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A.r. llcLLcTU'; The Originality of Donne's Satires Donne's Satires customarily receive little attention. In accounts of Donne the poet they tend to be regarded as apprentice works (with only SatireIII attracling more than passing comment). In general accounts of Elizabethan satire they are seen to rank somewhat below the achievements of Hall and Marston. Their unevenness and brevity, when compared with the more sustained work of Donne's fellow satirists in the fifteen-nineties, has no doubt contributed much to their neglect in the field of English satire, while within the corpus of Donne's poetry it would be difficult to argue that they should compete foreritical attention with the Songs and Sonnets and the Divine Poems. Yet the placing of them in either the general or the particular context has resulted in a degree of injustice. Donne's failure to observe all the conventions of the Elizabethan satirical tradition is seen to be compounded by a failure to develop fully the unique tone and voice that are heard in his own later work; OT, put another way, the Satires are on the one hand too 'original,' and on the other hand not quite 'original' enough. Before exploring further the nature of the critical problem raised by the Satires, however, it is worth pointing out that Donne at no stage seems to have regretted writing them. His remark to Wotton in 1600 that 'to my satyrs there belongs some feare" was presumably occasioned by the recent ban on satires and the burning of works by Marston, Davies, and Guilpin. It is fear which attaches to them, not the 'shame' which, in the same letter, he finds occasioned by the Elegies and Pa radoxes. In fact he valued them to the extent of considering them worthy of careful revision as late as 1607, when they were sent to the Countess of Bedford. 2 One is struck by a curious anomaly when considering the place of Donne's Satires in the tradition of Elizabethan verse satire. The first two at least predate the satires of Lodge, Hall, and Marston, so that Donne cannot be accused of merely following fashion. The extent of his originality is indicated by Milgate, who states that 'here for the first time in English is a sustained "imitation" of a Latin genre, the consistent adoption of the techniques and tones of Roman satire.' But rather than any direct transcription, 'we have to a striking degree the absorption of the general method of Roman satire into an essentially original and individual way ofwriting.'J UTQ, Volume XLIV, Number 2, Winter 1975 This occurred, in Donne, without the benefit of a preceding tradition of more literal imitation, and several years before rough English satire in the Roman manner was fully developed by Marston and Hall. Yet it is possible for the Satires to be described as 'the most notable modification of the tradition. '4 It is as if, in some abridgement of the normal process, Donne has at once initiated and departed from the norms of Roman satire as it was understood and rendered into English in the last decade of the sixteenth century. It is not necessary to rehearse here the specific details of matter and manner which reveal Donne's careful reading of the Romans , notably Horace, Juvenal, and Persius. More important, in any attempt to establish the originality of the Satires, are his departures from them. These departures not only reveal Donne's own practices in the art of poetic imitation, but clarify, at the very beginning of his career, certain central preoccupations which recur throughout his writing. It is not my intention to present the Satires as effectively unified by any common, specific subject or method. No justice is done, ultimately, when a group of poems is forced into a common mould in the interest of some non-poetic conception of neatness or consistency.5 I intend only to examine one element, of a personal and religious nature, where it occurs, and to suggest the bearing it has on our understanding of the Satires within the larger tradition and within Donne's own work. In Satires II and v this element is largely...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 130-140
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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