August favourites #31: Donne poem

August 31, 2018

Another cheat here: I already awarded Donne my favourite love poem award, and here he is again with a category all to himself. He deserves it for the marvellous variety of his poetry: in later life a very religious and holy man, Dean of St Paul’s and so famous for his sermons that apparently people travelled from all over Europe to hear him preach. He wrote some profoundly moving religious poetry, one of which you will encounter in another of these posts. But before his religious days, he was a man of the world writing very secular poetry: the Elegy on His Mistress Going to Bed is a wonderful poem. His philosophical meanderings in A Nocturnal Upon St Lucy’s Day take some unpicking, but for sheer cleverness I’ve always admired The Flea. Men have always been trying to persuade women to go to bed with them, with varying degrees of subtlety and success, and that will surely continue, but in Donne’s time it was the mark of any half-decent poet that he could write a poem to persuade a reluctant female. Andrew Marvell’s To His Coy Mistress is probably the most famous example of the genre but I think Donne’s poem is wittier, with the would-be lover lecturing the woman, taking her through a series of arguments, and refuting her (unheard) grounds for refusal… and basing it all on a flea, and flea-bites? How romantic! But clever, certainly.

I’m doing something different for the holiday month of August, writing about some of my favourites: poems, plays, music, art and other things, a short piece on a different topic each day. The categories are random, as are the choices within them, meaning that’s my favourite that day, and is subject to change… And I will try and explain why each choice is special for me. As always, I look forward to your comments.


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