On a huge hill, Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must, and about must go,
And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.

These lines from the third of John Donne’s satires, written sometime in the 1590s, express and enact rhythmically the individual’s effort to discover a spiritual home. For Donne this was a process of strenuous grappling which lasted all his life (1572– 1631). Born a Catholic, related on his mother’s side to Sir Thomas More, he saw his uncle Jasper, a Jesuit, flee into exile and his younger brother Henry die in prison on a charge of harboring a priest. Gradually, he became an Anglican, a kind of senior civil servant and in line for preferment at Court, but threw away his future by an impulsive, though loving, clandestine marriage with his employer’s ward Anne More. He lost his job and his prospects, and spent thirteen years in poverty and...

 

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