SOME SEVENTEENTH-CENTURY POETS
AMONG the miscalled 'metaphysical' poets of the seven- teenth century, the man of most startling and original genius is John Donne: sensual, passionate, melancholy, learned, subtle, inexhaustibly curious, and, in his later years, deeply devout. He was a poet always, whether in verse or prose, with a raging appetite for experience and a restless probing wit that sought to penetrate to its inmost reality and was quick to discern correspondences analogies and identities in the most unexpected contexts. His audacious metaphors and far-fetched comparisons set a fashion in such things. Sometimes they seem merely wilful, both in him and in those who learnt the trick from him; but more often they are the indispensable vehicle of his thought: that subtle, passionate thought under whose weight his verse, with its numerous parentheses and qualifying clauses, seems sometimes to stagger and stumble. It would be idle to deny the name of mystic to a poet so deeply and continuously aware of the interpenetration of spirit and flesh as the author of The Ecstasy:
This ecstasy doth unperplex
(We said) and tell us what we love.
We see by this it was not sex,
We see we saw not what did move:
But, as all several things contain
Mixture of things, they know not what,
Love these mixt souls doth mix again,
And makes both one, each this and that.