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Monday, 17 May 2010

John Donne: Community

File:Gustav Klimt 046.jpg

Community: John Donne, from Poems, 1633 (facsimile)

Adele Bloch-Bauer: Gustav Klimt, 1907


Curtis Roberts said...

It's so funny to read all of these poems at the end of a very stressful day at work (I know that many poets frequent this blog and could help me rhyming "work" with "jerk" inventively)and a day after my very, very pleasant wedding anniversary, when best reflection came, as it should, slowly, naturally and without importuning the person you love and live with to turn their attention to anything they haven't thought of themselves first. Love all of these, the Klimt, the flamingos (greater and lesser) and, yes, the gasworks. A hat-trick.

TC said...


Congratulations to you and Caroline. And thanks for seeing the potential for humour (?) here.

It's curious that a man who should have given up everything for a woman, produced with her, as he put it, "a mast of children", loved her dearly until her (too early) death, and then never really got over that event, should also have written this poem.

How may one account for it?

Of course no one knows just when the poems in the posthumously published "Songs and Sonnets" were written, all theorizing on the subject is purely speculative.

Remembering the problematic complexities of Donne's personal and family history (having a "healthy" attitude about sex, after the traumatic early experience of seeing family members publicly mutilated for "religious" reasons, was probably always going to be impossible); and his admitted ingrained "riddling disposition" and love of paradoxes ("The Swaggerer" as D's contemporary George Puttenham termed that figure in his manual on poetics); and the brash, cheeky style of the early Elegies and Satires; I would, if forced to guess, wager with all due hesitancy that this poem was written sometime late into his law-school/court secretary period, when the company of his fellow law students seem to have brought out the audacious wiseacre in him.

Then again, an inhouse suggestion, which may carry more wisdom than my own speculations, is that the overwhelming experience of poverty and deprivation in his early years as a family man, in that narrow little house at Mitcham, may have made the whole idea of wedlock seem a bit more than the bold young lover had ever bargained for.

In any case, the poker-faced expression of wildly absurd and indeed even highly objectionable points of view was a habit that this contrarian poet would not break (for better or worse) until the sorrows of life had driven him into a parson's grim weeds.

Curtis Roberts said...

Rereading these three this morning is still fascinating and recalls the pleasure I felt yesterday evening finally being able to lift my head from a morass of intertwined, mostly unpleasant details (it was like having four of five decks of interstellar playing cards, all from different parts of the galaxy, strewn across the carpet and being told to sort them all out) to read lucid things.

In a general sense, I’m not sure the male of the species is really the problem, “but then, the trouble with the disappearance of any human problem is that it usually serves to turn the attention to the next problem in the endless list”. You have that exactly right.


Tom, Curtis,

Much enjoyed this lively exchange (between two men married many years!) and this set of three poems -- what Curtis calls "A hat-trick" -- on such a subject. As one who's been married (3 times) and now is not, the Lawrence to Smith to Donne double play is, well, lovely to reflect upon. Meanwhile, this other reflection (of sorts) ---


grey line of cloud against shadowed green
ridge, rufous-sided towhee on fence post
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

this evidence of reflection,
structure of its parts

line to plane, the external
element of form, paint

grey rain cloud against shadowed ridge,
wingspan of gull flapping toward point

TC said...

Now THERE'S experience talking!

(I refer of course to the rufous-sided towhee.)


I realize I should also have said that I ALSO admire your great endurance. . . .


And yes, ye olde towhee has showed up for yet another spring season. . . .

TC said...


Sounds like a Spotted Towhee (Pipilo maculatus).

This guy appears to have a bit of chalk, all the better, perhaps, to compose a thousand notes to his true love.


hmmmmm, don't think check the rufous-sided towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), photo on p. 25 of Audubon Society Field Guide of North American BIrds; drawing on p. 331 of Peterson; Sibley has drawings of Pipilo maculatus on p. 474 (color more like rufous-sided than your guy here). . . .

TC said...


If you scroll about three-quarters of the way down this page you will come to links to a half dozen different Towhees (including Spotted, under which they appear to classify the Rufous-sided, and California), with videos, audios of song, & c.



Yes, 'my' rufous-sided seems to be the spotted. This (link) is so great, thanks!