Super-Infinite by Katherine Rundell review – a deft portrait of John Donne

Rundell captures John Donne’s unique vision in all its power, eloquence and strangeness

In 1611, John Donne composed a funeral elegy for 14-year-old Elizabeth Drury. It contained one of his most brilliant, unsettling lines: “One might almost say, her body thought.” Donne portrayed body and soul as radically, delightfully commingled.

This is a poem that has long excited Donne commentators. John Carey, in his landmark 1981 Life, Mind and Art, was fascinated by Donne’s conviction that, as he wrote in a sermon, “all that the soul does, it does in, and with, and by the body”. Now the academic and children’s writer Katherine Rundell puts the poem centre stage in a book she describes as “both a biography of Donne and an act of evangelism”. For Rundell, Donne is writing into being a new ideal: a “completed meshing of body and imagination”.

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