What is something that can be learned from reading John Donne?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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John Donne is an Elizabethan poet who was also a satirist, lawyer, and a priest. His vast experience with the subject of humanities through both his law and religious careers made him the perfect candidate to write poems reflecting on human nature and to satirize, meaning to ridicule, such human nature. He is most noted for poems concerning British society and poems that questioned the concept of true religion. However, he also wrote love poems, erotic poems, and other secular poetry as well. Hence, if we were to explore exactly what we can learn from reading John Donne, we would be exploring what he teaches about human nature, British society, or even society at large, and about religion.

One example of an exploration of human nature can be seen in his poem "A Lecture Upon The Shadow." Here, he likens love and the development of love to the growth and recession of shadows as the sun moves through the sky. When the sun is lower in the sky during the mourning hours, the shadows that two lovers make are directly behind them, completely invisible to the lovers. He is using these shadows to represent blindness to or an obscurity of faults--so long as the shadows, or faults of the lovers, are behind them and cannot be seen, they are obscured from view, and the lovers remain oblivious to the faults. But as the day progresses, the shadows move to a position where they can be seen, and the lovers have the option of "treading" on the shadows, which Donne likens to clearly seeing the faults of the lovers, as we see in his lines:

We do those shadows tread,
And to brave clearness all things are reduc'd.
So whilst our infant loves did grow,
Disguises did, and shadows, flow
From us, and our cares; but now 'tis not so.

Throughout the rest of the poem, he continues to liken shadows to a form of blindness, even a necessary blindness for love to continue to exist. Donne is certainly correct to speak of the blindness of love as being a part of human nature and further of the need to continue to turn a blind eye to faults for love to prevail. Hence, we see that just by looking at this one poem, we can learn a great deal about Donne's interpretation of love as an aspect of human nature.

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