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 ?
We should recognize, along with Robert Reeder, that Donne has a medieval habit of mind and interests in what we tend to classify as "medieval" philosophy; Reeder, "Before the Beginning: John Donne on Creation, Birth, and Calling," Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature 65 (2012): 26-28.
Shami's John Donne and Conformity in Crisis fully documents Donne's desire to mediate and unify.
Valued at SFr 300,000, is a letter that poet John Donne sent Lady Kingsmill after the death of her husband in October 1624.
13] John Donne, Second Anniversary in The Complete Poems of John Donne.
Sam, who has long been interested in 17th-century writing, has compiled what cathedral staff describe as "a lovely and thought-provoking tapestry of words" based on poets John Donne and George Herbert, along with the Book of Common Prayer.
As John Donne said some three centuries ago, "No man is an island.
In another era, John Donne, the 17th-century English metaphysical poet, showed the same bravado when he personified Mr.
In the introduction to The Secret Parts of Fortune, Rosenbaum writes about learning that "the attentiveness to ambiguity" he developed by reading John Donne could be applied equally well to "trial transcripts, autopsy reports, congressional-hearing records, Mob wiretap pickups, and the like.
wrote the English philosopher and divine John Donne about 1600.
Few poets have achieved more in this line than John Donne.
Bearing (played by Kathleen Chalfant, best known for her work in Tony Kushner's Angels in America) has spent her entire adult life honing her expertise on the "Holy Sonnets" of 17th-century poet John Donne and wielding it like a rapier against her intimidated students.
As John Donne pointed out so memorably, "No man is an island.