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The following is to the same purpose, but more imbued with the writer's subtlety of thought and far-fetched ingenuity of illustration.
“ Woman's Constancy.
Or, your own end to justify
Which I abstain to do,
The whole of the foregoing extracts are taken from the first department of Donne's poetry--the Love-verses. The only others that we shall choose from these, will be a few specimens of the truth and beauty that are frequently to be met with in Donne, in the shape of detached thoughts, images, &c. Nothing was ever more exquisitely felt or expressed, than this opening stanza of a little poem, entitled “ The Blossom.”
« Little thinkest thou, poor flower,-
Little thinkest thou
The admirer of Wordsworth's style of language and versification will see, at once, that it is, at its best, nothing more than a return to this. How beautiful is the following bit of description !
“ When I behold a stream, which from the spring
The following is exquisite in its way. It is part of an epithalamion.
and night is come; and yet we see
The simile of the clock is an example (not an offensive one) of Donne's peculiar mode of illustration. He scarcely writes a stanza without some ingenious simile of this kind.
The two first lines of the following are very solemn and far-thoughted. There is nothing of the kind in poetry superior to them. I add the lines which succeed them, merely to shew the manner in which the thought is applied.
“I long to talk with some old lover's ghost,
Of Donne's other poems, the Funeral Elegies, Epistles, Satires, and what he calls his “ Divine Poems," particularly the last named, we have little to say in the way of general praise, and but few extracts to offer. We shall, however, notice and illustrate each class briefly, in order that the reader may have a fair impression of the whole body of this writer's poetical works.
The Epistles of Donne we like less than any of his other poems, always excepting the religious ones. Not that they are without his usual proportion of subtle thinking, felicitous illustration, and skilful versification; but they are disfigured by more than his usual obscurity-by a harshness of style, that is to be found in few of his other poems, except the satires-by an extravagance of hyperbole in the way of compliment, that often amounts to the ridiculous—and by an evident want of sincerity, that is worse than all. To whomever they are addressed, all are couched in the same style of expression, and reach the same pitch of praise. Every one of his correspondents is, without exception, “wisest, virtuousest, discreetest, best." It is as if his letters had been composed at leisure, and kept ready cut and dried till wanted.
Though it will not exactly bear quotation, perhaps the most poetical, as well as the most characteristic, of the Epistles is the imaginary one (the only one of that description) from Sappho to Philænis.
The following is finely thought and happily expressed. It is part of an Epistle to Sir Henry Wotton.
“Be, then, thine own home, and in thyself dwell;
Let men dispute whether thou breathe, or no.” We can afford no other extract from the Epistles, although many most curious ones might be found; but pass on to the Funeral Elegies. . All Donne's poems, even his best, with one or two exceptions, are laboured in the highest degree; and the Funeral Elegies are still more so than any of the others. They have all the faults of his style, and this one above all. Still they abound in passages of great force, depth, and beauty ; but none of them will bear extracting entire-at least, none which are properly included in this class. But there is one poem printed among these, which we shall extract the greater portion of, and which the reader will find to be written in a somewhat different style from that of almost all the others that we have quoted. There is a solemn and sincere earnestness about it, which will cause it to be read with great interest, even by those who may not be capable of appreciating, in detail, the rich and pompous flow of the verse, and the fine harmony of its music; the elegant simplicity of the language; and the extreme beauty of some of the thoughts and images.
The poem seems to have been addressed to his mistress, on the occasion of his taking leave of her, after her having offered to attend him on his journey in the disguise of a page. It is headed strangely enough.
“Elegy on his Mistress.
true mistress still not my feign'd page.
Dissemble nothing---not a boy-nor change
He then tells her what ills may befall her in the different countries through which she would have to follow him ; and concludes:
“O, stay here-for, for thee
Think it enough for me t' have had thy love." It only remains to speak of Donne's Satires; for his Divine Poems must be left to speak for themselves. General readers are probably acquainted with Donne chiefly as a writer of satires; and, in this character, they know him only through the medium of Pope; which is equivalent to knowing Homer only through the same medium. The brilliant and refined modern attempted to give his readers an idea of Donne, by changing his roughness into smoothness, and polishing down his force into point. In fact, he altered Donne into Popewhich was a mere impertinence. Each is admirable in his way-quite enough so to make it impossible to change either, with advantage, into a likeness of any other.
Donne's Satires are as rough and rugged as the unhewn stones that have just been blasted from their native quarry; and they must have come upon the readers at whom they were levelled, with the force and effect of the same stones flung from the hand of a giant. The following detached character is the only specimen we have left ourselves room to give of them. It strikes us as being nearly the perfection of this kind of writing. He says that, for once in his life, going to court,
“ Towards me did run A thing more strange than on Nile's slime the sun