Norton introduced an edition of Donne's love-poems with an explanation of his editorial method, which derived from some questionable assumptions about the poems. Norton handled Donne's love-poetry cavalierly. He excluded major poems altogether, omitted whole sections of others, and took liberties with the texts of the poems he included (The Love Poems of John Donne, 1905, pp. vi-viii and 84).
Donne never made poetry his profession, and for the greater part of his life he was far more scholar and preacher than poet. His nature was extraordinarily complex. Heaven and Earth contended in it with a force that made his life a succession of alternating exaltation and depression, loftiness and baseness, rapture and despair. His work, whether in prose or verse, is the expression of a powerful intelligence, a passionate temperament and a vivid imagination irregularly subject to the check of a keen, practical understanding. As Jonson could justly hold him for some things the first poet in the world, so Dryden, with equal justice, could speak of him as 'the greatest wit, though not the greatest poet of our nation'.
The reader who has been unacquainted with Donne's poetry will be struck by the difference of the poems in this volume from the common love poetry of his sonneteering contemporaries. They show an individuality of sentiment, no less than of expression, which distinguishes them sharply from other poetry of the class to which they belong. Donne is essentially English, -a characteristically Elizabethan Englishman. There is no soft familiar Italian echo in his verse. He has often, indeed, been criticised for the harshness of his versification, and Ben Jonson (to cite another of his sayings concerning the poet) went so far as to assert that he 'deserved hanging for not keeping of accent'. His sins in this respect are frequent, but are committed more often in his other poems than in his love verse, and some of the faults of rhythm attributed to him are due to the reader rather than to the poet. He employs slurs and elisions to a degree that sometimes makes a faultless verse seem rough and difficult to a reader who may lie open to the charge which Holophernes brings against Sir Nathaniel in regard to his reading