John Donne Questions and Answers

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In a speech about John Donne and other metaphysical poets, I would like to know some information and points I can talk about. I am delivering a talk about metaphysical verse and its potential for public performance, and will be including reference to some famous metaphysical poets including Donne, Herbert etc.

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Susan Smith eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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I can perhaps help you with Donne.  Donne, in some ways, is particularly suited for public performance.

First of all, many lines of his poetry are conversational or informal in style.  For instance, the speaker begins "The Canonization" with "For God's sake, hold your tongue, and let me love!"  This poem is  a beautiful glorification of the love between and man and woman, yet it begins with such bluster and anger.  "The Sun Rising" begins in much the same way, "Busy old fool, unruly sun." Even his religious poems such as "Death, be not proud"  or Holy Sonnet 10, use such informalities.

Further, the tone of the poems changes dramatically in many of his poems, making them especially suitable for performing.  "The Canonization" and "The Sun Rising" begin with irritation and end with serenity.  "The Fever" begins with a disconsolate speaker and ends with acceptance of a loved one's death.  Holy Sonnet 10 begins with  defiance and ends with triumph.

But most importantly is the dramatic situation that many of Donne's poems employ.  "The Flea," a seduction poem, concerns the speaker's argument to a woman.  In this poem, the speaker's intended audience is the woman:  "Mark but this flea."  But the woman has a role in the poem as well.  She responds to the speaker's words, and the speaker fashions his argument according to her responses.  As she starts to kill the flea, the speaker pleads, "Oh stay, three lives in one flea spare."  When she kills the flea, the speaker responds with "Cruel and sudden, hast thou since/Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence."  You can find this type of dramatic situation, to a lesser extent, in "The Good-Morrow" and  "Break of Day."  Even "The Sun Rising" contains a specific setting (the bedroom), a specific audience (the sun), and events to which the speaker responds, (morning breaking.)

Hopefully I have given you a few ideas for your talk.

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