JOHN DONNE, we sometimes forget, was an Elizabethan. Scholars do well to warn us against over-simplifying the pattern of literary change into a simple succession ofmovements and 'reactions', and to remind us that in periods of heightened vitality developments in different directions often exist side by side.1 By no means all of what we now consider typically Elizabethan poetry was in existence when Donne began to write. It remains true, nevertheless, that Donne chose to do something different from his predecessors and from those of his contemporaries who were still exploiting and developing the existing modes; and younger followers like. Carew looked back on this choice as revolt or form:
The Muses garden with Pedantique weedes
O'rspred, was purg'd by thee; The lazie seeds
Ofservile imitation throwne away
And fresh invention planted ....
An Elegit upon the death of the Deane of
Pauls, DrJohn Donne
Modem students ofrhetoric have argued that Donne's innovations did not run counter to contemporary rules,2 but even if he is to be regarded as implementing existing theoretical possibilities, his practice remains the kind ofnew departure which marks a decisive alteration in the course of literary history.
In considering the nature of Donne's poetic originality, it is common to begin with his development of the metaphysical conceit.
Yet there is a great deal to say on the subject ofhis verse style before broaching the topic of imagery at all. The first point likely to strike the reader who comes to Donne from the smooth fluency of the average Elizabethan lyric or sonnet is the surprising directness of the speaking voice conveyed by his rhythms and diction:
For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love,
Or chide my palsie, or my gout,
My five gray haires, or ruin'd fortune £lout,
THE POEMS OF JOHN DONNE
With wealth your state, your minde with Arts improve.
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his honour, or his grace,
Or the King's reall, or...
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