John Donne Questions and Answers

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How is Donne's poetry different from Elizabethan poetry?

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Donne's poetry is of the Metaphysical school.  It's a kind of pre-Romantic poetry similar to the Elizabethans', namely Shakespeare's, who used many conceits and extended metaphors like Donne.  Donne's poetry can be divided into two stages: early Donne (focus on physical union) and late Donne (focus on spiritual union).  Early Donne is sexually suggestive, and he paves the way for Andrew Marvell's "Coy Mistress" and the eros of the pre-Romantics of the Elizabethan era.

In terms of style, Donne's poetry is not as metrical as Shakespeare's.  Donne's verse is much more uneven and jarring to the ear.  Early Donne wrote in an open form; Shakespeare was more closed (sonnets).  Shakespeare's verse, with its iambic pentameter, is much more uniform and euphonious.

Donne's major themes in his earlier period are similar to Shakespeare's: physical union.  Both poets' speakers want to live on either in the physical act of love or in the memory of their lovers.  Later, Donne will focus on spiritual union.  His later poetry will sound and look more like the Cavaliers.

The Cavalier poets, followers of Ben Johnson, broke from the Metaphysical poets during the Elizabethan era.  Johnson was a professional writer, unlike Donne.  His major themes were art, order, development of good character.  Johnson and his Cavaliers wrote more fixed, closed-forms of poetry: elegies, epitaphs, tributes, lyrics, epigrams.  These Cavaliers seem to be the forerunners of the Realists, as opposed to Donne as a forerunner of the Romantics.

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John Donne (1572-1631) reacted against the monotonous convention of the Elizabethan love poetry and established what has become known as the Metaphysical style of poetry .While the Elizabethan love poets were busy in dressing their mistresses with rare beauties of a goddess, and faltering them with magnificent praises , Donne in that case enjoys the lady love ,experiences her love and tells his readers about the nature of that experience .

The Elizabethan in their images of love poetry use Petrarchan conceit .It exploits a particular set of images for comparisons with the despairing lover and his unpitying but idolized mistress But the Metaphysical poets in their love -poetry use image known as metaphysical conceit .It “is a comparison whose ingenuity is more striking than its justness" and that "a comparison becomes a conceit when we discover occult things in the things unlike”

One specimen from Donne's poetry , Good Morrow is relevant here .

.Donne in this poem employs the techniques which are,- the abrupt opening of the poem with a surprising dramatic line(I wander by my troth,what thou and I/Did,till we loved?); the use of colloquial diction (snorted ,But suck’d); the ideas in the poem being presented as a logical and persuasive argument (before experience ,after experience, the nature of the experience ,resultant of the experience ), the mode of wooing is such that “He perplexes the mind of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy , when he should entertain them with the softness of love” .For ,Donne here neither woos his mistress nor invites her to respond to love-making .His thrashing logic, abrupt comparison ,and far-fetched images prove a riddle to the mistress .His intention is to philosophize the miracle of the experience.

The Elizabethan poets , as Wyatt , Surrey, Sidney , Spenser etc  , were either love-lorn-swine , or flatterers of their mistress .They sing the woe of their disappointed love .Again they were conventional and their approach was courtly .Their poems had little poetic truth . Their poems grew monotonous , as they lacked the direct experience of life .

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