When I followed the link here, I was really expecting to find a discussion of Donne's poems and their "real world" effectiveness, perhaps as a device for stopping trains, or for bringing speeding bullets to a dead stand-still.

Somehow it irks me to speak of a poem's "effectiveness" as though that were something quantifiable. If a poem doesn't work for you, in the sense of evoking some emotional (or intellectual) response, where does the fault lie?

If the work has managed to remain preserved, more or less intact, over a span of over 400 years, that suggests to me that, at the very least, some fair number of people did find it "effective." And yet, for me, Goethe's "invention" of Shakespeare always seems to come to mind when people start blathering about "effectiveness" or trying to pin down the meanings and merits of one artist's work or another.

Perhaps Donne's work is not effective as a cure for the sniffles; perhaps it might even be too coy or too precious for current, snap-judgment, American Idol-style taste-making? Looking for some other practical purpose, some definitive measure of a poem's "success" or "failure" seems to me to be not a measure of the poem, but a measure of a fairly large-scale social failure. It is a failure to take time, to give space, to allow works of art more than three seconds in one's mind's eye before feeling compelled to go all Simon on their asses.

But as a poem? Doing whatever it is a poem does? Yes, it is itself, and thus it "succeeds."

If it doesn't work for you as an individual, perhaps you're reading it wrong, or you're not yet prepared for it, or it actually is working on you and you hate, hate hate that feeling? I don't know. Maybe you were just not in a mood for poetry, or maybe you distrust the very notion of poetry? Who can say? And who can set such value judgments?

This is not intended as a critique of the essay that also appears at this node. It was more a response to associations that came to me upon seeing just the node title. And in that, perhaps I am going a little Simon on this poor, defenseless node title. And perhaps, in context, this is also what tends to disturb me ever so mildly about the nature of e2 sometimes, and the reason I gave it a rest for so long.

By the way, I love Donne, even if the relationship that started with one of his poems is now more painful memory than it is a living relationship.