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John Donne, Re-done


John Donne., Digital ID 1223550, New York Public LibraryMy colleague MN said she would be coming the 'my' next lecture. Of course I said what?? (your friends will come to your funeral, your real friends go to your lectures). She had just discovered John Adams's opera Doctor Atomic and pointed me to the YouTube clip of the aria "Batter My Heart," one of Donne's most famous poems. Cool, as the youngbloods say (used to say?)

But back to the lecture, which is neither mine, nor a lecture. This Thursday, June 20 at 1:15 here in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building there will be a poetry reading, John Donne, Re-done. Some very fine contemporary poets, Timothy Donnelly, Phillis Levin and Heather Dubrow will read some of their favorite poems by Mr. Donne, and read some of their own that were inspired or influenced by JD. For an extra treat, actress Helen Cespedes will read some Donne. I'll be on hand as riot control. Do come if you can, it should be wonderful. I know, I know, Donne is sometimes tough - but it's great stuff.

Here's the opening salvo of Howard Moss's parody, from Instant Lives and More


John Donne

If you would do what John Donne did,

You merge the Clergy with the Id.

This recently discovered couplet, found in the famous sewing basket unearthed during the recarpeting of Carlyle’s hall, was first attributed to Crashaw and then to Vaughan by Dr. Rennselaer, whose “original” but logically absurd work, Was Crashaw Vaughan? (Salt Press, Epsom, New Hampshire, 1958), produced a faint ripple of conjecture in the academic community in the late fifties. The early puzzlement and dismay that greeted the couplet’s publication seems, in retrospect, inexplicable at best, and, at worst, a deliberate act of obfuscation. In an earlier study of mine, Death and Donne (Mercier Dental School Mimeographs, Steeple, Kansas, 1959), I refuted Dr. Rader’s simplistic contention that “it might well be a forgery, of unknown origin.”[1] Recent carbon tests, carried out, many professionals feel, with the ineptness that suggest equivocation—left the matter moot, but a sense of tone, if nothing else, should have made it obvious to even the most rudimentary of scholars that the two lines could have been written by none other than “the swart strutter of Cheyne Walk.”[2] It is the simple purpose of this paper to show that internal evidence proves conclusively that Donne was the author of this important, and I have not hesitation in saying major, find.

[1] Rader, Gloria, The Metaphysical Mop-Up, Litmus Pamphlets, Tulsa, 1954.

[2] Chain Songs for the Guitar, Boozy & Hawks, New York, 1958.


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