A Literary First Love

Linda Gregerson names John Donne as hers:

Ben Jonson once predicted that Donne’s poetry would perish for want “being understood.” But I think his poems are brilliant recruiting devices for uncertain or inexpert readers like myself at sixteen. I was not equipped for understatement; I had to be seized by the shoulders and shaken. The very strenuousness of Donne’s conceits —those wonderfully far-fetched analogies that defy both visualization and ordinary logic—is flattering to a reader:  Donne’s metaphors put us through our paces, as a well-built puzzle puts us through our paces. Other poets had amused me or touched my heart a bit or afforded some musical pleasure, but here was a poet who gave me honest work to do: for the first time, I felt how thrilling it was to be included. Best of all, the poems that captured my attention with their dazzle and extravagance are by no means for beginners only: their exhilarating breadth of reference—cosmology, cartography, contemporary politics, law, logic, physiology, to name just a few—is anchored by real urgency of mind and spirit. Poetry is a form of bravura for Donne, a way of conjuring presence-in-the-world.  But it is also a form of soul-making, a way of conjuring presence-before-God.