Posted by Carolyn Kormann
A friend, visiting my first New York apartment, noticed a collection of John Donne’s poetry on my bedside table. She nodded knowingly. Donne, she said, was the most erotic poet in English literature. I nodded back, leering unconvincingly. I had no idea what she was talking about. “It’s his control,” she said. “Reading him, you can feel what a good lover he must have been.” And here I’d thought my plan to read a Donne poem each night bespoke a lofty, serious turn of mind. Ask not for whom the earth moves.
Donne was born Roman Catholic at a bad time to be a Catholic in England. It was 1572. Queen Elizabeth was having Jesuits hanged, drawn, and quartered. Donne’s great-great-uncle was Thomas More, the author of “Utopia” and a Catholic. He was beheaded during the Reformation. Donne’s brother Henry died of the plague in prison at the age of twenty while awaiting trial for hiding a Catholic priest in his lodgings. Young John was more discreet. He went to Oxford at twelve, but left before turning sixteen to avoid a mandatory oath rejecting Catholicism. He became a law student and, according to a contemporary, “a great visitor of ladies” and “a great writer of conceited verses.” He stayed out of religious debates and sought the divine elsewhere.
From “Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed”:
Off with that girdle, like heaven’s zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate, which you wear
That th’eyes of busy fools may be stopped there:
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now it is bed time.
Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/books/2013/02/john-donne-erotic-poems.html#ixzz2L5NVNGWd