John Donne: Poems

The Value of Donne's Poetry

Donne is sick and his poetry is sick.

- Stanley Fish

Fish's comment, though extreme in its reductive appraisal, is nevertheless understandable. He may find Donne's poetry objectionable on three accounts: style, explicitness, and morbidity. With regards to style, Fish says Donne "is bulimic...someone who gorges himself to a point beyond satiety, and then sticks his finger down his throat and throws up." And Fish is certainly not alone in this sentiment.

C.S. Lewis called Donne the "saddest" and most "uncomfortable" of our poets, whose verse "exercises the same dreadful fascination that we feel in the grip of the worst kind of bore - the hot-eyed, inescapable kind." For his "not keeping of accent," Ben Jonson said that Donne "deserved hanging." And if Jonson finds fault with the way Donne ran roughshod over conventional rhythm, Deborah Larson finds his renegade semantic scope bewildering. "There is nothing," bewails Larson, "not even the ugly and disgusting, which his verse will not say, no manner, not even the rudest, which it will not adopt to attain its almost impossible ends." Added to this is Donne's apostasy. "The first thing to...

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