Critical Reception on John Donne

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  • Topic: Metaphysical poets, John Donne, England
  • Pages : 2 (488 words )
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  • Published : November 15, 2010
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The history of Donne's reputation is one of the most remarkable of any major writer in English; no other poet currently so admired has fallen from favor for so long and been so condemned as inept and crude. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Donne's unpublished poetry was highly prized within his small literary circle. The first collection of Donne's poetry, titled simply Poems, was published two years after his death and prefaced with elegies by Izaak Walton, Thomas Carew, and other contemporaries who admired his work. Donne's “strong lines” and metaphysical conceits continued to influence poets such as Andrew Marvell, Henry Vaughn, and George Herbert—known now as the Metaphysical Poets—some thirty years after his death. However, not all contemporaries were enamored of Donne. Ben Jonson appreciated Donne's early poetry and declared him “the first poet in the World in some things” but also expressed frustration, stating, “Don[n]e for not keeping accent deserved hanging.” Toward the end of the seventeenth century John Dryden characterized Donne as more a wit than a poet. Indeed, Donne was often accused of overdoing his wit. In the eighteenth century the essayist Samuel Johnson wrote a scathing critique of Donne's poetry in which he used the term “metaphysical” to describe poets who flaunted their cleverness to construct outlandish paradoxes. Johnson disapprovingly called Donne's witty conceits discordia concors or “harmonious discord.” In the early nineteenth century, the Romantic poets, notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge, were struck by how Donne's poetry exhibited an agile mind at play. In “On Donne's Poetry” (1818), Coleridge wrote: “With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots, / Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots; / Rhyme's sturdy cripple, fancy's maze and clue. / Wit's forge and fire-blast, meaning's press and screw.” The poet Robert Browning also admired Donne, but not until the 1890s was Donne's poetry celebrated by avant-garde writers...
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