His high place in the pantheon of the English poets now seems secure.Donne’s love poetry was written nearly 400 years ago; yet one reason for its appeal is that it speaks to us as directly and urgently as if we overhear a present confidence.
Exploiting and being exploited are taken as conditions of nature, which we share on equal terms with the beasts of the jungle and the ocean.
In “Metempsychosis” a whale and a holder of great office behave in precisely the same way: He hunts not fish, but as an officer, Stays in his court, as his own net, and there All suitors of all sorts themselves enthral; So on his back lies this whale wantoning, And in his gulf-like throat, sucks everything That passeth near.
During the Restoration his writing went out of fashion and remained so for several centuries.
Throughout the 18th century, and for much of the 19th century, he was little read and scarcely appreciated.
In Donne’s own day his poetry was highly prized among the small circle of his admirers, who read it as it was circulated in manuscript, and in his later years he gained wide fame as a preacher.
For some 30 years after his death successive editions of his verse stamped his powerful influence upon English poets.
Donne’s love poetry expresses a variety of amorous experiences that are often startlingly unlike each other, or even contradictory in their implications.
In “The Anniversary” he is not just being inconsistent when he moves from a justification of frequent changes of partners to celebrate a mutual attachment that is simply not subject to time, alteration, appetite, or the sheer pull of other worldly enticements.
Donne finds some striking images to define this state in which two people remain wholly one while they are separated.
Their souls are not divided but expanded by the distance between them, “Like gold to airy thinness beat”; or they move in response to each other as the legs of twin compasses, whose fixed foot keeps the moving foot steadfast in its path: Such wilt thou be to me, who must Like th’ other foot obliquely run; Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end, where I begun. The poems editors group together were not necessarily produced thus. Fewer than eight complete poems were published during his lifetime, and only two of these publications were authorized by him.