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About this poet

John Donne was born on January 22, 1572, in London, England. He is known as the founder of the Metaphysical Poets, a term created by Samuel Johnson, an eighteenth-century English essayist, poet, and philosopher. The loosely associated group also includes George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and John Cleveland. The Metaphysical Poets are known for their ability to startle the reader and coax new perspective through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax, and imagery from art, philosophy, and religion using an extended metaphor known as a conceit. Donne reached beyond the rational and hierarchical structures of the seventeenth century with his exacting and ingenious conceits, advancing the exploratory spirit of his time.

Donne entered the world during a period of theological and political unrest for both England and France; a Protestant massacre occurred on Saint Bartholomew's day in France; while in England, the Catholics were the persecuted minority. Born into a Roman Catholic family, Donne's personal relationship with religion was tumultuous and passionate, and at the center of much of his poetry. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in his early teen years. He did not take a degree at either school, because to do so would have meant subscribing to the Thirty-nine Articles, the doctrine that defined Anglicanism. At age twenty he studied law at Lincoln's Inn. Two years later he succumbed to religious pressure and joined the Anglican Church after his younger brother, convicted for his Catholic loyalties, died in prison. Donne wrote most of his love lyrics, erotic verse, and some sacred poems in the 1590s, creating two major volumes of work: Satires and Songs and Sonnets.

In 1598, after returning from a two-year naval expedition against Spain, Donne was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton. While sitting in Queen Elizabeth's last Parliament in 1601, Donne secretly married Anne More, the sixteen-year-old niece of Lady Egerton. Donne's father-in-law disapproved of the marriage. As punishment, he did not provide a dowry for the couple and had Donne briefly imprisoned.

This left the couple isolated and dependent on friends, relatives, and patrons. Donne suffered social and financial instability in the years following his marriage, exacerbated by the birth of many children. He continued to write and published the Divine Poems in 1607. In Pseudo-Martyr, published in 1610, Donne displayed his extensive knowledge of the laws of the Church and state, arguing that Roman Catholics could support James I without compromising their faith. In 1615, James I pressured him to enter the Anglican Ministry by declaring that Donne could not be employed outside of the Church. He was appointed Royal Chaplain later that year. His wife died in 1617 at thirty-three years old shortly after giving birth to their twelfth child, who was stillborn. The Holy Sonnets are also attributed to this phase of his life.

In 1621, he became dean of Saint Paul's Cathedral. In his later years, Donne's writing reflected his fear of his inevitable death. He wrote his private prayers, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, during a period of severe illness and published them in 1624. His learned, charismatic, and inventive preaching made him a highly influential presence in London. Best known for his vivacious, compelling style and thorough examination of mortal paradox, John Donne died in London on March 31, 1631.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Satires (1593)
Songs and Sonnets (1601)
Divine Poems (1607)
Psevdo-Martyr (1610)
An Anatomy of the World (1611)
Ignatius his Conclaue (1611)
The Second Anniuersarie. Of The Progres of the Soule (1611)
An Anatomie of the World (1612)
Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions (1624)
Deaths Dvell (1632)
Ivvenilia (1633)
Poems (1633)
Sapientia Clamitans (1638)
Wisdome crying out to Sinners (1639)

Prose

Letters to Severall Persons of Honour (1651)
A Collection of Letters, Made by Sr Tobie Mathews, Kt. (1660)

Essays

A Sermon Vpon The VIII. Verse Of The I. Chapter of The Acts Of The Apostles (1622)
A Sermon Vpon The XV. Verse Of The XX. Chapter Of The Booke Of Ivdges (1622)
Encania. The Feast of Dedication. Celebrated At Lincolnes Inne, in a Sermon there upon Ascension day (1623)
Three Sermons Upon Speciall Occasions (1623)
A Sermon, Preached To The Kings Mtie. At Whitehall (1625)
The First Sermon Preached To King Charles (1625)
Fovre Sermons Upon Speciall Occasions (1625)
Five Sermons Vpon Speciall Occasions (1626)
A Sermon Of Commemoration Of The Lady Dãuers (1627)
Six Sermons Vpon Severall Occasions (1634)
LXXX Sermons (1640)
Biathanatos: A Declaration of that Paradoxe, or Thesis that Selfe-homicide is not so (1644)
Naturally Sinne, that it may never be otherwise (1647)
Essayes in Divinity (1651)

The Anniversary

John Donne, 1572 - 1631
All kings, and all their favourites,
    All glory of honours, beauties, wits,
The sun it self, which makes time, as they pass,
Is elder by a year now than it was
When thou and I first one another saw.
All other things to their destruction draw,
    Only our love hath no decay;
This no to-morrow hath, nor yesterday;
Running it never runs from us away,
But truly keeps his first, last, everlasting day.

    Two graves must hide thine and my corse;
    If one might, death were no divorce.
Alas! as well as other princes, we
—Who prince enough in one another be—
Must leave at last in death these eyes and ears,
Oft fed with true oaths, and with sweet salt tears;
    But souls where nothing dwells but love
—All other thoughts being inmates—then shall prove
This or a love increasèd there above,
When bodies to their graves, souls from their graves remove.

    And then we shall be throughly blest;
    But now no more than all the rest.
Here upon earth we're kings, and none but we
Can be such kings, nor of such subjects be.
Who is so safe as we? where none can do
Treason to us, except one of us two.
    True and false fears let us refrain,
Let us love nobly, and live, and add again
Years and years unto years, till we attain
To write threescore; this is the second of our reign.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

John Donne

John Donne

The poet John Donne is known as the founder of the Metaphysical Poets, which included George Herbert and Andrew Marvell, among others.

by this poet

poem
When by thy scorn, O murd'ress, I am dead 
         And that thou think'st thee free 
From all solicitation from me, 
Then shall my ghost come to thy bed, 
And thee, feign'd vestal, in worse arms shall see; 
Then thy sick taper will begin to wink, 
And he, whose thou art then, being tir'd before, 
Will, if thou
poem
Since I am coming to that Holy room, 
    Where, with Thy choir of saints for evermore, 
I shall be made Thy music; as I come 
    I tune the instrument here at the door, 
    And what I must do then, think here before; 

Whilst my physicians by their love are grown 
    Cosmographers, and I their map, who lie
poem
        Busy old fool, unruly Sun, 
        Why dost thou thus,
Through windows, and through curtains, call on us? 
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run? 
        Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide 
        Late school-boys and sour prentices, 
    Go tell court-huntsmen that the king will ride, 
    Call