After some Herbert for the new year, back to Donne. Herbert’s mother was one of those who supported Donne during that time when he was not in Holy Orders, and had no living. Like many poets, to this day, he scrounged.
But Donne’s art was probably better because of the the struggle.
This high school tutor (I would have crawled over broken glass to be in his class, and I was reading T.S. Eliot and James Joyce in High School) likes Herbert, but the kids are correct. Donne is better.
I was less encouraged when only a couple of kids liked George Herbert. After our customary discussion failed to kindle any admiration or awe, I stayed up half the night rereading most of “The Temple” and preparing a lecture. I never lecture. The kids listened politely to my best defense of my favorite poet, the only poet whose book sits always at my bedside, the only poet whose poems I read every week. They were unimpressed. Although they tried not to hurt my feelings, they just didn’t really think Herbert was up to snuff. “Up to snuff,” as I was to discover, means “as good as John Donne.” In every end-of-year conference, the kids listed Donne as one of their favorite poets. “He’s a pimp,” according to Hilary. Sammy holds a slightly more nuanced view: “I’m like, ‘John, you’re such an asshole.’ But I mean, I love him.” When asked to write her epitaph, Alex composed a single couplet:
Here I come.
I like Donne as much as the next guy, but I hadn’t meant to start a cult. These responses suggest that students in the 21st century can still have an intense and dynamic relationship with poetry, even old poetry.
Donne did not want to start a cult. He wrote this to challenge our faith.
Wilt thou love God as he thee? then digest,
My soul, this wholesome meditation,
How God the Spirit, by angels waited on
In heaven, doth make His temple in thy breast.
The Father having begot a Son most blest,
And still begetting—for he ne’er begun—
Hath deign’d to choose thee by adoption,
Co-heir to His glory, and Sabbath’ endless rest.
And as a robb’d man, which by search doth find
His stolen stuff sold, must lose or buy it again,
The Sun of glory came down, and was slain,
Us whom He had made, and Satan stole, to unbind.
‘Twas much, that man was made like God before,
But, that God should be made like man, much more.
John Donne, 1633
PS. Note that the posts now go up midnight NZ time.