JOHN DONNE; An introduction

J ohn Donne was born i n London i n 1572, the son of a ri ch i ron
merchant, at a ti me when the merchants of Engl and were
creati ng a new and hi gher ki nd of pri nces. On hi s father s si de he
came from an Ol d !el sh fami l ", and from hi s mother s si de from
the #e"wood s and $homas more s fami l ". %oth fami l i es were
&athol i cs. ' n those da"s &athol i cs were s(b) ected to se*ere
persec(ti on. +o m(ch so, that hi s ed(cati on co(l d not be
compl eted at the O,ford and &ambri dge beca(se of hi s rel i gi on.
&hronol ogi cal l ", he l i *ed thro(gh the J acobean -ge .i . e. the
rei gn of J ames ' , 1/0121/253 and di ed i n 1/11. $h(s he i s a
connecti ng l i nk between the El i 4abethan -ge .155021/013 and
the 5(ri tan -ge .1/6721//03. $he age of Donne compri si ng of the
l ast decade of the 1/
t h
cent(r" and earl " decades of the 17
t h
cent(r" i s therefore, an age of transi ti on. %" thi s ti me the
8enai ssance i mp(l se has e,ha(sted i tsel f, the El i 4abethan
e,(berance and opti mi sm has been s(cceeded b" a mood of
apprehensi on, di si l l (si onment and defeat. -l l these are e*i dent
i n hi s l i terar" works whi ch we shal l di sc(ss l ater.
-s al read" sai d the chi ef i n9 (ence on hi s chi l dhood was
(ndo(btedl " 8oman &athol i ci sm, a rel i gi on whi ch had been
de*al (ed b" the atroci ti es of :ar" $(dor s rei gn and ; s(ppressed
and a< i cted si nce El i 4abeth s act of =ni formi t". #i s maternal
rel ati ons i ncl (ded the famo(s and the persec(ted #e"wood and
8astel l fami l i es and, more di stantl ", the hero2 mart"r +i r $homas
:ore hi msel f. Donne s earl " ed(cati on was attended to b" a
pri *ate t(tor and was conti n(ed for three "ears at O,ford .15>62
15>73, fol l owed b" a sl i ghtl " shorter spel l at &ambri dge. %(t d(e
to the rel i gi o(s pre) (di ces of those ti mes, he was compel l ed to
di sconti n(e hi s co(rse. -s a res(l t, i n 1571, he ) oi ned $ha*i es
and then Li ncol n s ' nn, where he remai ned at l east (nti l 1576. ' t
was at the ' nns he had an i ntense e,i stence, a st(dent not onl "
of l aw b(t of theol og" .hi s 8oman &athol i c bel i efs were bei ng
progressi *el " (ndermi ned b" (neas" c"ni ci sm3, l ang(ages,
l i terat(re, drama, peopl e, l o*e ? i n short, of l i fe@ and i t was
d(ri ng thi s peri od al so he A rst became known b" hi s
contemporari es as ; a great wri ter of concei ted *erses . $ho(gh
the term metaph"si cs was coi ned l ater b" Dr"den i n hi s
Di scourse Concerni ng Sati re, i n 1/71 .when he sai d BDonne
aCects the metaph"si csD3 and pop(l ari 4ed b" +am(el J ohnson
.for he was the one to e,tend the term Bmetaph"si cal D from
Donne to a school of poets i n 17773, i t was al so at the ' nn that
the bi rth of a metaph"si cal poet i n J ohn Donne took pl ace. #i s
two satyres, ma) ori t" of El egi es, the Epi thal ami on made at
Li ncol n’ s I nne and an i ndeA ni te n(mber of +ongs and +onnets
were wri tten i n thi s ti me.
D(ri ng thi s ti me, he wrote poetr" and al so shared hi s weal th
wi th need" &athol i c rel ati *es. #e ) oi ned the e,pedi ti on of Esse,
for &adi 4 i n 157/ and for the -4ores i n 1577. $wo of hi s best
poems, The Storm E The Cal m, bel ong to thi s peri od. Fe,t he
tra*el ed i n E(rope for three "ears, b(t occ(pi ed hi msel f wi th
st(d" E poetr". 8et(rni ng home, he became +ecretar" to Lord
Egerton, fel l i n l o*e wi th the l atter s "o(ng ni ece, -nne :ore,
el oped wi th her and marri ed her .1/013. Gor thi s Donne was cast
i nto pri son. ' t i s i nteresti ng to note that hi s work at thi s ti me
was not a song of "o(thf(l romance rather i t was The Progresse
of the Soul e, a st(d" of transmi grati on.
' n the "ear 1/02, Donne got rel eased from the pri son and hi s
marri age wi th -nne :ore was rati A ed. ' nstead of en) o"i ng hi s
new fo(nd l i fe, he grew more asceti c and i ntel l ect(al i n hi s
tastes. #e ref(sed al so the 9 atteri ng oCer of enteri ng the &h(rch
of Engl and and of recei *i ng a comfortabl e ; l i *i ng . %" hi s Pseudo-
Martyr .1/103 he attracted the fa*or of J ames ' , who pers(aded
hi m to be ordai ned, "et l eft hi m wi tho(t an" pl ace or
empl o"ment. !hen hi s wi fe di ed .1/173, her al l owance ceased
and Donne was l eft wi th se*en chi l dren i n e,treme po*ert". $hen
he became a preacher, rose rapi dl " b" sheer i ntel l ect(al force
and geni (s, E i n fo(r "ears .1/213, he was the greatest of
Engl i sh preachers and Dean of +t. 5a(l s &athedral i n London.
B$here he carri ed some to hea*en i n hol " r(pt(res and l ed others
to amend thei r l i *esD, E as he l eans o*er the p(l pi t wi th i ntense
earnestness i s l i kened b" ' 44ak !al ton to Ban angel l eani ng from
a cl o(d. #e di ed on 11
s t
:arch 1/11.
$he reason for thi s bi ographi cal emphasi s at the o(tset as a
necessar" backgro(nd i s, ; tho(gh art l i *es be"ond the compass
of ti me, "et i t i s a b"2prod(ct of i ts ti me . $he ) (sti A cati on ma"
not go wel l wi th the cri ti cs who bel i e*e ;i t i s necessar" to
di *orce art compl etel " from i ts conte,t . ' f not done, some wo(l d
cal l i t an intentional fallacy. $o el aborate, !i msatt and
%eardsl " i n thei r essa" ' ntenti onal Gal l ac" .176/3 sa" that ; the
bi ographi cal acco(ntHi ntenti ons of the a(thor i s nei ther a*ai l abl e
nor desi rabl e as a standard of ) (dgi ng a poem for the p(bl i shed
poem i tsel f i s the i ntenti on of the poet. +ome wo(l d term i t as
an Afective Fallacy i . e. i t i s a fal l ac"Herror to ) (dge a poem b"
the ps"chol ogi cal responses i t i nci tes i n i ts readers. !hat i s
desi rabl e i s, i nstead of descri bi ng the eCects of a work, foc(s
sho(l d be on the feat(res, de*i ces, and form of the work b"
whi ch s(ch eCects are achi e*ed.

Critics’ Views
E*en &l eanth %rooks, i n hi s preface to The Wel l Wrought rn
sa"s that ; there i s somethi ng to be sai d for concentrati ng on the
poem i tsel f as a constr(ct, wi th i ts own organi 4ati on and i ts own
l ogi c , b(t he al so sa"s thatI
B $o stress the poet i s, of co(rse, a perfectl " *al i d
proced(re and i t i s i nteresti ng and ma" be (sef(l to consi der hi s
i deas, hi s hi stori cal condi ti oni ng, hi s theori es of composi ti on,
and the backgro(nd, general and personal , whi ch (nderl i es hi s
' nfact most of the cri ti cs agree that Donne cri ti ci sm i s bal ked
not so m(ch b" a di sregard of a bi ographi cal i nformati on as b" a
l ack of i t. #el en Jardner i n her anal "si s of !i re and !ngel s, i n
The "usi ness of Cri ti ci sm concl (desI
B!i th a great poem, i ts centre, i ts (ni t" of
moral tone or feel i ng, sho(l d be sel f2e*i dent. %(t there are
poems, where there i s an (ncertai nt" of the central concepti on
whi ch no amo(nt of arg(ment can settl e wi th A nal i t". ' f we read
the poem one wa", the poi nt seems cheap one@ i f we read i t the
other, i t does not seem s(K ci entl " i mportant to warrant i ts
posi ti on as the poem s A nal statement. $hi s i s a ki nd of occasi on
on whi ch bi ographi cal i nformati on co(l d be of hel p. #ere ' cr"
o(t for some dates. ' f ' co(l d date thi s poem and date Donne s
other l "ri cs, ' mi ght be abl e to s(pport one or the other readi ng
b" reference to the poems whi ch Donne was wri ti ng abo(t the
same ti me. Or i f ' knew how ol d he was when he wrote i t and
whether he wrote i t to an" parti c(l ar person, ' mi ght (se thi s
i nformati on to arg(e that thi s or that readi ng i s the more l i kel "
i n the ci rc(mstances i n whi ch the poem i s wri ttenD.
+i mpl " p(t, Jardner too agrees that to (nderstand the poetr"
of J ohn Donne, i t i s necessar" to thi nk .i . e. to ha*e a s(b) ecti *e
*i ew3 and to connect, not onl " to hi s own ti mes b(t to o(r ti me
and l i *es as wel l .ob) ecti *e *i ew3.
Fow we shal l proceed towards *al i dati ng the aforementi oned
statement that ? i t i s necessar" to thi nk and connect i f a reader
real l " wants to (nderstand Donne s poetr", wi th speci al
emphasi s on three of hi s poems ? Song# $oe and Catche a %al l i ng
Star& Ecstasy& and Death 'e not Proud(

Son; !oe and Catc"e a Fallin Star
' t seems fr(i tl ess, at l east to me, to i nterpret the poem Song i f
we are (nabl e to thi nk and connect. !hat #el en Jardner sa"s i n
the conte,t of !i re and !ngel s hol ds good e*en for thi s l i terar"
pi ece. ' t i s tr(e that i f we read i t one wa", the poi nt seems
ordi nar" one, b(t i f we read i t the other wa" .b" thi nki ng and
connecti ng3 we are e,posed to a *ast gam(t of knowl edge al ong
wi th aestheti c pl eas(re.
; Joe and catche a fal l i ng starre
$he fal l i ng starre i n the openi ng l i ne i s not si mpl " a cel esti al
ob) ect@ i t stands for the i n*asi on of the Ol d &osmol og" b" the
new phi l osoph". ' n the medi e*al worl d, the (ni *erse was
concei *ed accordi ng to the Ol d 5tol emai c astronom", as a *ast
s"stem of concentri c spheres wi th the earth at the centre. $he
sphere carri ed the moon, the s(n, the pl anets, and the stars@ the
s(bstance of these cel esti al bodi es i ncreased i n reA nement and
p(ri t" i n proporti on to thei r di stance from the earth, and be"ond
the o(termost sphere l a" the emp"rean or hea*en, the abode of
Jod. ' t was bel i e*ed that the whol e s"stem was bo(nd together
i n a di *i nel " appoi nted order, al wa"s tho(ght of as hi erarchi cal .
%(t the ass(mpti ons of &operni c(s shook the *er" fo(ndati on of
the medi e*al worl d. #i s h"pothesi s was that, i t i s not the earth
whi ch i s at the centre. ' nfact i t i s the earth and other cel esti al
bodi es whi ch enci rcl eHre*ol *e aro(nd the s(n. $h(s man s fai th
i n hi s own i mportance and that of hi s pl anet was shaken. $he
i n*asi on of the Ol d &osmol og" b" the Few 5hi l osoph" bro(ght a
sense of di sorder. $hi s i s perhaps wh" ;Deca" i s the s(b) ect of
man" of Donne s poems.
+o what Donne i ntended to con*e" when he wrote Joe and
catche a fal l i ng starre, perhaps i s, i t i s rather eas" to bri ng back
the ol d cosmol og" and to rei nstal l peopl e s fai th agai n, b(t i t i s
an i mpossi bi l i t" to get a l ad" ; tr(e and fai re .
; -nd sweare
Fo where
Li *es a woman tr(e, and fai re.
$he sense of pessi mi sm i n the Song i s nothi ng b(t a re9 ecti on
of the age i n whi ch he l i *ed@ i n whi ch the ol der col l i ded wi th the
new, he was s(spended between two worl ds, the ol d worl d of
deca", and the new worl d of progress. #e was press(red b" the
harsh, (ncomfortabl e, c(ri o(s age, whi ch had o(tgrown i ts
medi e*al heri tage and so(ght to repl ace i t wi th new
phi l osophi es, new sci ences, new worl ds, new poetr". $he sense
of di sg(st wo(l d seem di sg(sti ng to a reader i f he i s (naware
that Donne had hi msel f e,peri enced woman s i nconstanc" i n l i fe.
$o *al i date the poi nt f(rther, the l i ne, ; -nd A nd !hat wi nde
+er*es to ad*ance an honest mi nd al so carri es a pol i ti cal
baggage. $he mo(nti ng corr(pti on that pre*ai l ed thro(gho(t the
rei gn of J ames ' i n whi ch i t was al most necessar" to be corr(pt i n
order to ad*ance i n l i fe. #ence, i t wo(l d be no l esser than a
cri me on o(r part i f we fai l to thi nk and connect. :oreo*er the
poem i s abo(t the L(est for tr(e l o*e, whi ch e*er " reader wi t h
a hear t can connect and l i nk t o.

#"e E$tasie
!hate*er appl i es to the Song appl i es to The E)tasi e as wel l . ' t
i s not s(K ci ent to l ook at E,tasi e i n secl (si on. ' t i s i n thi s poem
we see Donne e*ol *i ng i n hi s noti on of l o*e, hi s i mpro*ement as
a poet and the l i ke. $o *al i date thi s statement l ets compare the
E)tasi e wi th hi s other poem, El egy# To *i s Mi stri s $oi ng to "ed(
' n To *i s Mi stri s $oi ng to "ed we see a di Cerent ki nd of l o*e@
e,pl i ci tl " ph"si cal Hsens(al . $o L(ote ?
Li cense my ro+i ng hands& and l et them go
"ehi nd& 'efore& a'o+e& 'et,een& 'el o,
-h my !meri ca& my ne, found l ande
My .i ngdom& safel i est ,hen ,i th one man man’ d
My myne of preci ous stones& my Empi ree
' n The E)tasi e Donne con*e"s a *er" di Cerent and more compl e,
atti t(de towards l o*e. ' t becomes e*i dent from the l i ne ?
!nd ,hi l ’ st our Soul es negoti ate there&
Wee l i .e sepul chral statues l ay#
!l l day& the same our postures ,ere
!nd ,ee sai d nothi ng& al l the day
Fow the area of i nterest for (s i s to see whi ch poem was
wri tten A rst. !e know that $o #i s :i stri s was p(bl i shed A rst i n
1/11, i n the *ol (me of poems enti tl ed El egi es. %(t we cannot be
s(re as to when was i t act(al l " wri tten. +ame i s the case wi th
The E)tasi e, for we don t know the "ear when i t was composed.
#ad, To *i s Mi stri s been wri tten before The E)tasi e, we get an
al togetherl " di Cerent i nterpretati on of the poem. $he re*erse i s
al so eL(al l " tr(e. $hi s s(pports the *i ew that art does not e,i sts
i n *ac((m@ art s(r*i *es beca(se of i ts conte,t.
Let (s consi der the A rst case i . e. what i f To *i s Mi stri s was
wri tten before The E)tasi eM $he answer wo(l d be that these
poems sho(l d be i nterpreted as an a(tobi ographi cal acco(nt of
Donne s transformati on as a l o*er@ from ph"si cal to the spi ri t(al .
$here are ampl e hi nts i n the i ntrod(cti on that there was a ki nd
of paradi gm shi ft i n hi s tho(ght process once he fel l i n l o*e wi th
-nne :ore.
!hereas i f the re*erse was the case, then the re*ersal of
tho(ght co(l d be attri b(ted to the age i n whi ch he wrote. $he
*i ctor" of new o*er ol d, change o*er tradi ti on, materi al o*er
spi ri t(al and so on. The E)tasi e then wo(l d not ha*e been
i nterpreted as a poem abo(t ; spi ri t(al l o*e , rather, i t wo(l d be
appropri ate to cal l i t a poem abo(t Bski l l f(l sed(cti onD, as p(t
forward b" 5rofessor 5i erre Lego(i s i n Donne the Craftsman i n
Donne s *i ew that spi ri t(al l o*e can be attai ned thro(gh
ph"si cal can al so be l i nked wi th hi s contemporar" theor" of
; chai n of bei ngs . -ngel s co(l d e,peri ence a total l " spi ri t(al l o*e
(nad(l terated b" the ph"si cal b(t man, bei ng part di *i ne and
part ani mal can attai n the spi ri t(al thro(gh the sens(al . $he
(ni ti ng of the so(l s i s the p(rest and hi ghest form of l o*e, b(t
can be attai ned thro(gh the (ni ti ng of the bodi es. -gai n the
need to connect.
$o rei nforce the i dea, l et (s see how the arg(ment hol ds wel l
i n al l poems of DonneI
' f the" be two, the" are two so
-s sti Ce twi n compasses are two
$h" so(l the A ,t foot, makes no show
$o mo*e, b(t doth, i f the other doe
% A Valediction:Forbidding
#ad we been (naware that thi s i s a poem where the poet
ad*i ses hi s bel o*ed .-nne :ore3 not to mo(rn at the moment
the" bi d farewel l to each other, for he was goi ng to Grance wi th
+i r 8obert Dr(r", the meani ng and the i ntensi t" of emoti ons
perhaps wo(l d ha*e been di Cerent and i nadeL(ate. -gai n, the
theme of l o*e i tsel f i s so (ni *ersal that e*er" one of (s wo(l d
l i ke to rel ate to. E*er" one of (s wo(l d l i ke to be the ; foot of a
compass and wo(l d not mi nd l ongi ng l ong for the other foot to

Deat" &e not 'roud
Death 'e /ot Proud is s(pposed to ha*e been written between 1/0121/10.
$he poem Arst appeared as B#ol" +onnet ND in a collection of 17 sonnets b"
John Donne. $he poem is well known for its message of hope co(ched in
eloL(ent, L(otable lang(age. Donnes theme tells the reader that death has
no right to be pro(d, since h(man beings do not die b(t li*e eternall" after
;one short sleep.
Donnes progress as a poet .both in s(b)ect and techniL(e3 has to be
obser*ed caref(ll". #is Elegies incl(des twent" poems Arst p(blished in 1/11,
the" are all earl" poems, written in 1570s. +ome of them are 0ealousie& The
Perfume& -n his Mistris $oing to "ed. $hen comes his +ongs and +onnets, a
collection of Aft"2A*e l"rics in *ario(s metres, and at *ario(s times
.comparati*el" later than the Elegies3. $he collection incl(des s(ch Ane l"rics
as The E)tasie& The 1eli2ue& The %lea& ! 3alediction4 %or'idding Mourning& !
3alediction4 of Weeping& /octurnall pon St( Lucies Day& The $ood-morro,&
etc. #ol" +onnets, a collection of nineteen sacred sonnets is s(pposed to
ha*e been written d(ring the later stage of Donnes poetic career, Death 'e
/ot Proud belongs to this stage. $he problem
as to when the *ario(s sonnets were written is a comple,, largel" theological
one, b(t it seems likel" that man" of them belong to that period of do(bt and
intense thinking abo(t his religion which preceded Donnes entr" into the
&h(rch. $he "ears 1/07217 are probabl" the likeliest for the ma)orit".
'n the words of Edward Dowden, BDonne as a poet is certainl" diKc(lt to
access. #ow shall we approach him, how aCect an entranceM !ith diCerent
a(thors we need a diCerent methods of approach, diCerent kinds of c(nning
to become free of their domain, some m(st be taken b" storm, some m(st be
entreated, caressed, wheedled into acL(iescence. $here are poets who in a
single l"ric gi*e (s, as it were, a ke" which admits (s to the master" of all
their wealth. $owards others we m(st make an indirect ad*ance, we m(st
reach them thro(gh the age which the" represent or the school in which the"
ha*e been readers or p(pilsOO. 't is not then b" st(d"ing Donne as a leader
of a school that we shall come to (nderstand him. !e get access to his
writings, ' belie*e, most readil" thro(gh his life, and thro(gh an interest in his
character as an indi*id(alD. !hat Edward Dowden intends to sa" is e,actl"
same to what Joan %ennett said ? Donnes poetr" necessitates reading,
thinking and connecting.
Jardner #elenI The !rgument a'out Ecstasy& 5676
Lo*elock J(lianI Donne4 Songs and Sonnets
%ennet JoanI %i+e Metaphysical Poets
Leishman J. %I Monarch of Wit
1. John Donne@ an introd(ction
2. &ritics *iews
1. +ongI Joe and &atche a Galling +tarre
6. E,tasie
5. Death %e Fot 5ro(d
/. &oncl(sion
7. %ibliograph"

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful