***I've noticed that a second edition of Donne's poetry has been released and amazon has just been forwarding the reviews from the first. This review was written for the first edition.
When I made the decision that I wanted to study John Donne this book was the first place I turned. Norton Critical Editions tend to be the most thorough studies of any particular writing with generous helpings of criticism and well annotated authoritative texts and this one is no different.
The criticism in particular is phenomenal. They are especially brilliant when reconciling the difficult contradictions between what can appear as base as lust in Donne's love poetry and the higher love that Donne aspires to. The essays dealing with the various categorizing and readings of Donne's religious poetry are also invaluable. Most every piece of criticism included in this edition helps to illuminate Donne's works and aid new readers attempting to grasp the various levels of activity going on in much of his poetry.
I only refrain from giving this edition a full five stars because it lacks any sort of cohesive introduction to Donne's life. The poetry of John Donne in particular reflects the man's life and without any sort of background information, even a few pages in an introduction, readers are essentially just cast adrift. However, this information is easily obtained online or at the library.
Regardless, this still remains the best edition of Donne available both as an introduction for beginners and for those who wish to have a better grasp on Donne's work. If you are at all interested in John Donne, this book is absolutely necessary!