John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays

John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays

John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays

John Donne: A Collection of Critical Essays

Excerpt

The essays collected here cover the years from 1896 to 1960 and include the years entre deux guerres during which Donne enjoyed a higher reputation and a greater popularity than at any time since the thirty years following the first publication of his poems. An older reader of these essays, aware of this as a fact of his own experience, may well feel puzzled at the absence of any essay in which the case for regarding Donne as providing a "norm" of excellence in English poetry is argued. He will find a certain number of essays in which this point of view is being contested and he may well ask who were the writers and critics whose extravagant praise J. E. V. Crofts and C. S. Lewis are attempting to correct, and where, if not here, can he find essays which will sum up the intense enthusiasm for Donne's poetry which the young of both sexes felt in the Twenties and Thirties of this century. I must own that I have been surprised at the difficulty of finding any essay in which this view is argued at length, rather than taken for granted or opposed. I had not realized, until I came to make this collection, that I should find little beyond scattered sentences and odd paragraphs to support the statement that from 1921, the year of Mr. T. S. Eliot's review of Grierson's anthology of metaphysical poetry, to the middle Forties it was largely taken for granted among literary persons, by many university teachers, and, I should say, by the majority of undergraduates that Donne was a more interesting and significant poet than Milton, and that in him English poetry reached a kind of high-water mark. To print a volume of twentieth century essays on Donne in which this view is not fully represented seems like presenting Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. I can only assure my readers that it is not the result of a deliberate policy of exclusion, but of my failure to discover a worthy written monument of what memory tells me was a pervasive "orthodox" view.

It was held equally strongly that Donne's greatness was a discovery of the twentieth century after over two hundred years of neglect. Here again, although scholarship can correct the view that Donne was unread in the . . .

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