John Donne's Holy Sonnets Questions and Answers
by John Donne

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How can Holy Sonnet XVII "commemorate the loss of his [Donne's] wife" if it was written before 1611 and she did not die until 1617?

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The best recent one-volume edition of Donne’s poems (The Complete Poems of John Donne, ed. Robin Robbins [Harlow: Longman/Pearson, 2010]) suggests a date for the composition of the poem from August 1617 to sometime, perhaps, in 1619. John Carey’s Oxford edition of Donne’s poems dates this sonnet to 1617, as do many other discussions of the poem.  For a very full discussion of the date of the poem, see the volume on the “Holy Sonnets” printed as part of the Variorium edition of Donne’s poems, edited by Gary Stringer et al.

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