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400-year-old John Donne poetry book discovered!

By December 13, 2020Culture, News, Poetry

A 400 year old tome by metaphysical poet John Donne has been discovered.

The 17th century writer is known as one of the greatest English authors, and the creator of metaphysical love poetry. Named by his peers as “the best in this kinde, that ever this Kingdome hath yet seene”.

A stunning discovery of a rare tome- 400 gilt-edged pages filled with 131 of his poems- has been acquired by the British Library. Curator Dr Alexander Lock said: “It’s a manuscript of considerable literary importance, a new substantial work of Donne’s poetry that has not yet been studied.”

The manuscript has been carefully transcribed by an unknown hand and has been assessed to be one of the largest and earliest collections of poetry by Donne, and includes the poet’s finest and most famous works, The Storm, The Calm, The Breake of Daye and Sunn Risinge.


Lock said: “There are also about six unpublished, unattributed poems, so that could be really interesting. Are they works by a major author? Or is there an author there that we should learn about?”

It was previously discovered that John Donne actually disliked the idea of making money from his writing, feeling full of regret for allowing his long poems, the Anniversaries, to be printed between 1611 and 1612.

His first volume of poetry was published posthumously in 1633 where previously only a select groups of friends and patrons were privileged to read them.

“He famously eschewed printing. He felt he could target a readership that was much more discerning. He’d send his manuscripts to select groups. They would then copy the lines down and share them. So this helps us study who those people were. It’s unknown. Hopefully it will help us answer lots of questions.”

He added: “Virtually no poetry in Donne’s hand survives. That’s why these manuscript copies are so important. It offers evidence as to how Donne’s poetry was written, copied and circulated, as well as helping to further shape our understanding of his audiences and patrons.”

It will be available through the British Library’s website from Monday and to researchers in its Reading Rooms in 2021.

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