John Donne: The Critical Heritage by A.J. Smith

By A.J. Smith

The writings during this moment quantity on Donne hide the years among 1873 and 1923. the gathering contains statement and feedback from Henry Morley, Edmund Gosse, W.F. Collier, Rudyard Kipling, Charles Eliot Norton, Henry Augistin Beers, Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot, and so on. jointly those works list the evolution of serious perspectives on Donne from 19th century onwards, and his starting to be significance within the twentieth-century literary canon.

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Saintsbury’s quandary shows that before more detailed work could be carried out profitably on Donne someone had to establish a more authoritative text. By 1909 there was some enthusiasm for publishing an edition of the poetry of another ‘difficult’ religious poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins,8 an appreciation that suggests the shift in literary taste that was to become more marked in the following decade. There was also a feeling, expressed by Janet Spens, that poetry of disillusion such as she found in Donne spoke to a similar contemporary mood.

John R. Roberts, who has prepared two annotated bibliographies of criticism of Donne (see Appendix C) remarks on the explosion of interest. The first of his bibliographies covered the period 1912–67 and contained 1300 items, the second covered only the ten years 1968–78 and had just over 1000 items. 12 Roberts laments two trends that he noticed in reading the more than 2000 items he annotated: first, that modern criticism ‘concerns itself primarily with less than xxxix half of Donne’s canon, confining itself narrowly to his secular love poems (a dozen or less of the poems in the Songs and Sonnets and to a much lesser extent the Elegies), to his specifically religious poems (almost exclusively the Holy Sonnets, “Goodfriday, 1613”, and the hymns), and more recently, to the Anniversaries’ (p.

The age’, he says, objects to the heroic and sublime, and it objects to the simplification and separation of the mental faculties. The objections are largely well grounded, and react against the nineteenth century; they are partly…a product of the popularization of the study of mental phenomena. Ethics having been eclipsed by psychology, we accept the belief that any state of mind is extremely complex, and chiefly composed of odds and ends in constant flux manipulated by desire and fear. When, therefore, we find a poet who neither suppresses nor falsifies, and who expresses complicated states of mind, we give him welcome.

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