The verse letter

Margaret Maurer

in The Oxford Handbook of John Donne

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199218608
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks of Literature

 The verse letter

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  • Literature
  • Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)
  • Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)


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Donne's Verse Letter is the essence of this article. An influential study of Donne's poetry makes an appreciation of his work that he ‘preferred known readers for his writing’; he is a coterie poet. Some forty of his poems, addressed to particular persons and printed, seem obvious instances of this preference. These poems, Verse Letters, vary widely in length. They frequently take as their subject the communicative act itself, often in the context of the writer's concern that he or his correspondent live virtuously. Placing Donne's Verse Letters within the genre of poetry they exemplify, however, moves appreciation of them in a somewhat different direction, towards evaluating them as poems and considering how Donne's practice of Verse Letters might be related to the writing he chose to print. Generic considerations render more prominent Donne's art in making particular circumstances, what he called ‘emergent occasions’, the inspiration of poetical invention.

Keywords: letter; verse letter; Donne's poetry; poetical invention

Article.  6251 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Literary Studies (1500 to 1800) ; Literary Studies (Poetry and Poets)

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