John Donne Questions and Answers

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What are some characteristics of the imagery found in John Donne's poetry?

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Samuel Johnson said of metaphysical poetry:

[In it, t]he most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together

Johnson's is an unflattering way of putting it, but Donne's metaphysical imagery is characterized by juxtaposing the sacred and the profane and startling us with his imagery.

One startling image—though we may have heard it so many times by now that it has lost some of its edge—is the comparison of a human being to an island. These (human and island) could be said to be heterogeneous ideas yoked together, but Donne makes a point through them about the interconnectedness of human experience. He uses geographical metaphors when he writes:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.

The sacred and profane are mixed in "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," a poem about love. Donne uses a startling and spiritual image of "gold to aery thinness beat" as he describes how the lovers souls are connected, no matter how far apart their...

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