December 16, 2020

A lecture by Boris Aronstein: “John Donne: For Whom The Bell Tolls?”

On December 15, founder and president of TechInput Group of Companies, visiting professor at the Moscow State University, the National Research University Higher School of Economics and the New Economic School, as well as several US universities, publisher of a number of bilingual US magazines, and literary translator Boris Aronstein met with the readership of the Margarita Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature where he gave a lecture titled: “John Donne: For Whom The Bell Tolls?”

John Donne has firmly landed himself a place in world literature as one of the most prominent representatives of English baroque (the “metaphysical school of poetry”), whose artistic horizons were nothing short of impressive. His works encompass a variety of genres: from love poems to sonnets, and from epigrams to elegies. Donn is a truly multifaceted poet; at times he is almost enigmatic. His love poems are defined by the tendency to play on contrasts as well as by their elaborate syntax, sharpness in the perception of the surrounding world, and polysemy. John Donne’s poetry is intended for a savvy reader who is prepared to make that essential intellectual effort enabling one to penetrate it.

The following lines from Donne’s Meditation XVII moreover testify to his poetry living beyond the boundaries of space and time: “No man is an island, Entire of itself, Every man is a piece of the continent, A part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less. As well as if a promontory were. As well as if a manor of thy friend’s Or of thine own were: Any man’s death diminishes me, Because I am involved in mankind, And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;It tolls for thee”.

As a poet, Donne was held in high esteem by Joseph Brodsky who had even authored “Great Elegy to John Donne”, a kind of tribute to that genius revealing to us the English Renaissance. Translations of John Donne’s poetry had greatly impacted Brodsky’s own formation as a poet, while his own translations were among the best. This is how Donn was mentioned in Brodsky’s Nobel Prize lecture: “The best way we can repay those who rise above us is to keep up their spirit and manner in your own work. This is how I see the mechanism behind all civilisations”.

Boris Aronstein believes that “Donn’s poetry manifests distinctive features of metaphysical literary extravagance alongside literary comparisons that are both subtle and sophisticated”.

Online lecture is available here

Margarita Rudomino All-Russia State Library for Foreign Literature is a federal library specializing in literature in foreign languages. Back in 1921, it was started as a Neophilologica library. Presently, the library a unique collection of foreign literature, which includes books and periodical literature in over 140 languages of the world.

A lecture by Boris Aronstein:  “John Donne: For Whom The Bell Tolls?”