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JOHN DONNE (1572 - 1631) - Main works, The Holy Sonnets, Songs and Sonnets

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JOHN DONNE  (1572 - 1631)

John Donne was born in 1572, son of a prosperous London merchant. He lived in an age of transition: new science, religious conflicts. His early education was Catholic and, although he came to reject it (especially in its Jesuit form), his thinking and temperament were affected by his Catholic training throughout his life. In the early 1590's nineties he was a student at the Inns of Court in London, where he studied law, languages and theology. Soldier and courtier of the Earl of Essex, Donne followed him in two military expeditions against the Spanish. In 1615 he was converted to Anglicanism and took Holy Orders. He was at the same time court chaplain of Queen Elisabeth and a clever preacher. His wife Anne More died in 1617, at a time when he was achieving fame as a preacher. In 1621 Donne became Dean of Saint Paul's in London. In 1623 he had a serious illness. His sermons often allude to his own life - the deaths of his wife and daughter, his remorse at past sins.

Main works

In his youth Donne wrote Elegies and Satires.

Then he wrote :

Poems poesie (rime, poetries)

Songs and Sonnets Canzoni e sonetti (poesie amorose, amorous poetries)

Holy Sonnets Sonetti sacri and Hymns Inni (poesie teologiche, theological poetries)

Sermons Sermoni : the most famous of them is the Death's Duel, that he preached at Saint Paul's short time before his own death (1631).

The Holy Sonnets

The Holy Sonnets are meditations of a soul obsessed by the problem of sin and salvation. It seems probable that all these sonnets, except for three, that are later,

belong to about 1609-l1, that is, before Donne's ordination. The Holy Sonnets are very close to Michelangelo's religious sonnets.

Songs and Sonnets

First published in 1633, two years after Donne's death, these poems circulated in manuscript during the poet's lifetime. Occasionally dates can be conjectured. These poems show a great variety of tones and begin a new poetry respect courtly poetry. John Donne was a member of Metaphysical school, which hallmarks were the wit (the intellect) and the conceit. Metaphysical poetry was a mix of passion and thought, of feeling and reason. Donne used language of philosophical speculation in love poetry, where it sounded inappropriate ; he displayed his wit by conceits, isons between objects that seem to have nothing in common. So his poetry is witty arguta , because he used a lot of similes and metaphors and also images derived from law, theology, philosophy, science.

A valediction : forbidding mourning tell about the separation of the poet and his woman. Perhaps it was composed in 1611, on the occasion of a journey, that would have moved away the poet from his wife. The language and concepts are quite difficult because they are presented with similes and analogies not very explicited.

The poet tell his woman that parting not entail a real separation for true lovers, because they are spiritually united, like a compass compasso , and this spiritual link legame guarantees their final reunion.


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