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John Donne John Donne

JOHN DONNE

Poet and Priest

1572-1631







Part 1: The Shape of His Life

NARRATOR: John Donne was born into a devout Catholic family, yet became an ambitious young man about town , writing some of the most beautiful, sensual poetry in the English language.
DONNE: Go and catch a falling star,
Go and Catch a Falling Star read by Shaun MacLoughlin Get with child a mandrake root,
Tell me where all past years are,
Or who cleft the devil's foot,
Teach me to hear mermaids singing,
Or to keep off envy's stinging,
   And find
   What wind
Serves to advance an honest mind.

If thou be'st born to strange sights,
Things invisible to see,
Ride ten thousand days and nights,
Till age snow white hairs on thee,
Thou, when thou return'st, wilt tell me,
All strange wonders that befell thee,
   And swear,
   No where
Lives a woman true and fair.
NARRATOR: At the age of 30 he ruined his worldly prospects by marrying in secret, Ann, the 15 year old daughter of an influential and unforgiving father.   He wrote his poem Air and Angels to her.  Here is the first stanza:
DONNE: TWICE or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name ;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame
Angels affect us oft, and worshipp'd be.
Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing did I see.
But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
More subtle than the parent is
Love must not be, but take a body too ;
And therefore what thou wert, and who,
I bid Love ask, and now
That it assume thy body, I allow,
And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow.
NARRATOR: As well as struggling to support a family of twelve children he underwent a religious crisis, finally, after his wife's death, becoming the highly respected Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral.  Towards the end of his life, lying ill in bed he heard the tolling of a funeral bell.
DONNE: No man is an island, entire of itself, every man is a piece of the Continent; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less; any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
NARRATOR: That, in brief, is the shape of his life. Today he is best known for his love poetry, as in The Bait
DONNE: COME live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.

There will the river whisp'ring run
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there th' enamour'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be'st loth,
By sun or moon, thou dark'nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare, or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest ;
Or curious traitors, sleeve-silk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes' wand'ring eyes.

For thee, thou need'st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch'd thereby,
Alas ! is wiser far than I.

Part 2: More Early Love Poems, Lincoln's Inn and the Death of his Brother, Henry:  To His Mistress Going to Bed, Farewell to Love and A Verse Letter to Mr. E. G.


Contents of Donne Pages.

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We recommend four biographies: the outstanding Donne, The Reformed Soul by John Stubbs.  Robert Nye writes: "It is the best life of Donne, which I for one have ever read.  If this marvellous book doesn't win one of the major literary prizes,then we have the wrong judges."  We also recommend Man of Flesh and Spirit by David L Edwards, former Speaker's Chaplain in the House of Commons, and John Donne, Life, Mind and Art by John Carey, former Chairman of the Manbooker Prize and very successful beekeeper, and of course the first biography by Izaak Walton, who also wrote the classic, The Compleat Angler.