more than clever


In the early 20th century, incipient Modernists, most notably T.S. Eliot, found new layers of value in Donne. His perceived cool intellectualism seemed fresh and vigorous to poets grown weary of Romanticism’s emotionalism and emphasis on the self. Donne soon became a favorite of the New Critics as well. That school’s emphasis on reading poems as autonomous systems—discounting extra-textual considerations such as the author’s intentions and historical situation—was well suited to Donne’s poetry; his intentions are difficult or impossible to determine, and each poem he wrote seemed designed to function as, to use a phrase from one of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, “a little world made cunningly.” Donne’s poems in general, and “A Valediction: of Weeping” in particular, are certainly cunning. But it would be a mistake to think of them as nothing more than exercises in cleverness.

more from Joel Brouwer at Poetry here.