John Donne: Achievement in English Literature

Also Read

       John Donne (1573-1631) was the most independent of the Elizabethan poets. Son of a wealthy merchant, he went to Oxford at the age of eleven and Cambridge at fourteen: He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1592 and led there a reckless life. In 1601 he made a runaway marriage with the niece of his patron, the Earl of Ellesmere. This secret marriage led to his imprisonment at the time but proved very happy afterward. In 1615 he took holy orders and six years later he became Deen of St Paul's which position he held until his death in 1631.

John Donne (1573-1631) was the most independent of the Elizabethan poets. Son of a wealthy merchant, he went to Oxford at the age of eleven and Cambridge at fourteen: He entered Lincoln's Inn in 1592 and led there a reckless life.
John Donne

       Donne's works were widely circulated in manuscripts but they were not published before his death. They can be classified into Love Poetry, Religious Poetry, and Elegies, Satires.

      Donne revolted against the easy, fluent style, stock imagery and pastoral conventions of the followers of Spenser. His cynical nature and keenly critical mind led him to write satires such as Of the Progress of the Soule (1601). They were written in the couplet form, later to be adopted by Dryden and then by Pope. His love poems written during 1601-1603 are intense and subtle analyses of all the moods of a lover expressed in vivid and startling language which is colloquial rather than conventional. His poems are dramatic and depict different moods and emotions with the logical structure which has a beginning middle and end. He is the first writer of dramatic monologues in which a speaker speaks to another and situation is suggested. The Good Morrow is a perfect illustration of this dramatic and syllogistic structure of his love poems.

      Dr. Johnson following Dryden called him metaphysical. "He affects metaphysics" said Dryden of Donne and the term 'metaphysical' is applied to Donne and his followers to indicate their highly intellectualized works. These include the use of images taken from very life or from scientific pursuits, not for ornament but to express subtleties of thought and feeling accurately. But Donne's poetry reveals a depth of philosophy, a subtlety of reasoning, a blend of thought and emotion a mingling of the homely and the sublime, the light and the serious which make it full of variety and surprise. His characteristic love poems are Aire and Angels, Canonisation, A Nocturnal upon St Lucies day, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, The Extasie, The Sunne Rising, The Good Morrow, The Flea, The Relique etc. His religious poetry was written after 1610, and the greatest the nineteen Holy Sonnets and the lyrics such as A Hymn to God, The Father after his wife's death in 1617. His religious poems reveal the struggle in his mind before taking orders in the Anglican Church. They are the expressions of a deep and troubled soul. To them, we find the intellectual subtlety, the scholastic learning and the wit and conceits of the love poems.

      John Donne is realistic in his attitude to love. He admits the validity of physical relationship in love, "the body is the book" (Extasie). His images are unconventional and affect a blended emotion and intellect, passion and wit. Helen Gardner says that the conceits are instruments of persuasion in an argument. In his poem, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, Donne compares the two souls of lovers to a geometrical compass, they are two things joined by a bond that makes them one. This prosaic unfamiliar comparison throws a good deal of light on the actual relationship of the lovers. In the Good Morrow, the lover speaks of the self-sufficiency of their spiritual world. He rejects the expanding geographical world and considers their spiritual world of love superior to the physical world. Their 'hemisphere' are better because they are close to one another, and these are no cold North nor declining West. In spite of the intellectual vigor and wit of his poetry, the glow of emotion is unmistakable:

"Whatever dyes, vas not mix't equally

If our two loves be one or thou and I

Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none die"

      There is a grandeur in the sepulchral quality of Donne's conceits. "The bracelet of bright hair about the bone" (The Relique). This quality of Donne's poetry has exercised tremendous influence on post-war English poetry.

Previous Post Next Post

Search Your Questions