Book Report: Selected Poems by John Donne (1958)

I began to read this book a long time ago. I remember reading this book to my son when he got a rare excursion into the basement in our home in Old Trees. That’s before he was our eldest son, and our non-eldest son is turning three next month. So it’s been a long time since I first put a bookmark in this book.

As you might recollect, my main methodology of reading poetry these last few years has been to read it aloud while my son(s) played. Sometimes he (they) actually ask(s) for more poems. But I read this aloud to my boy before he got to that point. And then I hit the poem letters, which sometimes run for several pages. That’s too much to try to jam into a session where one is reading aloud to a child and interjecting to keep the child from flossing with the poorly insulated electrical cord.

So I thought I’d read the epistles to myself. Then I hit the poem “Of the Progress of the Soul”. Which is 16 pages. Which is a long slog. Especially if you’re trying to pay attention and read the poem out loud, which is what I do: I cannot read poetry without reading it aloud to see how it sounds and how the rhythm of the words, line breaks, and punctuations make it sound. You know what 500+ lines of a single poem take? An hour or so scattered in places where I waited to pick children up from school over the course of several days. What will they think of the Noggle boys’ Daddy, who has to move his lips when he reads? I don’t know, but suffice to say the number of birthday party invitations has declined.

Oh, wait, a comment on the poetry? It’s “Meh.” I mean, Donne’s poems are about love, sometimes, and spirtual all of the time. If you’re going to read him, read him in an anthology. There are few poets I can take in large doses–I mean, it took me four years to read this volume and coming on twenty to read the complete works of Emily Dickinson (as of 20 years ago; I think they’ve been revised upwards since). He has a couple of quotable lines here and there, but if the poems are going to stretch into more than a dozen pages–there’d better be bloodshed in them, not just the flattery of a perfect soul who died two years prior.

So get it if your class requires it, I suppose–I think that’s the purpose of this cheap volume. Or if you have patience. But be prepared.

Books mentioned in this review: