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:
The Poetry Collections
SONGS AND SONNETS
OTHER DIVINE POEMS
EPICEDES AND OBSEQUIES
LIST OF POEMS IN CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
LIST OF POEMS IN ALPHABETICAL ORDER
IGNATIUS HIS CONCLAVE
DEVOTIONS UPON EMERGENT OCCASIONS
LIST OF LETTERS
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.