Love’s Deity

From The New York Times:

JOHN DONNE The Reformed Soul. By John Stubbs.

Donne It has always been convenient to see John Donne (1572-1631) as the St. Augustine of English letters, made priestly and pure in his own good time, and not too soon to have produced the brainy carnal thrustings of his early love poems. John Stubbs’s vivid new biography makes clear that the poet’s early verse is more emotionally disparate (“tender, brutal, cocky, manically unsure, knowingly sad”) than we often recall, and that Donne’s “desire for variation” was lifelong, part of an encompassing need to be “involved, employed, absorbed” in all that took place in this world as well as in everything that might lead to the next. “Change is the nursery,” the poet wrote in his third elegy, “Of musicke, joy, life, and eternity.”

When it came to the actual nursery and to subsequent childhood, Donne possessed a distinctly un-Wordsworthian desire to be finished with both as soon as possible, so that “the real pleasure of life,” as his biographer puts it, could begin. Stubbs shares the impatience of his subject, plunging Donne into sexual opportunity and sectarian danger within the first two dozen pages of his book. The talented young Elizabethan, son of an ironmonger, felt more compelled to be a gentleman than to remain a Roman Catholic, a lucky enough preference during the still new and brutal English Reformation.

More here.