John Donne

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Donne, John

(dŭn, dŏn), 1572–1631, English poet and divine. He is considered the greatest of the metaphysical poetsmetaphysical poets,
name given to a group of English lyric poets of the 17th cent. The term was first used by Samuel Johnson (1744). The hallmark of their poetry is the metaphysical conceit (a figure of speech that employs unusual and paradoxical images), a reliance on
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Life and Works

Reared a Roman Catholic, Donne was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, and Lincoln's Inn. He traveled on the Continent and in 1596–97 accompanied the earl of Essex on his expeditions to Cádiz and the Azores. On his return he became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton (later Baron Ellesmere), lord keeper of the great seal, and achieved a reputation as a poet and public personage. His writing of this period, including some of his Songs and Sonnets (others were written as late as 1617) and Problems and Paradoxes, consist of cynical, realistic, often sensual lyrics, essays, and verse satires.

Donne's court career was ruined by the discovery of his marriage in 1601 to Anne More, niece to Sir Thomas Egerton's second wife, and he was imprisoned for a short time. After 1601 his poetry became more serious. The two Anniversaries—An Anatomy of the World (1611) and Of the Progress of the Soul (1612)—reveal that his faith in the medieval order of things had been disrupted by the growing political, scientific, and philosophic doubt of the times. He wrote prose on religious and moral subjects; a polemic against the Jesuits; Biathanatos (not published until 1644), a qualified apology for suicide; and the Pseudo-Martyr (1610), an argument for Anglicanism.

After a long period of financial uncertainty and desperation, during which he was twice a member of Parliament (1601, 1614), Donne yielded to the wishes of King James I and took orders in 1615. Two years later his wife died. The tone of his poetry, especially the Holy Sonnets, deepened after her death. After his ordination, Donne wrote more religious works, such as his Devotions (1624) and sermons. Several of his sermons were published during his lifetime. Donne was one of the most eloquent preachers of his day. He was made reader in divinity at Lincoln's Inn, a royal chaplain, and in 1621, dean of St. Paul's, a position he held until his death.


All of Donne's verse—his love sonnets and his religious and philosophical poems—is distinguished by a remarkable blend of passion and reason. His love poetry treats the breadth of the experience of loving, emphasizing, in such poems as "The Ecstasie," the root of spiritual love in physical love. The devotional poems and sermons reveal a profound concern with death, decay, damnation, and the possibility of the soul's transcendent union with God.

Original, witty, erudite, and often obscure, Donne's style is characterized by a brilliant use of paradox, hyperbole, and imagery. His most famous poems include "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," "Go and catch a falling star," "Hymn to God the Father," and the sonnet to death ("Death be not proud"). Neglected for 200 years, Donne was rediscovered by 20th-century critics. His work has had a profound influence on a number of poets Including W. B. Yeats, T. S. Eliot, and W. H. Auden.


See biographies by R. C. Bald (1970, repr. 1986) and J. Stubbs (2007); studies by R. E. Hughes (1968), R. S. Jackson (1970), W. Sanders (1971), M. Roston (1974), T. Spencer, ed. (2d ed. 1986), C. J. Summers and T.-L. Pebworth, ed. (1986), F. J. Wamke (1987), D. A. Larson (1989), J. Carey (1981, rev. ed. 1991), A. L. Clements, ed. (2d ed., 1991), E. W. Tayler (1991), A. F. Marotti (1986 and as ed. 1994), A. J. Smith (2 vol., 1975, repr. 1996), P. M. Oliver (1997), J. Johnson (1999), A Mousley, ed. (1999), D. L. Edwards (2002), B. Saunders (2006), D. R. Dickson, ed. (2007), and R. Targoff (2009); centenary volumes edited by P. A. Fiore (1972) and A. J. Smith (1972).

Donne, John


Born Jan. 22 or Feb. 12, 1572; died Mar. 31, 1631. English poet.

Donne secretly married the niece of the lord chancellor, for which he was imprisoned in the Tower of London for a time. Later he entered the church and became dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1621. The founder of the metaphysical school of poets, Donne was the author of the religious and mystical poems Of the Progres of the Soule (1601) and An Anatomic of the World (1611). In Soviet literary criticism, Donne’s work is viewed as a deviation from the life-affirming humanism of the Renaissance and as the epitome of the baroque style.


Complete Poetry and Selected Prose. New York, 1952.
In Russian translation:
In O. Rumer, Izbr. perevody. Moscow, 1959.


Istoriia angliiskoi literatury, vol. 1, issue 2. Moscow-Leningrad, 1945. Pages 165-67.
Unger, L. Donne’s Poetry and Modern Criticism. New York, 1962.
Bald, R. C. John Donne: A Life. [London] 1970. (Bibliography on pp. XIII-XIV.)
References in periodicals archive ?
Levenson, "Donne's Holy Sonnets, XIV," Explicator 11 (March 1953); George Herman, "Donne's Holy Sonnets, XIV," Explicator 12 (December 1953); and George Knox, "Donne's Holy Sonnets, XIV," Explicator 15 (October 1956).
Donne does a better job of sorting out the sides in Holy Sonnet number 7, even though the opening of this poem is, if anything, even more violent, energetic, and commanding:
We are returned to Donne's Anniversaries, which Catherine Gimelli Martin visits along with the Holy Sonnets that result in the poet's "Unmeete Contraryes: The Reformed Subject and the Triangulation of Religious Desired.
Like the Donne of the Holy Sonnets, she is unable to trust God, in large part because she lacks the humility to do so.
Ashford informs the young Vivian in stem tones that she has used the wrong edition for her paper on the most famous of the Holy Sonnets.
Louis Martz, however, asserts that at least some of the Holy Sonnets do indeed contain a complete meditation "in miniature" although most of these poems are merely memorable meditative moments (Poetry of Meditation 49).
Other critics explain the dissatisfying conclusions of the Holy Sonnets by looking at the mind of the poet rather than the nature of the poems themselves.
Looking past its bitter satire to the genres of metempsychosis and triumph, Herendeen stresses the poem's placement at the beginning of the 1633 edition just before "La Corona" and the Holy Sonnets.
Gooch is unusually well qualified to write on Benjamin Britten's settings of Donne's Holy Sonnets, with full credentials as Professor of English and as musical performer and scholar.
Wit is never didactic enough to suggest outright that The Runaway Bunny and Donne's Holy Sonnets are equally profound works; if anything, Edson probably prefers the straightforward children's book to Metaphysical poetry.
Coma Versus Comma: John Donne's Holy Sonnets in Edson's Wit.
are made to clash with Protestant, Calvinist ones" (116), the poem - like the Holy Sonnets generally - ultimately refuses to embrace a singular theological position.