John Donne's Songs and Sonnets by John Donne

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What are some useful methods for analyzing and explaining a poem by John Donne?

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Although John Donne is an immensely inventive and unpredictable poet, certain analytical techniques are often consistently useful in analyzing his poems.  Take, for instance, his poem “The Apparition,” in which a vindictive ghost returns from the dead to torment the woman who once rejected him.

  • Throughout the poem, Donne lets the ghost speak for himself.  This technique is typical of Donne’s tendency to present speakers whose characters and motives the reader must assess for herself, based on the evidence the poem itself provides. Thus, the first line of “The Apparition” – “When by thy scorn, O murderess, I am dead” – implies a speaker who exaggerates, who is full of self-pity, who may be intentionally humorous, but who is certainly not to be taken completely seriously. A few lines later, the speaker tells the woman that after she has...

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