E.N.S. Thompson (1877-1948) was Professor of English Literature at the State University of Iowa from 1921. He published a number of books on Renaissance subjects, including Controversy between the Puritans and the Stage, Literary Bypaths of the Renaissance and The English Essay of the Seventeenth Century. He also compiled a Topical Bibliography of Milton. In a lengthy survey of mysticism in seventeenth-century English writing, largely about Thomas Traherne and the Vaughan twins, he devoted several pages to Donne ('Mysticism in Seventeenth-Century English Literature', Studies in Philology, 18 (1921), 170-231).
[Thompson takes mysticism to include any impulse which seeks an order of reality beyond the physical order; and so Donne must be allowed his mystical strivings despite the strong appearance to the contrary.]
Of all the poets of the Jacobean age Donne would be least suspected of a mystical turn of mind. His keen restless intellect, his constant dependence on the external features of daily life for his illustrative material, as well as his open cynicism and irreverence in the Elegies and Songs, would isolate him, necessarily it appears, from the spiritual forces of the day. This, however, was not the case. Cynicism, impudent ribaldry, realism tingle in his early verse. Yet not even Browning recognised more unqualifiedly than Donne that the life of the spirit is the matter of sole moment to man. 'I wonder by my troth, what thou and I/Did, till we loved?' he asks, forgetful of all the soul-stirring episodes of his venturesome youth. This was not because Donne scorned or despised our bodies [he quotes lines 53-6 of 'The Ecstasy']. But the spirit's welfare seemed of greater importance than the body's.
[The writer argues that Donne's very conception of love has something mystical about it when it posits that the passion of true love can inseparably unite two lovers. He quotes 'The Ecstasy' and 'A Valediction: Of Weeping', and comments:]
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Publication information: Book title: John Donne: The Critical Heritage. Volume: 2. Contributors: A. J. Smith - Editor, Catherine Phillips - Editor. Publisher: Routledge. Place of publication: London. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 453.
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