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John Donne: Selected Love Poems, Illustrated

Updated on January 20, 2014

A charming e-volume of love poetry

One of the great advantages to an e-reader is that it gives you access to a treasure chest of literature which you can carry with you everywhere!

The world's great literature is suddenly - literally - at you fingertips. And much of this richness is in writings now in the public domain. Theoretically, this means that we can all enjoy the great novels, essays, and poetry of the past either free or at very low cost.

John Donne's love poems on tap!


When I went looking for Donne's poetry I was saddened to find that that great free repository of world literature, Project Gutenberg has not yet entered in his famous love poems.

There were scads of cheap e-versions around commercially, but I was reluctant to buy any of those... mainly because they were so obviously fast-n-dirty attempts to make a buck off John Donne. (There's a gold-rush going on in exploiting public domain work, if you haven't noticed yet.)

What to do? What to do?

So... I made my own e-selection of Donne's most famous love poems plus my own personal favorites, and I created intricate little printer's decorations to head each poem with a few larger ink-line vignettes.

It seemed only respectful to invest some real thought and time into the project. (And that's not counting the typing!) All versions of the poems are taken from truly public domain sources - books whose copyrights have lapsed long ago. All illustrations are waaaay secondary to the poetry. (It'd be silly to try to upstage John Donne, don't you think?)

I hope other Donne-lovers will enjoy this tribute to his beautiful love poems.

John Donne: Selected Love Poems

Some of the most beautiful love poetry on the planet - now in a handy e-volume you can carry with you wherever you go.

This collection of poems includes most of Donne's most famous and other favorites of the illustrator's, each highlighted by intricate printer's ornaments and several ink-line vignettes, all especially designed for this ebook.

The poet needs no introduction, but the illustrator, C. F. DeVries is known for her ink-line drawings and has illustrated other books, both traditional paper and e-.

John Donne: Selected Love Poems (illustrated)
John Donne: Selected Love Poems (illustrated)

The most charming e-collection of Donne's great love poems.


Or in e-Pub

John Donne: Selected Love Poems is also available through Barnes and Noble in the most popular e-format.

Illustration for John Donne: selected love poems
Illustration for John Donne: selected love poems

What's in the eBook?

Too many poems to list (Donne was prolific!), this selection includes:

"The Undertaking," "The Prohibition," "The Bait," "A Lecture Upon a Shadow," "The Flea," and "Love's Growth," as well as that Greatest Hit, "Go and catch a falling star..."

A sample follows below:

(Actually, no it can't, because Squidoo's Automated Robot Taste Patrol considers Donne's "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning" UNORIGINAL. This is maddening... like accusing Shakespeare of using too many quotes. Aaaaargh! But you can read that wonderful poem here at Luminarium or, of course, get the eBook above and then you get to see the illustration too. My favorite drawing in the book.)

For God's sake hold your tongue, and let me love.

- John Donne

John Donne - public domain image
John Donne - public domain image

About John Donne

Born in 1572, in London, John Donne is an interesting character... or, perhaps TWO characters.

He was labeled a "Metaphysical" poet by the influential 18th century writer Samuel Johnson. (The man who wrote the first English dictionary, among other things.) Metaphysical Poets are known for inventively using paradoxes, subtlety, and striking images, but most characteristically for extended metaphors sometimes called "conceits." Donne's poetry exemplifies all these traits. (Which, honestly, modern readers either love or hate, depending on taste.) But unlike some other writers in this group, whose work can become dry and over-intellectual, Donne adds real passion.

It's this romantic passion that makes his love poetry so well-loved.

Raised Roman Catholic, Donne's religious faith was deep but troubled... or troublesome, at least. In his time, Catholics were a persecuted minority in England. For years Donne avoided pressure to join the protestant state church, the Church of England - and this cost him college degrees, because he avoided the religious oath required - but after his brother was jailed for hiding a Catholic priest and died in that prison, John Donne did bend.

It made his career. He became, in time an eminent Anglican clergyman.

Still... The duel character thing. Donne wrote most of his famous love lyrics and erotic verse in the 1590s. Some of these poems are amazingly sexy even today and were unpublishable in his own age, being circulated only among friends in hand-written copies. From these poems it's easy to see his romantic and sensual experience. Yet the older Donne is famous for thoughtful writing - prose and verse - on SPIRITUAL matters. (THESE got printed.)

In a famous letter of 1623 to the Duke of Buckingham, Donne explained this dichotomy of character, writing that poetry was "the mistress of my youth," and divinity was "the wife of my age." He made a sharp distinction between the "Jack Donne" of the early love poetry (who must have been a ladies man... not to say a playa!) and the respectable, sober-minded and priestly "Doctor Donne."

How did saintly "Doctor Donne" develop from the young rake?

Well, as tends to happen in life, his career and family responsibilities grew. In 1598, John Donne became private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton - a responsible appointment, if not a terribly lucrative one. Three years later, he secretly married Egerton's sixteen-year-old niece. This was not popular with his new in-laws! They refused to give the niece a dowry and even had Donne thrown in jail briefly. After that, the young couple were dependent on friends and (other) relatives for cash help and needed any other patrons Donne could attract... suffering years of financial trouble. This situation was made all the more difficult by their having one child after another. (In 1617, Donne's wife, Anne More, would die after the stillbirth of their 12th child.)

Much of Donne's religious poetry was written in this period of his increasing respectability and continuing financial difficulty. As Samuel Johnson once put it, "No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money." and Donne needed money.

In 1615 King James the First pushed Donne into becoming an Anglican minister... and then appointed him Royal Chaplain. (Hard not to become respectable when the king himself compels you!) Later, in 1621, John Donne reached the career apex of Dean of Saint Paul's Cathedral, a very prominent pulpit, where his learned yet charismatic preaching made him a extremely influential.

His late writing reflected his fear of inevitable death and included some very moving reflections on mortality and loss, as in his famous musing: "No man is an island..."

John Donne died in London in 1631.

(The poem quoted is "No Man is an Island" read the rest at , while the facts about Donne's life mainly come from: Oh, and the Samuel Johnson quote? You can find it - and others - at The Samuel Johnson Soundbite Page

Richard Burton Reads "The Good Morrow"

A wonderful reading of this poem! (A bit tricky to read, I think - Kenneth Branagh's version doesn't seem as successful.)

About the Illustrator

C. F. DeVries is an architect and theater artist known for her ink-line and colored pencil drawings. (A technique she has taught.) She has illustrated several books.

Ink line sketches
Ink line sketches

About the Illustrations

There is a long and rather grand tradition of book illustration, from the dedicated monks who illuminated missals and medieval Bibles, to the delicate pen-and-ink and watercolors of Arthur Rackham, and the richly evocative paintings of N. C. Wyeth or Howard Pyle. Supremely accomplished Artists in service to Literature!

These illustrations aren't those.

These are, by comparison, humble telephone-doodles.

But, still, these little ink sketches are heartfelt and rather charming. And, if not comparable to the work of those greats of illustration, they maybe can ride waaaay in the back seat of the same bus with Rackham's charming inky trees from The Wind in the Willows. (Rock star trees!)

The point is: it's good to respond to great Art - like Donne's poems - and to share that response.

The illustrator here had great fun responding to poetry with a sketching pen. The idea of printer's decorations comes from the custom of the same 17th century period as the poesy. (Thus the black-and-whiteness too, color printing being a dream in those days. Besides, she has a b&w eReader!)

Maybe you too can respond to Donne's work with something tangible... a photo, a song, a research journey, a newly invented chocolate bonbon, a reading-aloud to someone you love...

Wing'd Tower Press
Wing'd Tower Press

About the Publisher

Wing'd Tower Press

A small press specializing in books on arts and design, building on this era's print-on-demand and e-book capabilities. Non-fiction books primarily, but also literature when illustrations are important or the text relates to the world of design.

We believe in unique and passionate books.

More than kisses, letters mingle souls.

- John Donne

Illustration for John Donne: selected love poems
Illustration for John Donne: selected love poems

Why Love Donne's Love Poems?

I discovered Donne's poems as a teenager - his famous "No man is an island" read aloud in a classroom was my introduction - and I went looking for more.

His serious and religious poetry excited me. I loved the puzzle-like quality of his allusions and the sheer beauty of Donne's images. Who could read the "mermaids singing" line and not thrill to the idea of a world filled with such wonders. I imagined a world befitting one of those intriguing antique maps with sea-monsters in the corners, a world where you could catch falling stars. (I'm not alone in that longing, Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust is about doing exactly that.)

But - and I was a teenaged girl remember - his love poems stunned me.

The beauty, the romance - sweet and bitter - the sensuality... Breathtaking.

And unlike some early crushes, decades later these poems still seem as fresh as and powerful as ever.

Deeper Into Donne Territory

The poems only become richer as you learn more about the poet.

There's a LOT of scholarship on John Donne, but here's a good sampling:

Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

John Donne's religious writing... beautiful.

John Donne: The Reformed Soul: A Biography
John Donne: The Reformed Soul: A Biography

He had an interesting life - in a fascinating period of English history.

From the reviews this sounds like a very good book.

The Cambridge Companion to John Donne (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
The Cambridge Companion to John Donne (Cambridge Companions to Literature)

THIS will explain all those double and triple meanings...


John Donne's Country House

John Donne's house at Pyrford, by Suzanne Knights, at Wikimedia
John Donne's house at Pyrford, by Suzanne Knights, at Wikimedia

I love the melancholy of this wintry photo.

Related Sites

Browse through the on-line riches on the poet John Donne.

A decorative "D" for Donne by Hans Holbein, public domain
A decorative "D" for Donne by Hans Holbein, public domain

A Dose of Poesy

There's a great moment in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion when her character Anne Elliot discusses the exact dosages of poetry, prose, and biography required to keep one (she would say "one," of course) healthy and happy. She concluded that those people most fond of poetry were the exact people who must be careful not to overdose!

I myself read to reinforce a mood I'm enjoying or to create that mood. Poetry is a terrific source for intense feeling. Kinda its definition.

I also often take poetry as a tonic. (Maybe a vitamin?). Certain poets to supplement a grandeur-deficiency perhaps; others to re-balance my system when I overdose on daily humdrum; Dorothy Parker if I need a jolt of cynicism; Rupert Brooke when I want to joy in blue-striped dishes... There's a poet for every illness.

Dr. Donne is one of the great healers.

Favorite Poets

Hard to narrow down the list really:

Gerard Manley Hopkins. Rupert Brooke. Shakespeare! William Blake. Seamus Heaney. (cough, cough) John Donne. Emily Dickinson. A. E Housman.

And a scattering of individual poems by many others: the Lake District poets, William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings...

I'm a sucker for poems on buses too.

More Love Poetry

Sample other writers famous from their romantic poems...

Elizabeth Barrett Brownings love poems were another teen thrill - what a romantic life story! And Shakespeare's love sonnets, of course, remain eternally beautiful.

Sonnets from the Portuguese
Sonnets from the Portuguese

Elizabeth Barrett Browning - half of the hottest couple in the history of poetry! "How do I love thee, let me count the ways..."

Illustration from John Donne: selected love poems
Illustration from John Donne: selected love poems

Why Do We Need Love Poetry?

What is a world without poetry? Especially love poetry?

Perhaps we need it even more now today when few love songs are being written, when fashion is explicit (surely Spandex kills all romance!), when The Movies have almost given up on romantic comedies, and when even "Romance" books (like the one I sampled yesterday) are more about sex than love, and shallow sex at that... The characters in that book could use a dose of Donne. Really... the longer I consider it the shallower that book seems, even its supposed passion looks mechanical in retrospect.

No one could ever say that about the love scenes in Donne's poems!

When life seems a little mechanical or shallow or uninspired, poetry helps wake us up to its possibilities again.

So read a little Donne...

See if the world isn't a better place afterwards.

Living Poets

I'm not really a huge reader of poetry (my personal healthy reading "diet" consists of about 75% novels, 23% nonfiction, and 2% poetry), so I'm not up-to-date on all the hot young poets, but I HAVE discovered two living poets whose work I follow: Seamus Heaney and John Siddique, both British writers.

There's something kind of wonderful about following a living writer, whether poet or novelist, playwright or other. They keep surprising you!

Whereas Jane Austen - much as I love her - has been very slack about bringing out those new books lately.

Anyway, these are two modern, breathing poets whose work I often enjoy. Check 'em out.

Find out more about Seamus Heaney at I especially love his book The Haw Lantern, which has perhaps the world's most touching and loving description of peeling potatoes in it. I also really like his translation of Beowulf.

And find out more about poet John Siddique at johnsiddique.blogspot His blog is filled with selections of his poems and often audio clips of them read aloud.


The poet has his own pub... A very popular English ex-pat pub in Moscow is named after John Donne.

What do you think of the poems or the poet?

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