First edition of John Donne's Poems, 1633


This is the first edition of John Donne’s collected poems, printed in 1633, two years after he died.

In his lifetime, Donne (1571–1632) only published a few of his written works, viewing print as corrupt and common. He preferred to circulate his texts in manuscript form to a select group of friends and patrons. They shared and hand-copied the poems into their own private verse collections, and these were used as the basis for this printed edition.

Donne’s poems: published or censored

The book showcases Donne’s dazzling range of poetic themes and styles, from works of religious devotion to intellectual wit, cynicism and sexual passion. There are 12 of his Holy Sonnets, as well as Elegies, Satires and a number of famous verses such as ‘The Flea’ and ‘The Sun Rising’ which were later called Songs and Sonnets.

Strikingly, however, one famous verse is absent from this collection. The licenser refused to publish Donne’s ‘Elegy: To His Mistress Going to Bed’ with its erotic description of a woman undressing. It was not until 1669 that the racy, scandalous poem was printed for the first time.

What is special about this copy?

This copy of Donne’s Poems appears to have been owned by the most elite of readers. It is bound in red leather, with the royal arms in gold leaf, and a note suggesting that it belonged to King Charles I, who reigned from 1625 to 1649.

An engraving of the poet, with a beard and classical robes, has been inserted into this copy. It is based on a painting made in 1622, just before Donne became Dean of St Paul’s. Donne would have been 49 at the time (although the Latin text under the engraving mistakenly says he was 59).

Which poems are digitised here?

Holy Sonnets

  • ‘As due by many titles’ (p. 32)
  • ‘O my black soul!’ (p. 33)
  • ‘This is my play’s last scene’ (p. 33)
  • ‘At the round earth’s imagined corners’ (pp. 33–4)
  • ‘If poisonous minerals’ (p. 35)
  • ‘Death be not proud’ (pp. 35–6)
  • ‘Spit in my face, you Jews’ (p. 36)

Other poems

  • ‘The Apparition’ (p. 191)
  • ‘A Valediction Forbidding Mourning’ (pp. 193–94, but marked as p. 164)
  • ‘The Good Morrow’ (p. 195, but marked as p. 165)
  • Song, ‘Go and catch a falling star’ (pp. 196–97)
  • ‘Woman’s Constancy’ (pp. 197–98, but marked as p. 168)
  • ‘The Sun Rising’ (pp. 199–200, but marked as p. 169–200)
  • ‘The Canonization’ (pp. 202–04)
  • ‘Air and Angels’ (pp. 211–12)
  • ‘The Anniversary’ (pp. 213–14)
  • Twicknam Garden (pp. 218–19)
  • ‘The Flea’ (pp. 230–31)
  • ‘The Relic’ (pp. 289–90)

Full title:
Poems, by J. D. With elegies on the authors death.
1633, London
Book / Quarto / Engraving / Illustration / Image
John Donne
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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