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Complete Works of John Donne

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One morning as I arrived at school, one of my more outspoken students stopped to tell me, “John Donne rocks!” Strangely—and this is one of the mysteries of the teaching profession—I have had few more gratifying moments in my life. When a student who has no particular aptitude for poetry thinks hard and learns to love a worthy poet, you know that you’ve done your job.

And as Shane said, John Donne rocks. If a student is going to learn to love poetry, Donne is a great place to start. In the first place, he demands a great deal of reflection from his readers because his poems are alternately selfishly sensual and selflessly worshipful (there’s a reason for this, but I’d prefer students discovered it on their own). More importantly, his Holy Sonnets are stunning. You will rarely find more moving language than “Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you/As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend . . .”

I’ve included some prose by Donne as well, partially because students should be familiar with his profound Meditation and its famous line, “never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” I also have to admit I love the controversy sparked by his shallow essay, “That Women Ought to Paint.” Most significantly, Donne offers a form of the teleological argument almost 200 years before Paley in his Christmas sermon of 1621—not surprising, since the argument has really been around as long as the book of Romans (see chapter one).

What I want to say here sounds like rabid hyperbole, but I believe it’s true: it’s more important that students understand and value Donne than Shakespeare. Appreciating Shakespeare is crucial if you go on to be an English major or a writer; appreciating Donne is crucial if you want to understand the importance of brokenness in the Christian life.

by Jeff Baldwin