‘The first poet in the world in some things’, is how John Donne was described by his contemporary Ben Jonson.
Yet it is only this century that Donne has been indisputably established as a great poet—and even, many feel, the greatest love poet of them all. Jonson went on to remark that ‘That Donne, for not keeping of an accent, deserved hanging’, yet Donne’s rhythms, once thought ‘unmusical’ are now recognized as the natural rhythms of the speaking voice; his ‘eccentricity’ as a complex self-doubt; his ‘obscurity’ the reflection of a brilliantly learned and allusive mind. Poets such as Eliot and Empson have found Donne’s poetry profoundly attuned to our modern age, while Yeats’ glowing comment will always be true: ‘the intricacy and subtlety of his imagination are the length and depth of the furrow made by his passion.’
This volume, superbly edited by Professor Smith, is the first complete edition to make a serious attempt to guide the reader closely through the complexities of Donne’s poetry. Considerable attention has been paid to the text, and a selection of the important manuscript variants are included. This edition is also the first to make use of the newly discovered manuscript of the verse letter to Lady Carey and Mistress Essex Rich.