“The Most Erotic Poet In English Literature”?

Carolyn Kormann praises the erotic poetry of John Donne:

Donne was, in fact, a rake and a bawd before he became a preacher and, in the fullness of time, the dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, famous for his sermons and celebrated at court. He wrote poetry throughout this checkered, John_Donne_BBC_Newspicaresque career. Almost none of it was published in his lifetime. But the range of the work that survives does include not only canonical love poems like “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” but erotica also both intricate and raw.

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.

Listen to a recitation of Donne’s famous “To His Mistress Going To Bed” here.

(Portrait of Donne, circa 1595, via Wikimedia Commons)