One Equall Light: An Anthology of the Writings of John Donne

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One Equall Light: An Anthology of the Writings of John Donne. Edited by John Moses. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. xviii + 352 pp. $28.00 (cloth).

This anthology, containing more than 1,000 quotations from the prose and poetry of John Donne, serves the salutary and paradoxical purpose of reintroducing the general reader to an iconic literary figure of the English Renaissance, one of those mainstays of the college English survey course who, we might lazily assume, "needs no introduction." John Moses, the Dean of St. Paul's, has done a great deal to restore his celebrated predecessor to the place he should occupy among Anglican standard divines. This anthology fills a gap between the skimpy handful of poems plus a scrap of Meditation XVII ("No Man is an Island") that most of us encountered first and remember best, and the vastness of the Collected Works.

The set pieces are here, indeed: "I can love both faire and browne," "Goe, and catch a falling starre," "Death be not proud." But they are refreshed by their presentation in unaccustomed contexts, juxtaposed with less familiar selections of both poetry and prose, arranged thematically under two main headings: "Humanity" ("The Human Condition," "The Love of Men and Women," and so forth) and "Divinity" ("On Discerning God," "The Holy Trinity," "The Body of Christ," and others, ending with "The Last Things"). The effect is to reveal a much wider range and a much more complex equilibrium of Donne's concerns.

The preponderance of prose quotations, and the greater length of the "Divinity" section, also correct a misperception of Donne's true value as preacher and theologian. In effect, this collection liberates Donne from the ghetto of purely (or merely) literary interest and significance. In the process, he has been made available to other kinds of reading: reading for devotional purposes, reading for spiritual refreshment-even reading for homiletic and pastoral inspiration and encouragement: "As faith without fruit, without works, is no faith; so faith without a root, without reason, is no faith, but an opinion" (p. …