John Donne Questions and Answers

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How is Donne's life and character reflected in his metaphysical poetry?

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  1. So-called “metaphysical” poetry often seems highly learned and intellectual. Donne was himself a highly learned and intellectual man. He had studied at Oxford University (although he was not permitted to take a degree there because in his youth he was a Catholic). He then studied law at London’s Inns of Court. His prose writings are highly learned, and his poetry often reflects a great degree of learning as well.
  2. “Metaphysical” poetry often deals with a very wide range of topics, often within the same poem. Donne was learned in many different disciplines, including history, theology, philosophy, and the sciences, to name just a few. Donne’s poetry, like his later sermons and other prose writings, reflects his reading in all these different disciplines (and more).
  3. Most of the other writers who have been labeled “metaphysical poets” – men such as George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan – had strong interests in the Christian religion and often wrote a good deal of explicitly religious poetry. Donne himself had a strong interest in religion (he eventually became a very prominent Anglican priest and a splendid writer and deliverer of sermons). Donne also wrote a good deal of what might be called “religious propaganda.” His poetry, especially his famous Holy Sonnets, reflects his intense concern with religious issues.
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