they often degenerated into sheer mannerism and into a struggle after the ingenious and that which had never been said before. It was this that led, years after, to the indiscriminate dubbing of this whole poetical perversity by the title, 'the metaphysical school of poetry'. Donne is distinguishable from the Petrarchists that went before, as he is distinguishable from the 'metaphysicals' that came after. He is a notable poet whose lyrical art stands equally in contrast with the refined worship of beauty idealized that characterized Spenser, and with the sweeter music and more consummate artistry of the lyrical poetry of Shakespeare.

[In shedding his predecessors' superficialities of style Donne


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John Donne: The Critical Heritage - Vol. 2
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