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)

To Sir Henry Wotton

John Donne, 1572 - 1631

Sir, more than kisses, letters mingle souls,
For thus, friends absent speak. This ease controls
The tediousness of my life; but for these
I could ideate nothing which could please,
But I should wither in one day and pass
To a bottle of hay, that am a lock of grass.
Life is a voyage, and in our lives' ways
Countries, courts, towns are rocks, or remoras;
They break or stop all ships, yet our state's such,
That, though than pitch they stain worse, we must touch.
If in the furnace of the raging Line,
Or under th' adverse icy Pole thou pine,
Thou know'st two temperate regions, girded in,
Dwell there; but oh! what refuge canst thou win
Parched in the court and in the country frozen?
Shall cities built of both extremes be chosen?
Can dung or garlic be perfume? Or can
A scorpion or torpedo cure a man?
Cities are worst of all three; of all three
(Oh knotty riddle) each is worst equally.
Cities are sepulchres; they who dwell there
Are carcasses, as if no such they were;
And courts are theatres, where some men play
Princes, some slaves, all to one end, of one clay.
The country is a desert, where no good
Gained as habits, not born, is understood;
There men become beasts and prone to all evils;
In cities, blocks; and in a lewd court, devils.
As in the first Chaos confusedly,
Each element's qualities were in the other three,
So pride, lust, covetise, being several
To these three places, yet all are in all,
And mingled thus, their issue is incestuous:
Falsehood is denizen'd; Virtue is barbarous.
Let no man say there, "Virtue's flinty wall
Shall lock vice in me; I'll do none, but know all."
Men are sponges, which, to pour out, receive;
Who know false play, rather than lose, deceive.
For in best understandings sin began;
Angels sinned first, then devils, and then man.
Only perchance beasts sin not; wretched we
Are beasts in all but white integrity.
I think if men, which in these places live,
Durst look in themselves, and themselves retrieve,
They would like strangers greet themselves, seeing then
Utopian youth grown old Italian.
   Be then thine own home, and in thyself dwell;
Inn anywhere; continuance maketh hell.
And seeing the snail which everywhere doth roam,
Carrying his own house still, still is at home,
Follow (for he is easy paced) this snail,
Be thine own palace, or the world's thy jail.
And in the world's sea, do not like cork sleep
Upon the water's face; nor in the deep
Sink like a lead without a line; but as
Fishes glide, leaving no print where they pass,
Nor making sound, so closely thy course go;
Let men dispute whether thou breathe or no:
Only in this be no Galenist,—to make
Court's hot ambitions wholesome, do not take
A dram of country's dullness; do not add
Correctives, but, as chemics, purge the bad;
But, Sir, I advise not you, I rather do
Say o'er those lessons which I learn'd of you,
Whom, free from Germany schisms, and lightness
Of France, and fair Italy's faithlessness,
Having from these sucked all they had of worth,
And brought home that faith which you carried forth,
I thoroughly love; but if myself I've won
To know my rules, I have and you have
                                                          DONNE.

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
        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
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
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou are not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men