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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)

To His Mistress Going to Bed

John Donne, 1572 - 1631
Come, madam, come, all rest my powers defy,
Until I labour, I in labour lie.
The foe oft-times having the foe in sight,
Is tired with standing though he never fight.
Off with that girdle, like heaven's zone glistering,
But a far fairer world encompassing.
Unpin that spangled breastplate which you wear,
That th'eyes of busy fools may be stopped there.
Unlace yourself, for that harmonious chime
Tells me from you that now it is bed time.
Off with that happy busk, which I envy,
That still can be, and still can stand so nigh.
Your gown going off, such beauteous state reveals,
As when from flowery meads th'hills shadow steals.
Off with your wiry coronet and show
The hairy diadem which on you doth grow:
Now off with those shoes: and then safely tread
In this love's hallowed temple, this soft bed.
In such white robes heaven's angels used to be
Received by men; thou, Angel, bring'st with thee
A heaven like Mahomet's Paradise; and though
Ill spirits walk in white, we easily know
By this these Angels from an evil sprite:
Those set our hairs, but these our flesh upright.
 License my roving hands, and let them go
Before, behind, between, above, below.
O my America! my new-found-land,
My kingdom, safeliest when with one man manned,
My mine of precious stones, my empery,
How blest am I in this discovering thee!
To enter in these bonds is to be free;
Then where my hand is set, my seal shall be.
 Full nakedness! All joys are due to thee,
As souls unbodied, bodies unclothed must be,
To taste whole joys. Gems which you women use
Are as Atlanta's balls, cast in men's views,
That when a fool's eye lighteth on a gem,
His earthly soul may covet theirs, not them:
Like pictures, or like books' gay coverings made
For lay-men, are all women thus arrayed.
Themselves are mystic books, which only we
(Whom their imputed grace will dignify)
Must see revealed. Then, since that I may know,
As liberally as to a midwife, show
Thyself: cast all, yea, this white linen hence,
There is no penance due to innocence:
 To teach thee, I am naked first; why than,
What need'st thou have more covering than a man?

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
Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me
poem
Come live with mee, and bee my love,
And wee will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands, and christall brookes,
With silken lines, and silver hookes.

There will the river whispering runne
Warm'd by thy eyes, more than the Sunne.
And there the'inamor'd fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When
poem
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