Modern Views on John Donne’s Love-Poetry with special Reference to “The Canonization”

Topics: Literary criticism, T. S. Eliot, New Criticism Pages: 18 (6618 words) Published: February 26, 2014
 Modern Views on John Donne’s Love-Poetry with special Reference to “The Canonization”

The table of contents

1. Introduction: John Donne – a brief reception-history

2. The prelude to modern reception: 1872 - 1912

3. T.S. Eliot and the revival of Donne and the Metaphysicals

4. Cleanth Brooks – a representative of the New Critics

5. The counter-movement: Reading Donne with background-knowledge

6. Ben Saunders’ Freudian Approach in Desiring Donne

7. A comprehensive view: Wilbur Sanders’ John Donne’s Poetry

8. Conclusion

9. List of works consulted/cited

1. Introduction: John Donne – a brief reception-history

Within the last hundred years a great number of scholars and professional critics have prepared the contemporary recipients for Donne’s poetry. In Donne‘s time, however, there was no need for mediators between the poets and his readers, because the small number of Donne-readers were well-educated Renaissance people. Donne probably assumed that his poems would please his fellow-students at the London Law School and the coteries, because they were witty, unconventional and provoking. And indeed, his creativity was appreciated even by his social superiors. So his poetry helped him to pursue his own interests. By the protection of his patrons who he understood to flatter in his work he succeeded twice in his lifetime to get a job. But already in Donne’s life-time the reception of his poetical work, especially of his love lyrics, became controversial. His fellow-poet Ben Jonson in his “Conversations” (1619) could not fully appreciate Donne’s poems anymore. As time progressed, during the Restoration period Dryden in his “Essays” (1668) and Samuel Johnson in his “Lives of the English Poets” (1779) contributed to a negative reception of Donne. Readers became disinterested in Donne and this attitude continued into the nineteenth century. In 1912 Andrew Lang in his “History of English Literature from ‘Beowulf’ to Swinburne” summed up the general mood on Donne’s poems that they “do not win admiration for Donne’s taste and temper, not to mention his morals”.(cited by Larson, 15) But at the same time a rediscovery began. New editions of Donne’s poems were published and poets and critics and a then small number of readers began to take an interest in Donne. After the First World War a real Donne-wave started with the publication of poet-critic T.S. Eliot’s essays on Donne and the metaphysical poets. During the next decades Eliot’s essay lead to a great number of publications by critics and scholars for an ever increasing number of readers at schools, colleges and universities. In a recent publication on Donne’s reception in the twentieth century the American scholar Deborah Aldrich Larson comes to the conclusion that “Of major English poets, only Shakespeare has had attached to his works more contradictory theories and interpretations than Donne has had attached to his.” (Larson, 161). In my essay I will focus on some representatives of the different streams. I will begin with the reawakening in the late 19th century, and T.S: Eliot’s merits for the revival of the metaphysical poets. Then I will deal with the method of close reading of the new critics and the counter-movement in the 1960s. A very recent Freudian view of Donne will follow and I will end my essay with Wilbur Sanders’ comprehensive interpretation of 1971. My essay will deal only with Donne’s love-poetry because it has gained the interest of so many readers and critics. In the main sections of my paper I will limit myself to various interpretations of the poem “The Canonization” because probably no other love-poem by Donne has caused so many controversies. In his life-time Donne was read only by a few educated people and courtiers. Today he is a classic in the Anglo-Saxon World and for students of literature all over the world. The main question I will try to answer in my essay is:...
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