John Donne

JohnDonneJohn Donne was an English poet who is most well known because of his association to the concept of ‘Metaphysical Poetry’.  He was also a cleric in the Church of England. However, his fame lies almost entirely on his significance in the field of metaphysical poetry. His poems have followed basically two themes- love and god. A lot of his poems derive matter from his personal life, particularly his marriage with Anne More.

Donne was born in London in 1572. His father died when he was just 4 years old and his mother remarried. He faced many challenges in his life since his biological father; also called John Donne; as well as his mother had been Catholics. He even failed to attain degree from Oxford and Cambridge due to his Catholicism. Being Catholic, he refused to take the ‘oath of Supremacy’ which was a must to obtain degree. He entered a legal college in 1591 and was admitted, in 1592, to ‘Lincoln’s Inn’, one of the Inns of Court. In 1597, he was appointed the secretary to the Lord Keeper of the Seal, Sir Thomas Egerton. However, he married Anne More in 1601. Anne More was Sir Thomas Egerton’s niece and the marriage took place against the wishes of the latter as well as Anne More’s father. Donne even had to spend some time in Fleet Prison till his marriage was proved valid. He had 12 children with Anne. He also served as a member of Parliament in between but his later years were spent at the church. On King James’s persistence, he became an Anglican priest and stayed associated with religious ranks till his death in 1631.

Donne’s works are inclusive of love poems, religious poems, sonnets, epigrams, elegies, songs and satires. His Latin translations and sermons are also well known. His earliest poems are full of criticism of English society. His early career is also known for his erotic poems. However, his later poetry is far more somber in tone. His financial, social, religious and psychological struggles are believed to have contributed significantly in intensifying the seriousness in his later poems. His preferences for poetic subjects are also believed to have followed the changing situations of his life. During his youth, he basically produced love poems while during his later years, his concern was for religious poems.

His style is the most typical example of metaphysical poetry. Particular use of Wit and Conceit; application of paradoxes; employment of unique metaphors and similes; and, Discordia Concors are all visible in his poems very clearly. His poems, thus, could be used as examples for clarifying the concept of Metaphysical poetry. His poetic style is also marked by abrupt openings. He is known for making poetry personal unlike the trends in classical poetry. His poetic meter is such that his diction resembles casual language a lot. His language was, more or less, a reaction to the smoothness of Elizabethan poetry.

Multiple Choice Questions on John Donne

1. John Donne married Anne More in:

  1. 1601
  2. 1605
  3. 1891
  4. 1897

2. Which ‘Inns of Court’ did John Donne join in 1592?

  1. Oxford Inn
  2. Lincoln’s Inn
  3. London Inn
  4. Royal Inn

3. John Donne wrote his famous phrase ‘John Donne, Anne Donne, Un-done’ in concern to:

  1. Birth of a stillborn as his 12th child
  2. Death of his daughter at the age of 18
  3. Loss of his position following his marriage
  4. Being forced to change his religion

4. Who was Donne’s chief patron 1610 onwards?

  1. Sir Robert Drury
  2. Sir Henry Styron
  3. Sir Walter Raleigh
  4. William Harrington

5. ‘The Anatomy of the World’ was published in:

  1. 1601
  2. 1697
  3. 1615
  4. 1611

6. ‘The Anatomy of the World’ was written in the memory of:

  1. Mary, his daughter
  2. Lucy, his patroness
  3. Elizabeth Drury, his patron’s daughter
  4. Anne More, his wife

7. Who said about Donne, “He affects the metaphysics, not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign; and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts, and entertain them with the softnesses of love”?

  1. John Dryden
  2. Ben Jonson
  3. S. Eliot
  4. Samuel Johnson

8. Who claimed, “Donne, for not keeping of accent, deserved hanging”?

  1. Ben Jonson
  2. S. Eliot
  3. Samuel Johnson
  4. John Dryden

9. Which of T. S. Eliot’s poems mentions John Donne?

  1. Ash Wednesday
  2. Aunt Helen
  3. Whispers of Immortality
  4. Gerontion

10. Which of these novels uses John Donne’s love story with Anne More as its subject?

  1. The Lady and the poet
  2. Conceit
  3. The Meaning of Night
  4. Stardust





Answer Keys:

  1. a
  2. b
  3. c
  4. a
  5. d
  6. d
  7. a
  8. a
  9. c
  10. a

Further Reading

Metaphysical Poetry