John Donne's 'Song'

John Donne (1572-1631)

 Really John? Not one woman, anywhere?

I think most of Donne’s poems were published posthumously, and it may be that Donne never intended this particular piece to be printed. But it was, and I think it’s a fine example of a writing problem.

It’s easy to imagine someone who is hurt, feeling betrayed, confused and humiliated by someone he or she had trusted.  You wouldn’t expect them to be thinking clearly for a while.  They might say things they’d later regret.

It’s also easy to imagine someone in that situation turning to poetry as a form of catharsis.

But when you’ve expressed your bitterness and confusion, after you lashed out at whoever hurt you, what do you do with the end product?

Show it to a few friends, who understand your situation and sympathize, without taking your exaggerations seriously or as representing what you normally believe?

Show it to the individual who hurt you? As a form of revenge?

Publish it?

The modern fashion for selfie poems would seem to approve the last choice. But once the poem is published and available to strangers, it shifts the way it asks to be read. It goes from being a private, contingent howl, a statement of an emotion the poet should grow out of, to a public statement of considered fact that’s going to be around long after the emotion that inspired it has been reconsidered.

And once published readers have every right to feel that there is something wrong with this poem. The beautiful opening line, the obvious metrical control, the inventive images, the obvious skill of the maker, all seem strange vehicles for such an obviously out of control argument.