John Donne – Complete Poetical Works (Delphi Classics)

When I first learned how to appreciate poetry, which wasn’t that long ago, the first thing I learned was to slow down, to let the imagery and the language talk to my heart, not to my head.  I think I’ve been whittling away at this for well over a year now, reading a single poem and then letting it digest over the next few days.

I’m rather grateful to the Delphi Classics series.  For those who want the luxury of a complete works without the bulk of a large and unwieldy tome or the financial expense that goes with it, this ebook series is a fantastic way to build a library on the cheap.  And as in my case with John Donne, it’s a great way to become acquainted with an author whose works were previously unknown to me.  As is my habit, I’ll likely track down a paper copy for my personal library at some point.

One of the primary issues I have on an ereader is that it’s difficult to find what I’m looking for if I decide to look for something specific.  The Delphi series took that into account.  This is what the book looks like from the inside:

CONTENTS:
The Poetry Collections
SONGS AND SONNETS
ELEGIES
DIVINE POEMS
HOLY SONNETS
OTHER DIVINE POEMS
SATIRES
MARRIAGE SONGS
VERSE LETTERS
EPICEDES AND OBSEQUIES
EPIGRAMS
INFINITATI SACRUM
THE ANNIVERSARIES
LATIN POEMS
DOUBTFUL VERSES

The Poems
LIST OF POEMS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
LIST OF POEMS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER

The Prose
BIATHANATOS
IGNATIUS HIS CONCLAVE
DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS
PARADOXES
PROBLEMS

The Letters
LIST OF LETTERS

The Biographies
THE LIFE OF DR. JOHN DONNE by Izaak Walton
JOHN DONNE by Arthur Symons
JOHN DONNE by Robert Lynd

Note that there are two ways to search for a specific poem, by date and by title, which will certainly come in handy at a later date.  For my purposes this time, I simply read this front to back.

As Donne hails from the late Renaissance and early Baroque, his work is every bit as complicated to the modern reader as one would expect.  Considering the metaphysical nature of his work, it’s fair to say he’s far more difficult to approach than his contemporary, William Shakespeare; certainly I found that to be the case.  I won’t pretend to understand everything I read, especially when I first began.  I also won’t pretend that I enjoyed it all.  But this isn’t always what poetry is about.  There is far more to appreciation than simply enjoyment, and deeper understanding often takes time and consideration.   As with Shakespeare, much of Donne’s work is as timeless as it is a product of its time.  History and social context, especially considering the Reformation and Donne’s personal beliefs, lends to further appreciation.  As with anything, the more you engage, the easier the material becomes.  Enjoyment follows on its own time.  I can only say that I found the time I spent with this to be well worth it.

Just a side note: there are musical translations of Donne’s work dating back to his own lifetime from the likes of John Dowland and Henry Cooper, and as modern as Benjamin Britten or Anton Batagov.  As a musical enthusiast, it’s always fun to drop down such rabbit holes.

5 stars

2 thoughts on “John Donne – Complete Poetical Works (Delphi Classics)

  1. Excellent post, and a very needed look at a great poet. Donne, owing to his use of innovation, was a better poet than Shakespeare (Shakespeare had other better attributes). He took English poetry into the modern age. His crisis of conscience – defecting from Rome to Canterbury – is in itself a great story, in some ways a prequel to the spy defections of the Cold War. But we remember him for the personal rather than the political. His religious poems are more about the loss of his wife than religion. The pain of his desolate loneliness and loss becomes raw and physical.

    On the death of his wife, Anne …

    Holy Sonnet 17

    Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debt
    To Nature, and to hers, and my good is dead,
    And her soul early into heaven ravished,
    Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set.
    Here the admiring her my mind did whet
    To seek thee, God; so streams do show the head;
    But though I have found thee, and thou my thirst hast fed,
    A holy thirsty dropsy melts me yet.
    But why should I beg more love, whenas thou
    Dost woo my soul, for hers offering all thine:
    And dost not only fear lest I allow
    My love to saints and angels, things divine,
    But in thy tender jealousy dost doubt
    Lest the world, flesh, yea, devil put thee out.

    On reading this, I’m just speechless…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’m not even sure what drew me to Donne in the first place. I recall that at the time, I was still tiptoeing into the Shakespearean waters, but I needed some points of comparison. As you say, each has their strengths, and think understanding what those are helps me to appreciate both on their own terms as part of the same zeitgeist.

      I remember reading this one. I still struggle with some of the verbiage, but I agree with you. It’s powerful in the extreme. That kind of pain is hits on a universal level.

      Liked by 1 person

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