The Fearful Accommodations
of John Donne
Critics of John Donne have marked a peculiar violence in his sensibility not to be dissociated from the "boldness" and "daring" of his conceits. Among readers of the divine poems in particular this intemperate temperament has become an object of controversy. Qualities that made Donne a love poet of sublime egotism also, for some critics, damaged his religious verse irreparably; "The 'Holy Sonnets' and the 'Hymns,'" argues a suspicious Douglas Bush, "are focused, like the love poems, on a particular moment and situation, on John Donne, and the rest of life and the world is blacked out, does not exist." Moreover, the agoraphobic playfulness and unrelieved ingenuity so appealing in the context of human love have seemed less suitable to the doctrines of the Christian faith. It is one thing to run circles of wit about the straight-line orthodoxy of Petrarchan love poets, quite another to bend the cherished corners of dogma. Poems such as "Batter my heart" and "Show me deare Christ" may appear desperately inventive, the work of a histrionic convert who "has to stimulate his awareness of God by dwelling on the awfulness of God." Like other Renaissance poets whose devotional verse has been assailed, Donne has been defended by scholars assuming (however implicitly) that negative evaluations are directed, whether by ignorance or design, against the religion itself. Louis Martz and Helen Gardner, locating a tradition of formal meditation intended to achieve sensual immediacy, interior drama, and intense emotion, have disarmed objections by subtly disarming the poems, revealing those idiosyncratic, "tasteless" moments in the religious verse as the respectable,____________________
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Publication information: Book title: John Donne and the Seventeenth-Century Metaphysical Poets. Contributors: Harold Bloom - Editor. Publisher: Chelsea House. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1986. Page number: 37.
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