John Donne undone

John Donne was a poet and a priest. He came from a family well established in the Catholic resistance, yet was a defender of the authority and legitimacy of the Church of England.
John Donne subverted authority by marrying in defiance of social and legal authority, yet desperately sought the approval and favor of those in authority.

In brief summations of history, we tend toward clear-cut terms and single emphasis: these two groups fought and the winners lived happily ever after (for a little while until a new group arises to challenge them.) This important person was this, ignoring that. A warrior, overlooking the poet. He’s a humanitarian, missing his corruption. Or vice versa, depending the tint of our own glasses. The complications and nuances of history don’t fit well onto time-lines or rote recitations of the facts. History is, in fact, a rather messy venture.

I just finished reading John Donne: the Reformed Soul by John Stubbs. The life of poet-priest John Donne is a prime example of the complexities presented in study of history. (Coincidentally(?), the November issue of Tabletalk is on the English Reformation.)

John Donne was born to a Catholic family with a history of resistance. He was related to Sir Thomas More, who was executed by Henry VIII. His brother died while imprisoned for aiding a Jesuit missionary. His mother spent much of her later life in exile in Europe.

Donne had no desire to die young or be exiled. In fact, the wanted a public career–meaning he wanted to work for the monarch in some capacity. Sometime in his youth he became a protestant. His rather complicated and interesting marriage shuttled his plans as a public man and (oddly) he became one of the foremost preachers of the Anglican church.

Today we remember him mainly for his poems and other writings, particularly the famous piece, “For whom the bell tolls,” which is actually part of a larger meditation and not really a poem. His journey from orphaned child of an ironmonger and member of a suspect sect to priest and Dean of the most important church in London is an interesting voyage. During sensual stimulation, there is cost viagra online a chemical known as capsaicin which can act as vasodilator. The Karlovy Vary healing mineral water get more cheap viagra order has been proven for hundreds of years. So often companies pay lip service to the usual side-effect suspects of hair-loss, acne, and sexual dysfunction, but they don’t compare with buy levitra this one. The medicine provides davidfraymusic.com tablet viagra one to with a person s sexual health. Donne himself was a brilliant, complex and selfish man. That he was one of the most gifted writers of all time is certain. That he never acted without considering his own advancement is almost as certain. He pandered to nobility and played political games. Yet his poetry and his meditations resonate even today.

As for his marriage, what must it have been like to be married to a poet? Loving sonnets, sweet notes left on the pillow? His most (in)famous verse about his marriage to Anne is:

“John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone.”

Sweet, huh? John and Anne married secretly and against her father’s wishes. John spent time in prison, lost his job and had his career derailed. Marriage was a social and economic transaction and John and Anne thwarted her family society and the law by their secret marriage. He had to sue his father-in-law to have his marriage declared valid. Fortunately, he prevailed and he and Anne had a relatively happy marriage and seemed to love each other very much. But certainly all his plans were “undone.” (He did write lovely and loving poems about Anne.)

Donne had A poet’s passion, a lawyer’s mind, and a family heritage of religious service. After refusing to become a priest and repeated attempts to gain a state position, King James I basically commanded him to become a priest and use his sharp legal mind to answer Roman Catholic attacks and keep the Puritans in line. He would be the King’s man after all.

For all his ambition and politicing, Donne was a devout man. King James chose him as his defender on the strength of his apologetics work. As a poet, he crafted words to stir and he delivered the approved line with beauty. As important as it is not to simplify Donne, his life or his times, Donne was above all a poet and worker in words. He was a complicated man in complicated times.

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