Somewhere CS Lewis says that, as poets, Donne and Robert Browning share a tendency to “buttonhole” their readers - or, as we might say, “get in their face.” This is the same quality Lewis's near contemporary, Virginia Woolf, praised in Donne and what, for her, made him modern. Here's Woolf, in The Common Reader (1925, 1935):
“But the first quality that attracts us is not his meaning, charged with meaning as his poetry is, but something much more unmixed and immediate; it is the explosion with which he bursts into speech. All preface, all parleying have been consumed; he leaps into poetry the shortest way.”
Some first lines come to mind: “Death be not proud”...“Stand still, and I will read to thee”...“For God's sake hold your tongue and let me love.” He’s a consummately bossy poet, always forestalling argument or dissent, his finger on the lapel, or on the lips, of his hearer. Much of his poetry reads like Browning's dramatic monologues, but there's no assumed persona. It's Donne bursting from the poem, exploding in your face. And not only does he explode in your face, he cuts off your escape.
“The world, a moment before, cheerful, humdrum, bursting with character and variety, is consumed. We are in Donne’s world now. All other views are sharply cut off. In this power of suddenly surprising and subjugating the reader, Donne excels most poets. It is his characteristic quality; it is thus that he lays hold upon us”.
This massive poetic egotism - the eclipse of other worlds, the drowning out of argument, the importunate seduction - is what made Donne's verses leap out of the seventeenth century into modernity, and makes Donne himself burst out of his verses, into our faces.