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For whom the poem was writ

A THEORY rejected 28 years ago by Dame Helen Gardner, the late Merton Professor of English Literature, who died in 1986, has resurfaced at Cambridge University. The subject of John Donne's most celebrated poem - 'The Anniversarie' - was not, as is generally assumed, a dead woman, but a

living man.

In a complex letter to the London Review of Books, 85-year-old Elsie Duncan-Jones puts forward the idea that the real marriage of souls being celebrated is that of the poet and one John King, chaplain to Sir Thomas Egerton, for whom Donne worked as a secretary. 'Helen said: 'Forget it',' she writes, recording the moment when, while helping her late friend compile her 1965 book, The Elegies and Songs and Sonnets of John Donne, Elsie mentioned the idea. 'But I didn't'

Now the theory has met with a rather more favourable reception. 'Elsie is one of those academics - much under-publicised - whose proposals are to be taken very seriously indeed,' says Jeremy Maule, an English don at Trinity College, Cambridge. 'I don't believe that Donne was bisexual, but the poem may well be a celebration of the homosocial.

'Helen ignored whole chunks of Donne simply because they did not fit into her cannon of what was 'suitable',' he continues. 'Elsie's theory is plausible . . . although,' he confesses, 'I was shocked when I read it - not necessarily the delighted shock of recognition.'

THE MARKETING people at Egyptair should take a course in current affairs, judging by some recent advertising blurb of theirs which features a picturesque but unnamed European destination. Anyone tempted by the river glistening in the sunshine beneath the ancient bridge should know that this scene is not what it used to be. It is in fact the (now destroyed) bridge at Mostar, in Bosnia.

Age is a feminist issue WHEN Germaine Greer wrote The Female Eunuch in 1970, British feminists took her to their hearts, although her credo was not entirely new. Seven years earlier, the American author Betty Friedan had written The Feminine Mystique, a book that sold 3 million copies and changed the lives of many Western women, including Ms Greer herself who was inspired by the writings of her American

alter ego.

Since Ms Greer has found a new passion in her 54th year - writing last week about the advantages of the elderly over the young, or 'why I now abhor this youth culture', I wondered what preoccupied her guru, now aged 72. The answer came in the publication of her latest book last year, which Ms Greer may well have read by now. It's called The Fountain of Age.

AS PART of the health service reforms, the St Helier Hospital Trust in south London is diversifying into the unmedical-like professions of decorating, plumbing, building, engineering and electrical services. I trust this will make a few pounds, although I would prefer the money to go to another trust, the Addenbrooke's Hospital Trust in Cambridge, where they are clearly feeling the financial pinch. A patient recently asked a senior radiologist for a venogram to assess damage to his veins. 'Oh no,' the radiologist replied. 'I'm afraid we cannot do a venogram, except for an in-patient. You see, you might require treatment.'

Saving on a plate PERHAPS Addenbrooke's has followed the example set out by the Time Management Workshop in a cost-cutting dossier sent to the London School of Economics.

According to the parliamentary House Magazine, the TMW warns people against 'small talk and passing the time of the day on the telephone'. This is how you should deal with interruptions: 'With droppers-in, stay standing - if they sit, you sit on desk. Be ruthless with time.' But here is my favourite: 'Lick plates between courses. Don't wash up slightly soiled crockery and cutlery, re-use.'


12 October 1760 Denis Diderot writes to Sophie Volland: 'There was a lot of rain on Friday night. The ground was soft and our ladies preferred staying indoors to the risk of losing their shoes in the mud and coming home barefoot. So Father Hoop and I went walking by ourselves. I like him more and more. We talked politics. I had scores of questions to ask him about the British Parliament. It is a body with some five hundred members. Its sessions are held in an immense building; and the most important matters of state are debated before the eyes of the assembled nation seated in great galleries above the heads of their representatives. Can you imagine, my dear, that in front of a whole nation, any man would dare to propose a harmful course of action, to oppose a useful plan and thus make a public display of his knavery or stupidity?'