The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (Modern Library Classics)

The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose - John Donne, Charles M. Coffin, Denis Donoghue I'd read some poems by Donne before, but it's amazing reading all his collected poems and being able to appreciate how consistently good they are--at least the sonnets and elegies which stand up being compared to those of Shakespeare. They're erudite, but accessible, although the edition I read didn't regularize the spelling--and frankly I think you only gain in readability if that's modernized and can't see what you'd lose unless you have a scholarly interest. Almost all the "Songs and Sonets" and "Elegies and Historical Epistle" that begin the Poetry section are love poetry, but they really run the gamut in tone. They're all witty and clever, and some are passionate and gorgeously romantic. Among those I particularly loved "The Good-Morrow," "The Sun Rising" and "Canonization." Others though are outrageous but funny ("The Flea") or bawdy ("Love's Progress") or surprisingly sensual, even erotic ("To His Mistress Coming to Bed"). Some are irreverent, cynical, even misogynist, and I'm not sure at times whether to take as tongue in cheek such humorous verse as "Go and Catch a Falling Star," "Woman's Constancy" or the last lines of "Love's Alchemy." "Hope not for mind in women: at their best sweetness and wit, they are but Mummy possessed." However, so many of the love poems seem to so strongly imply mutual love based on a respect for the beloved, it's hard to take seriously Donne's sometimes twitting of the female sex. (And reading his prose, which often speaks on topics concerning women, somehow doesn't clarify but only complicates the issue.) I have to admit grinning though at his epigram, "A Self Accuser:" Your mistress, that you follow whores, still taxeth you/'Tis strange that she should thus confess it, though 't be true. The best of the poetry are definitely amazing "five star" reads, but I wasn't enchanted by all of his poetry. I can't say I found any of the "Satyres" or "Verse Letters" all that winning. The next section in which I could say I could list favorites were among his "Holy Sonnets" which included XVII "At the round earth's imagin'd corners," the famous X "Death Be Not Proud" and XIV "Batter my heart, three perso'd God." The believing Christian may find the section of Divine Poems even more appealing, but even an unbeliever like me could appreciate their brilliance and passion as every bit as extraordinary as the love poetry. All in all, I'd rate the poetry section about four or even four and half stars in terms of how much I loved them, despite some I wasn't taken with. But then there's Donne's prose. It was moving, or at least interesting, reading some of his letters that dealt with his marriage, and there's the famous Meditation #17 From Devotions upon Emergent Occasions with its famous "no man is an island" passage. But I have to admit, I found most of the prose works a true slog I soon was skimming. It's not that I couldn't see there was a first rate mind still at work. But in the end I'm not a believing Christian, and the bulk of his prose works--half of them in the book are sermons--deal with very esoteric and dated religious issues I just couldn't care less about--and I'm the kind of person who actually read Lewis' Mere Christianity from beginning to end and counts Dante a favorite. So unless a reader has a scholarly interest in 17th century Christian theology, I'd find it hard to believe they would find reading these prose works interesting in the same way as, for instance, Montaigne's Essays written in the century before Donne which range wider in their topics and are still relevant and accessible to the modern reader. So unless you're a Donne scholar or have a particular interest in his times, you might actually be best off seeking a book with a selection of his poetry rather than this more comprehensive collection of his works of both his poetry and prose.