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was the most outstanding of the English Metaphysical Poets
and a churchman famous for his spellbinding sermons.
born in London to a prominent Roman Catholic family but
converted to Anglicanism during the 1590s.
At the age of 11 he entered the University of Oxford, where
he studied for three years.
According to some accounts, he spent the next three years
at the University of Cambridge but took no degree at either
He began the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, London, in 1592,
and he seemed destined for a legal or diplomatic career.
Donne was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas
Egerton, Keeper of the Great Seal, in 1598.
His secret marriage in 1601 to Egerton's niece, Anne More,
resulted in his dismissal from this position and in a brief
imprisonment. During the next few years Donne made a
meager living as a lawyer.
principal literary accomplishments during this period
were Divine Poems (1607) and the prose work
Biathanatos (c. 1608, posthumously published 1644),
in which he argued that suicide is not intrinsically
became a priest of the Anglican Church in 1615 and
was appointed royal chaplain later that year.
In 1621was named dean of St. Paul's Cathedral.
attained eminence as a preacher, delivering sermons
that are regarded as the most brilliant and eloquent of
poetry embraces a wide range of
secular and religious subjects
wrote cynical verse about
inconstancy, poems about true love,
and lyrics on the mystical union of
lovers' souls and bodies and brilliant
satires and hymns depicting his own
a figure of speech which makes an
unusual and sometimes elaborately
sustained comparison between two
imitate the metaphors used by the Italian poet
used in love poetry, exploits a particular set of images
for comparisons with the despairing lover and his
unpitying but idolized mistress.
the lover is a ship on a stormy sea, and his mistress
"a cloud of dark disdain“
the lady is a sun whose beauty and virtue shine on
her lover from a distance.
The paradoxical pain and pleasure of lovesickness is
often described using oxymoron
uniting peace and war
burning and freezing
characteristic of seventeenth-century writers influenced by
noteworthy specifically for their lack of conventionality. In
general, the metaphysical conceit will use some sort of
shocking or unusual comparison as the basis for the
metaphor. When it works, a metaphysical conceit has a
startling appropriateness that makes us look at something in
an entirely new way.
draws upon a wide range of knowledge, mainly using highly
intellectual analogies; its comparisons are elaborately
"The Flea" compares a flea bite to the act of love
In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning" separated lovers
are likened to the legs of a compass, the leg drawing the
circle eventually returning home to "the fixed foot"
Characteristic of Donne's Poetry
It is sharply opposed to the rich melodies with smooth
rhythm and flow and the idealized view of sexual love which
constituted the central tradition of Elizabethan poetry,
especially in writers like the Petrarchan sonneteers and
It adopts a diction and meter modeled on the rough give-
and-take of actual speech.
It is usually organized in the dramatic or rhetorical form of an
urgent or heated argument (first drawing in the reader and
then launching the argument).
It puts to use a subtle and often outrageous logic.
It is marked by realism, irony and often a cynicism in its
treatment of the complexity of human motives.
It reveals a persistent wittiness, making use of paradox,
puns, and startling parallels.
Donne's poetry marks sharp stylistic
and thematic breaks from the sort of
verse written by his predecessors and
indeed most of his contemporaries.
Donne's Holy Sonnet 14
The sonnet is a highly conventional art form, and one
would expect a smooth iambic pentameter line. But
notice all the stressed syllables in the first lines of this
poem, and how hard it is to read them in the
conventional iambic pentameter pattern:
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for You
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, oe'erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
George Herbert (1593-1633)
Considered the finest of the religious metaphysicals,
was an Anglican poet who struggled for years between
choosing a religious life or one that was both academic
His collection of religious poems, The Temple: Sacred
Poems and Private Ejaculations (1633), shows him
Expressing his own sense of the conflict between the
claims established on man by worldly wit and
sophistication and those of true Christian devotion
Exploring the significance of the main symbols and
beliefs of Protestant Christianity
Like Donne, Herbert writes poetry
which grabs the reader's attention by
its opening statement of theme, but
unlike Donne, he maintains interest
and excitement by the unexpected
ways he transforms traditional
Herbert's poetry is marked by
alternating modes of shock and
repose: conflict is balanced by calm
trust, disturbed speculation by simple
faith, ingenious language by simplicity
The ultimate struggle or conflict in
Herbert's poetry is between the world
and complete surrender to God.
Herbert's poetry differs from Donne's in four
his work combines religious autobiography
with presentation of great Christian themes,
he uses musical devices and analogies to a
greater extent than any other metaphysical
he does not focus on the struggle for a
"right" faith or a true religion, because he
professes to have found it; and
he produced shaped or pattern poetry.
perhaps best known for his technique
of exploring analogies between
emblematic objects--such as the
human body or parts of the church
building and its furniture--and religious
He does so primarily through the use
of shaped verse.
Shaped verse is a poem so
constructed that its printed form
suggests its subject matter or its
Richard Crashaw (1612/13-1649)
A Catholic convert, Crashaw very nearly lived the last
part of his life exiled among the religious
Although like Herbert he is considered a religious
metaphysical, Crashaw's poetry reveals a sensibility
and a technique markedly different from that of either
Herbert or Donne.
His collection of poetry entitled Steps to the Temple
(1646) clearly refers to Herbert's earlier work, which he
is said to have admired. Crashaw's poetry, however, is
far removed stylistically from Herbert's.
poetry is characterized by a deliberate search for
startling and paradoxical expression meant specifically
to shock and excite the reader. He achieves this goal
in three related ways:
he presses all of the senses into the service of the
expression of religious passion,
he uses erotic and other images of physical appetite
and desire in a paradoxical way, and
he utilizes extravagant paradox involving the secular
and the divine, tears and ecstasy, the sensuous and
Carpe diem" means "seize the day"
This Latin term was coined by the
Roman poet Horace, and in general it
refers to all those works in which one
is reminded to eat, drink, and be
merry, for tomorrow we may die.
In lyric love poetry, the tradition sometimes
becomes a bit of a game, as the lover tries
to encourage the woman to enjoy love while
they are young and beautiful. We will be
reading several versions of the carpe diem
poem--including Donne's "The Flea" and
"The Ecstasy," as well as Andrew Marvell's
marvelous argument, "To His Coy Mistress."
was the most outstanding of the English Metaphysical Poets and a churchman famous for his spellbinding sermons. born in London to a prominent Roman Catholic family but converted to Anglicanism during the 1590s. At the age of 11 he entered the University of Oxford, where he studied for three years. According to some accounts, he spent the next three years at the University of Cambridge but took no degree at either university. He began the study of law at Lincoln's Inn, London, in 1592, and he seemed destined for a legal or diplomatic career. Donne was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Keeper of the Great Seal, in 1598. His secret marriage in 1601 to Egerton's niece, Anne More, resulted in his dismissal from this position and in a brief imprisonment. During the next few years Donne made a meager living as a lawyer.
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