One of my most favourite poets, in all of history, is John Donne (1572 – 1631).
Born in England during a time when religion was illegal, he became known as a Metaphysical Poet. According to Poets.org:
“The Metaphysical Poets are known for their ability to startle the reader and coax new perspective through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax, and imagery from art, philosophy, and religion using an extended metaphor known as a conceit.”¹
I learnt of Donne when I saw a documentary on him, called Simon Schama’s John Donne. I only watched it, because I’m a fan of Schama from his History of Modern Britain programmes. I had no idea who the heck this poet was, or any of his works. But since I like learning new things, so I watched it.
I was engrossed.
I loved how Fiona Shaw (of Four Weddings and a Funeral fame) recited the sonnets in such passion. I was struck by how Donne could write about such personal topics, but evoke such imagery that I couldn’t help, but to imagine it, and have the whole story playing out in my head.
Not mentioned in the documentary, my favourite poem is The Broken Heart. I love the descriptions, the imagery, the drama, and the old fashioned references that give a different twist on the ever-so-old topic of love. If I was auditioning for drama school again, this would be my monologue:
He is stark mad, whoever says,
That he hath been in love an hour,
Yet not that love so soon decays,
But that it can ten in less space devour;
Who will believe me, if I swear
That I have had the plague a year?
Who would not laugh at me, if I should say
I saw a flash of powder burn a day?
Ah, what a trifle is a heart,
If once into love’s hands it come!
All other griefs allow a part
To other griefs, and ask themselves but some;
They come to us, but us love draws;
He swallows us and never chaws;
By him, as by chain-shot, whole ranks do die;
He is the tyrant pike, our hearts the fry.
If ’twere not so, what did become
Of my heart when I first saw thee?
I brought a heart into the room,
But from the room I carried none with me.
If it had gone to thee, I know
Mine would have taught thine heart to show
More pity unto me; but Love, alas!
At one first blow did shiver it as glass.
Yet nothing can to nothing fall,
Nor any place be empty quite;
Therefore I think my breast hath all
Those pieces still, though they be not unite;
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.²
I can still recall my tears when I read the this the first time.
All alone in my despair, it was as if he wrote down exactly how I felt as I was going through it. He described everything perfectly. How my heart had no capacity to feel again after going through the turmoil of falling in love, going through the shit of it, then dealing with the fact my feelings never going to be completely reciprocated.
Right now, I’m going through this again.
Not just only from unrequited love, but from social rejection too. (There are many different kinds of love, and love of friends is one, while romantic love is another.) Reading these words over and over again offer me comfort. Knowing of Donne’s pain reminds me that people have been through this grief before, and will so again.
We need to celebrate this fellow more. His stuff is beautiful, uniquely descriptive, and evocative. There is more to Renassiance poetry than Shakespeare.
And this is one. ❤
¹ Poets.org, John Donne, https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/john-donne, [Date accessed: 21 March 2016].
² Bartleby.com, The Poems of John Donne, Songs and Sonnets The Broken Heart, http://www.bartleby.com/357/35.html, [Date accessed: 21 March 2016].
This blog post was written in response to World Poetry Day.