I just came across this quote from King James I: “Dr Donne's verses are like the peace of God: they pass all understanding.” I'm sure he was just jealous. James himself was known behind his back as ‘the wise fool’ because he wanted to be thought clever and wasn't particularly.
But Donne has often been chastised for being convoluted and verbose, getting himself into logical tangles for the sake of argument, allowing the lawyer in him to outrun the lover. He died in 1631, and was largely ignored until Coleridge rehabilitated his reputation. Many thought him obscure or abstruse. TS Eliot was instrumental in bringing him abruptly into the twentieth century, and rather than finding him quaint or antiquated, moderns found him modern. He often speaks in a very direct, conversational tone, with a disconcerting frankness of irony, lust, weariness, or despair. He does sometimes seem to take argument absurdly far, (as when he tries to seduce a woman by arguing that their bodily fluids have already mixed in the digestive system of a flea), but there is something persuasive even in this logical elasticity. He’s seductive because he’s doctrinaire. As “The Sun Rising” proves, smart is sexy.
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers’ seasons run?
Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide
Late schoolboys, and sour prentices,
Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows, nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldst thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late, tell me
Whether both the Indias of spice and mine
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with me.
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear:
“All here in one bed lay.”She is all states, and all princes I,
Nothing else is.
Princes do but play us; compar’d to this,
All honour’s mimic, all wealth alchemy.
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world's contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that's done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art everywhere;
This bed thy centre is, these walls, thy sphere.