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standing. As Jonson could justly hold him for some things the first poet in the world, so Dryden, with equal justice, could speak of him as
the greatest wit, though not the greatest poet of our nation.'
The reader who has been unacquainted with Donne's poetry will be struck by the difference of the poems
in this volume from the common love poetry of his sonneteering contemporaries. They show an individuality of sentiment, no less than of expression, which distinguishes them sharply from other poetry of the class to which they belong. Donne is essentially English, - a characteristically Elizabethan Englishman. There is no soft familiar Italian echo in his verse. He has often, indeed, been criticised for the harshness of his versification, and Ben Jonson (to cite another of his sayings concerning the poet) went so far as to assert that he deserved hanging for not keeping of accent.' His sins in this respect are frequent, but are committed more often in his other poems than in his love verse, and some of the faults of rhythm attributed to him are due to the reader rather than to the poet. He employs slurs and elisions to a degree that sometimes makes a faultless verse seem rough and difficult to a reader who may lie open to the charge which Holophernes brings against Sir Nathaniel in regard to his reading of Biron's sonnet, - You find not the apostrophes, and so miss the accent.' Donne sometimes moulded his verse more by the sense than by the sound, and used a license in versification strange to less eager and impassioned poets, and there is truth in the saying of Coleridge that 'to read Dryden, Pope, etc., you need only count syllables, but to read Donne you must measure time, and discover the time of each word by the sense of passion.'
In this little collection I have attempted to arrange the poems in a more natural order than that in which they have hitherto appeared. They fall for the most part into two divisions, the first being of those written when one mistress after another enthralled the youthful poet's susceptible fancy in a transient bondage, the second of those when his affections were fixed and his heart devoted to the woman who became his wife. Two or three poems lie outside either division. I have added a few notes at the end of the volume.
The text usually follows that of the edition of Mr. Chambers in the so-called Muses' Library, London, 1895, with which the text of the edition issued by the Grolier Club, also in 1895, closely corresponds. I have drawn a few improved readings from two manuscripts in my possession, both of earlier date than the first edition of the
CHARLES ELIOT NORTON.