John Donne



 

I. Biography:

1. An outsider all his life: born in a Catholic household, but converted to the English Church at young ages (with satires on the corruption of British social life and soul-searching quest for true religion; with witty representations of himself as a master in the bedroom or as an adventurer in love elegies).
2. Hope of advancement dashed with his secret marriage with one niece of Sir Thomas Egerton; financial straits and early death of his wife.
3. An ecclesiastical career, arranged by James I, finally accepted by him.

4. A great preacher of his time for his highly intellectual sermons: richly metaphorical style —erudite, dramatic, witty.
5. A myth of transformation: from the Rake Jack Donne to the Reverend John Donne (propounded by his biographer Izaak Walton.
6. A no less misleading term: the Metaphysical Poets.

II. Prosody:

1. Cerebral: drawing on learned and obscure discourses.

2. Dramatic: a feeling of immediacy, mirroring the effect of speech uttered at the climatic moment of emotion (cf. “The Flea”).
3. Conceit: drawing on very distant analogies, especially interchanging between religious and sexual imagery .
4. A revolution in the tradition of love lyrics, esp. sonnet.

III. Underlying Concepts:

1. Microcosm versus Macrocosm: Two ideas in analogical, oppositional relationship (private world of the lovers thus prized over the wider, public world.
2. Religious Holiness versus Sensual Enjoyment: Again, in analogical as well as oppositional relationship to explore their potential connections.
3. Reversal of Expected Hierarchy: for example, microcosm overwhelming macrocosm.

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