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John Donne - About His Works

Written by: ARTHUR SYMONS

Biography as a fine art can go no further than Walton's Life and Death of Dr. Donne. From the 'good and virtuous parents' of the first line to the 'small quantity of Christian dust' of the last, every word is the touch of a cunning brush painting a picture. The picture lives, and with so vivid and gracious a life that it imposes itself upon us as the portrait of a real man, faithfully copied from the man as he lived. But that is precisely the art of the painter. Walton's picture is so beautiful because everything in it is sacrificed to beauty; because it is a convention, a picture in which life is treated almost as theme for music. And so there remains an opportunity, even after this masterpiece, for a life of Donne which shall make no pretence to[Pg 81] harmonise a sometimes discordant existence, or indeed to produce, properly speaking, a piece of art at all; but which shall be faithful to the document, a piece of history. Such a book has now been written by Mr. Gosse, in his Life and Letters of John Donne, Dean of St. Paul's. It is perhaps the most solid and serious contribution which Mr. Gosse has made to English literature, and we may well believe that it will remain the final authority on so interesting and so difficult a subject. For the first time, in the light of this clear analysis, and of these carefully arranged letters, we are able, if not indeed to see Donne as he really was, at all events to form our own opinion about every action of his life. This is one of the merits of Mr. Gosse's book; he has collected his documents, and he has given them to us as they are, guiding us adroitly along the course of the life which they illustrate, but not allowing himself to dogmatise on what must still remain conjectural. And he has given us a series of reproductions of portraits, of the highest importance in the study of one who is not merely a difficult poet, but a very ambiguous[Pg 82] human being. They begin with the eager, attractive, somewhat homely youth of eighteen, grasping the hilt of his sword so tightly that his knuckles start out from the thin covering of flesh; passing into the mature Donne as we know him, the lean, humorous, large-browed, courtly thinker, with his large intent eyes, a cloak folded elegantly about his uncovered throat, or the ruff tightening about his carefully trimmed beard; and ending with the ghastly emblem set as a frontispiece to Death's Duel, the dying man wrapped already in his shroud, which gathers into folds above his head, as if tied together like the mouth of a sack, while the sunken cheeks and hollow closed eyelids are mocked by the shapely moustache, brushed upwards from the lips. In the beautiful and fanciful monument in St. Paul's done after the drawing from which this frontispiece was engraved, there is less ghastliness and a more harmonious beauty in the brave attitude of a man who dresses for death as he would dress for Court, wearing the last livery with an almost foppish sense of propriety. Between them these portraits tell much, and Mr. Gosse, in his narrative, tells us [Pg 83]everything else that there is to tell, much of it for the first time; and the distinguished and saintly person of Walton's narrative, so simple, so easily explicable, becomes more complex at every moment, as fresh light makes the darkness more and more visible. At the end we seem to have become singularly intimate with a fascinating and puzzling creature, whom each of us may try to understand after his fashion, as we try to understand the real secrets of the character of our friends.

Donne's mind, then, if I may make my own attempt to understand him, was the mind of the dialectician, of the intellectual adventurer; he is a poet almost by accident, or at least for reasons with which art in the abstract has but little to do. He writes verse, first of all, because he has observed keenly, and because it pleases the pride of his intellect to satirise the pretensions of humanity. Then it is the flesh which speaks in his verse, the curiosity of woman, which he has explored in the same spirit of adventure; then passion, making a slave of him for love's sake, and turning at last to the slave's hatred; finally, religion, taken up[Pg 84] with the same intellectual interest, the same subtle indifference, and, in its turn, passing also into passionate reality. A few poems are inspired in him by what he has seen in remote countries; some are marriage songs and funeral elegies, written for friendship or for money. But he writes nothing 'out of his own head,' as we say; nothing lightly, or, it would seem, easily; nothing for the song's sake. He speaks, in a letter, of 'descending to print anything in verse'; and it is certain that he was never completely absorbed by his own poetry, or at all careful to measure his achievements against those of others. He took his own poems very seriously, he worked upon them with the whole force of his intellect; but to himself, even before he became a divine, he was something more than a poet. Poetry was but one means of expressing the many-sided activity of his mind and temperament. Prose was another, preaching another; travel and contact with great events and persons scarcely less important to him, in the building up of himself.

And he was interested in everything. At one moment he is setting himself to study[Pg 85] Oriental languages, a singularly difficult task in those days. Both in poetry and divinity he has more Spanish than English books in his library. Scientific and technical terms are constantly found in his verse, where we should least expect them, where indeed they are least welcome. In Ignatius—his Conclave he speaks with learned enthusiasm of Copernicus and Tycho Brahe, and of his own immediate contemporaries, then but just become famous, Galileo ('who of late hath summoned the other worlds, the stars, to come nearer to him, and to give an account of themselves') and Kepler ('who hath received it into his care, that no new thing should be done in heaven without his knowledge'). He rebukes himself for his abandonment to 'the worst voluptuousness, which is an hydroptic, immoderate desire of human learning and languages.' At twenty-three he was a soldier against Spain under Raleigh, and went on the 'Islands Voyage'; later on, at different periods, he travelled over many parts of the Continent, with rich patrons or on diplomatic offices. Born a Catholic, he became a Protestant, deliberately enough; wrote books on controversial subjects, against[Pg 86] his old party, before he had taken orders in the Church of England; besides a strange, morbid speculation on the innocence of suicide. He used his lawyer's training for dubious enough purposes, advising the Earl of Somerset in the dark business of his divorce and re-marriage. And, in a mournful pause in the midst of many harrowing concerns, he writes to a friend: 'When I must shipwreck, I would fain do it in a sea where mine own impotency might have some excuse; not in a sullen, weedy lake, where I could not have so much as exercise for my swimming. Therefore I would fain do something, but that I cannot tell what is no wonder.' 'Though I be in such a planetary and erratic fortune that I can do nothing constantly,' he confesses later in the same letter.

No doubt some of this feverish activity, this uncertainty of aim, was a matter of actual physical health. It is uncertain at what time the wasting disease, of which he died, first settled upon him; but he seems to have been always somewhat sickly of body, and with just that at times depressing, at times exciting, malady which tells most upon[Pg 87] the whole organisation. That preoccupation with death, which in early life led him to write his Biathanatos, with its elaborate apology for suicide, and at the end of his life to prepare so spectacularly for the act of dying, was but one symptom of a morbid state of body and brain and nerves, to which so many of his poems and so many of his letters bear witness. 'Sometimes,' he writes, in a characteristic letter, 'when I find myself transported with jollity and love of company, I hang lead to my heels, and reduce to my thoughts my fortunes, my years, the duties of a man, of a friend, of a husband, of a father, and all the incumbencies of a family; when sadness dejects me, either I countermine it with another sadness, or I kindle squibs about me again, and fly into sportfulness and company.'

At the age of thirty-five he writes from his bed describing every detail of what he frantically calls 'a sickness which I cannot name or describe,' and ends his letter: 'I profess to you truly, that my loathness to give over now, seems to myself an ill sign that I shall write no more.' It was at this time that he wrote the Biathanatos, with its[Pg 88] explicit declaration in the preface: 'Whensoever any affliction assails me, methinks I have the keys of my prison in mine own hand, and no remedy presents itself so soon to my heart as mine own sword.' Fifteen years later, when one of his most serious illnesses was upon him, and his life in real danger, he notes down all his symptoms as he lies awake night after night, with an extraordinary and, in itself, morbid acuteness. 'I observe the physician with the same diligence as he the disease; I see he fears, and I fear with him; I overtake him, I over-run him in his fear, because he makes his pace slow; I fear the more because he disguises his fear, and I see it with the more sharpness because he would not have me see it.' As he lies in bed, he realises 'I am mine own ghost, and rather affright my beholders than instruct them. They conceive the worst of me now, and yet fear worse; they give me for dead now, and yet wonder how I do when they wake at midnight, and ask how I do to-morrow. Miserable and inhuman posture, where I must practise my lying in the grave by lying still.' This preying upon itself of the brain[Pg 89] is but one significant indication of a temperament, neurotic enough indeed, but in which the neurosis is still that of the curious observer, the intellectual casuist, rather than of the artist. A wonderful piece of self-analysis, worthy of St. Augustine, which occurs in one of his funeral sermons, gives poignant expression to what must doubtless have been a common condition of so sensitive a brain. 'I throw myself down in my chamber, and I call in and invite God and His angels together; and when they are there, I neglect God and his angels for the noise of a fly, for the rattling of a coach, for the whining of a door; I talk on in the same posture of prayer, eyes lifted up, knees bowed down, as though I prayed to God; and if God should ask me when I last thought of God in that prayer, I cannot tell. Sometimes I find that I forgot what I was about; But when I began to forget it, I cannot tell. A memory of yesterday's pleasures, a fear of to-morrow's dangers, a straw under my knee, a noise in mine ear, a chimera in my brain, troubles me in my prayer.' It is this brain, turned inward upon itself, and darting out on every side in purely random[Pg 90] excursions, that was responsible, I cannot doubt, for all the contradictions of a career in which the inner logic is not at first apparent.

Donne's career divides itself sharply into three parts: his youth, when we see him a soldier, a traveller, a lover, a poet, unrestrained in all the passionate adventures of youth; then a middle period, in which he is a lawyer and a theologian, seeking knowledge and worldly advancement, without any too restraining scruple as to the means which come to his hand; and then a last stage of saintly living and dying. What then is the link between these successive periods, the principle of development, the real Donne in short? 'He was none of these, or all of these, or more,' says Mr. Gosse. But, surely, he was indeed all of these, and his individuality precisely the growth from one stage to another, the subtle intelligence being always there, working vividly, but in each period working in a different direction. 'I would fain do something, but that I cannot tell what is no wonder.' Everything in Donne seems to me to explain itself in that fundamental uncertainty of aim, and his uncertainty of aim partly by a morbid physical[Pg 91] condition. He searches, nothing satisfies him, tries everything, in vain; finding satisfaction at last in the Church, as in a haven of rest. Always it is the curious, insatiable brain searching. And he is always wretchedly aware that he 'can do nothing constantly.'

His three periods, then, are three stages in the search after a way to walk in, something worthy of himself to do. Thus, of his one printed collection of verse he writes: 'Of my Anniversaries, the fault which I acknowledge in myself is to have descended to print anything in verse, which, though it have excuse, even in our times, by example of men, which one would think should as little have done it as I, yet I confess I wonder how I declined to it, and do not pardon myself.' Of his legal studies he writes in the same letter: 'For my purpose of proceeding in the profession of the law, so far as to a title, you may be pleased to correct that imagination where you find it. I ever thought the study of it my best entertainment and pastime, but I have no ambition nor design upon the style.' Until he accepts religion, with all its limitations and [Pg 92]encouragements, he has not even sure landmarks on his way. So speculative a brain, able to prove, and proving for its own uneasy satisfaction, that even suicide is 'not so naturally sin, that it may never be otherwise,' could allow itself to be guided by no fixed rules; and to a brain so abstract, conduct must always have seemed of less importance than it does to most other people, and especially conduct which is argument, like the demonstrations on behalf of what seems, on the face of it, a somewhat iniquitous divorce and re-marriage, or like those unmeasured eulogies, both of this 'blest pair of swans,' and of the dead child of a rich father. He admits, in one of his letters, that in his elegies, 'I did best when I had least truth for my subjects'; and of the Anniversaries in honour of little Mistress Drury, 'But for the other part of the imputation of having said so much, my defence is, that my purpose was to say as well as I could; for since I never saw the gentlewoman, I cannot be understood to have bound myself to have spoken the just truth.' He is always the casuist, always mentally impartial in the face of a moral problem, reserving judgment on[Pg 93] matters which, after all, seem to him remote from an unimpassioned contemplation of things; until that moment of crisis comes, long after he has become a clergyman, when the death of his wife changed the world for him, and he became, in the words of Walton, 'crucified to the world, and all those vanities, those imaginary pleasures, that are daily acted on that restless stage; and they were as perfectly crucified to him.' From that time to the end of his life he had found what he had all the while been seeking: rest for the restlessness of his mind, in a meditation upon the divine nature; occupation, in being 'ambassador of God,' through the pulpit; himself, as it seemed to him, at his fullest and noblest. It was himself, really, that he had been seeking all the time, conscious at least of that in all the deviations of the way; himself, the ultimate of his curiosities.

II

And yet, what remains to us out of this life of many purposes, which had found an end satisfying to itself in the Deanery of[Pg 94] St. Paul's, is simply a bundle of manuscript verses, which the writer could bring himself neither to print nor to destroy. His first satire speaks contemptuously of 'giddy fantastic poets,' and, when he allowed himself to write poetry, he was resolved to do something different from what anybody had ever done before, not so much from the artist's instinctive desire of originality, as from a kind of haughty, yet really bourgeois, desire to be indebted to nobody. With what care he wrote is confessed in a passage of one of his letters, where, speaking of a sermon, he says: 'For, as Cardinal Cusanus wrote a book, Cribratio Alchorani, I have cribrated, and re-cribrated, and post-cribrated the sermon, and must necessarily say, the King, who hath let fall his eye upon some of my poems, never saw, of mine, a hand, or an eye, or an affection, set down with so much study and diligence, and labour of syllables, as in this sermon I expressed those two points.' But he thought there were other things more important than being a poet, and this very labour of his was partly a sign of it. 'He began,' says Mr. Gosse with truth, 'as if poetry had never been written before.'[Pg 95] To the people of his time, to those who came immediately after him, he was the restorer of English poetry.

The Muses' garden, with pedantic weeds
O'erspread, was purged by thee,

says Carew, in those memorial verses in which the famous lines occur:

Here lies a king that ruled as he thought fit
The universal monarchy of wit.

Shakespeare was living, remember, and it was Elizabethan poetry that Donne set himself to correct. He began with metre, and invented a system of prosody which has many merits, and would have had more in less arbitrary hands. 'Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging,' said Ben Jonson, who was nevertheless his friend and admirer. And yet, if one will but read him always for the sense, for the natural emphasis of what he has to say, there are few lines which will not come out in at all events the way that he meant them to be delivered. The way he meant them to be delivered is not always as beautiful as it is expressive. Donne would be original at all costs, preferring himself to his art. He treated poetry[Pg 96] as Æsop's master treated his slave, and broke what he could not bend.

But Donne's novelty of metre is only a part of his too deliberate novelty as a poet. As Mr. Gosse has pointed out, with a self-evident truth which has apparently waited for him to say it, Donne's real position in regard to the poetry of his time was that of a realistic writer, who makes a clean sweep of tradition, and puts everything down in the most modern words and with the help of the most trivial actual images.

To what a cumbersome unwieldiness,
And burdensome corpulence my love hath grown,

he will begin a poem on Love's Diet. Of love, as the master of hearts, he declares seriously:

He swallows us and never chaws;
By him, as by chain'd shot, whole ranks do die;
He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.

And, in his unwise insistence that every metaphor shall be absolutely new, he drags medical and alchemical and legal properties into verse really full of personal passion, producing at times poetry which is a kind of disease of the intellect, a sick offshoot of science. Like most poets of powerful[Pg 97] individuality, Donne lost precisely where he gained. That cumulative and crowding and sweeping intellect which builds up his greatest poems into miniature Escurials of poetry, mountainous and four-square to all the winds of the world, 'purges' too often the flowers as well as the weeds out of 'the Muses' garden.' To write poetry as if it had never been written before is to attempt what the greatest poets never attempted. There are only two poets in English literature who thus stand out of the tradition, who are without ancestors, Donne and Browning. Each seems to have certain qualities almost greater than the qualities of the greatest; and yet in each some precipitation of arrogant egoism remains in the crucible, in which the draught has all but run immortally clear.

Donne's quality of passion is unique in English poetry. It is a rapture in which the mind is supreme, a reasonable rapture, and yet carried to a pitch of actual violence. The words themselves rarely count for much, as they do in Crashaw, for instance, where words turn giddy at the height of their ascension. The words mean things, and it is the things that matter. They can be[Pg 98] brutal: 'For God's sake, hold your tongue, and let me love!' as if a long, pre-supposed self-repression gave way suddenly, in an outburst. 'Love, any devil else but you,' he begins, in his abrupt leap to the heart of the matter. Or else his exaltation will be grave, tranquil, measureless in assurance.

All kings, and all their favourites,
All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun itself, which makes time, as they pass,
Is elder by a year now than it was
When thou and I first one another saw.
All other things to their destruction draw,
Only our love hath no decay;
This no to-morrow hath, no yesterday;
Running, it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

This lover loves with his whole nature, and so collectedly because reason, in him, is not in conflict with passion, but passion's ally. His senses speak with unparalleled directness, as in those elegies which must remain the model in English of masculine sensual sobriety. He distinguishes the true end of such loving in a forcible, characteristically prosaic image:

Whoever loves, if he do not propose
The right true end of love, he's one that goes
To sea for nothing but to make him sick.

[Pg 99]

And he exemplifies every motion and the whole pilgrim's progress of physical love, with a deliberate, triumphant, unluxurious explicitness which 'leaves no doubt,' as we say 'of his intentions,' and can be no more than referred to passingly in modern pages. In a series of hate poems, of which I will quote the finest, he gives expression to a whole region of profound human sentiment which has never been expressed, out of Catullus, with such intolerable truth.

When by thy scorn, O murderess, I am dead,
And that thou think'st thee free
From all solicitation from me,
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed,
And thee, feign'd vestal, in worse arms shall see:
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink,
And he, whose thou art then, being tired before,
Will, if thou stir, or pinch to wake him, think
Thou call'st for more,
And, in false sleep, will from thee shrink;
And then, poor aspen wretch, neglected thou
Bathed in a cold quicksilver sweat wilt lie
A verier ghost than I.
What I will say, I will not tell thee now,
Lest that preserve thee; and since my love is spent,
I'd rather thou should'st painfully repent,
Than by my threatenings rest still innocent.

Yet it is the same lover, and very evidently[Pg 100] the same, who winnows all this earthly passion to a fine, fruitful dust, fit to make bread for angels. Ecstatic reason, passion justifying its intoxication by revealing the mysteries that it has come thus to apprehend, speak in the quintessence of Donne's verse with an exalted simplicity which seems to make a new language for love. It is the simplicity of a perfectly abstract geometrical problem, solved by one to whom the rapture of solution is the blossoming of pure reason. Read the poem called The Ecstasy, which seems to anticipate a metaphysical Blake; it is all close reasoning, step by step, and yet is what its title claims for it.

It may be, though I doubt it, that other poets who have written personal verse in English, have known as much of women's hearts and the senses of men, and the interchanges of passionate intercourse between man and woman; but, partly by reason of this very method of saying things, no one has ever rendered so exactly, and with such elaborate subtlety, every mood of the actual passion. It has been done in prose; may one not think of Stendhal, for a certain way he has of turning the whole[Pg 101] forces of the mind upon those emotions and sensations which are mostly left to the heat of an unreflective excitement? Donne, as he suffers all the colds and fevers of love, is as much the sufferer and the physician of his disease as we have seen him to be in cases of actual physical sickness. Always detached from himself, even when he is most helplessly the slave of circumstances, he has that frightful faculty of seeing through his own illusions; of having no illusions to the mind, only to the senses. Other poets, with more wisdom towards poetry, give us the beautiful or pathetic results of no matter what creeping or soaring passions. Donne, making a new thing certainly, if not always a thing of beauty, tells us exactly what a man really feels as he makes love to a woman, as he sits beside her husband at table, as he dreams of her in absence, as he scorns himself for loving her, as he hates or despises her for loving him, as he realises all that is stupid in her devotion, and all that is animal in his. 'Nature's lay idiot, I taught thee to love,' he tells her, in a burst of angry contempt, priding himself on his superior craft in the art. And his devotions[Pg 102] to her are exquisite, appealing to what is most responsive in woman, beyond those of tenderer poets. A woman cares most for the lover who understands her best, and is least taken in by what it is the method of her tradition to feign. So wearily conscious that she is not the abstract angel of her pretence and of her adorers, she will go far in sheer thankfulness to the man who can see so straight into her heart as to have

found something like a heart,
But colours it and corners had;
It was not good, it was not bad,
It was entire to none, and few had part.

Donne shows women themselves, in delight, anger, or despair; they know that he finds nothing in the world more interesting, and they much more than forgive him for all the ill he says of them. If women most conscious of their sex were ever to read Donne, they would say, He was a great lover; he understood.

And, in the poems of divine love, there is the same quality of mental emotion as in the poems of human love. Donne adores God reasonably, knowing why he adores Him. He renders thanks point by point,[Pg 103] celebrates the heavenly perfections with metaphysical precision, and is no vaguer with God than with woman. Donne knew what he believed and why he believed, and is carried into no heat or mist as he tells over the recording rosary of his devotions. His Holy Sonnets are a kind of argument with God; they tell over, and discuss, and resolve, such perplexities of faith and reason as would really occur to a speculative brain like his. Thought crowds in upon thought, in these tightly packed lines, which but rarely admit a splendour of this kind:

At the round earth's imagined corners blow
Your trumpets, angels, and arise, arise
From death, you numberless infinities
Of souls, and to your scattered bodies go.

More typical is this too knotted beginning of another sonnet:

Batter my heart, three-person'd God; for you
As yet but knock; breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.

Having something very minute and very exact to say, he hates to leave anything out; dreading diffuseness, as he dreads the[Pg 104] tame sweetness of an easy melody, he will use only the smallest possible number of words to render his thought; and so, as here, he is too often ingenious rather than felicitous, forgetting that to the poet poetry comes first, and all the rest afterwards.

For the writing of great poetry something more is needed than to be a poet and to have great occasions. Donne was a poet, and he had the passions and the passionate adventures, in body and mind, which make the material for poetry; he was sincere to himself in expressing what he really felt under the burden of strong emotion and sharp sensation. Almost every poem that he wrote is written on a genuine inspiration, a genuine personal inspiration, but most of his poems seem to have been written before that personal inspiration has had time to fuse itself with the poetic inspiration. It is always useful to remember Wordsworth's phrase of 'emotion recollected in tranquillity,' for nothing so well defines that moment of crystallisation in which direct emotion or sensation deviates exquisitely into art. Donne is intent on the passion itself, the thought, the reality; so intent that he is[Pg 105] not at the same time, in that half-unconscious way which is the way of the really great poet, equally intent on the form, that both may come to ripeness together. Again it is the heresy of the realist. Just as he drags into his verse words that have had no time to take colour from men's association of them with beauty, so he puts his 'naked thinking heart' into verse as if he were setting forth an argument. He gives us the real thing, as he would have been proud to assure us. But poetry will have nothing to do with real things, until it has translated them into a diviner world. That world may be as closely the pattern of ours as the worlds which Dante saw in hell and purgatory; the language of the poet may be as close to the language of daily speech as the supreme poetic language of Dante. But the personal or human reality and the imaginative or divine reality must be perfectly interfused, or the art will be at fault. Donne is too proud to abandon himself to his own inspiration, to his inspiration as a poet; he would be something more than a voice for deeper yet speechless powers; he would make poetry speak straight. Well,[Pg 106] poetry will not speak straight, in the way Donne wished it to, and under the goading that his restless intellect gave it.

He forgot beauty, preferring to it every form of truth, and beauty has revenged itself upon him, glittering miraculously out of many lines in which he wrote humbly, and leaving the darkness of a retreating shadow upon great spaces in which a confident intellect was conscious of shining.

For, though mind be the heaven, where love may sit,
Beauty a convenient type may be to figure it,

he writes, in the Valediction to his Book, thus giving formal expression to his heresy. 'The greatest wit, though not the best poet of our nation,' Dryden called him; the greatest intellect, that is, which had expressed itself in poetry. Dryden himself was not always careful to distinguish between what material was fit and what unfit for verse; so that we can now enjoy his masterly prose with more equable pleasure than his verse. But he saw clearly enough the distinction in Donne between intellect and the poetical spirit; that fatal division of two forces, which, had they pulled[Pg 107] together instead of apart, might have achieved a result wholly splendid. Without a great intellect no man was ever a great poet; but to possess a great intellect is not even a first step in the direction of becoming a poet at all.

Compare Donne, for instance, with Herrick. Herrick has little enough of the intellect, the passion, the weight and the magnificence of Donne; but, setting out with so much less to carry, he certainly gets first to the goal, and partly by running always in the right direction. The most limited poet in the language, he is the surest. He knows the airs that weave themselves into songs, as he knows the flowers that twine best into garlands. Words come to him in an order which no one will ever alter, and no one will ever forget. Whether they come easily or not is no matter; he knows when they have come right, and they always come right before he lets them go. But Donne is only occasionally sure of his words as airs; he sets them doggedly to the work of saying something, whether or no they step to the beat of the music. Conscious writer though he was, I suppose he was more or less[Pg 108] unconscious of his extraordinary felicities, more conscious probably of how they came than of what they were doing. And they come chiefly through a sudden heightening of mood, which brings with it a clearer and a more exalted mode of speech, in its merely accurate expression of itself. Even then I cannot imagine him quite reconciled to beauty, at least actually doing homage to it, but rather as one who receives a gift by the way.

1899.




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