Discuss John Donne's works as a religious poet.

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Donne is a metaphysical poet, following the style of John Davies in his poem "A Preface to Metaphysical Poetry".

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Donne was a cleric (priest) in the Church of England and rose through the hierarchy to become the Dean of London's St. Paul's Cathedral. He is known for sleeping in a coffin to remind himself of his own mortality. He is also famous for using the fast-moving sands in an hour glass he would turn over while preaching to illustrate the speed with which human life passes.

Donne was often called metaphysical: this describes the school of poetry for which he is the most famous example but also describes his belief that life continues on after death. He illustrates this idea in many of his poems, such as in the defiant "Death Be Not Proud," in which he states:

One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And Death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

In his love poetry, Donne both celebrated physical, carnal love and expressed the metaphysical idea that true love has a strong spiritual component that ties lovers together: even if they are physically far apart, lovers are still one. In "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," he writes:

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

In his poetry, Donne also scorned love that was only based on physicality, seeing this as superficial: true love requires a spiritual connectedness between the lovers.

Donne's poetry moves away from cliches about faith or stock images to affront us and make us think. He uses unusual metaphors that startle us and yet point to the reality of the divine, illustrating the way that, to him, the spiritual space (that can seem out of the reach of our senses) is a continuation of who we are.

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Describe John Donne as a metaphysical poet.

Samuel Johnson, who came up with the term "metaphysical" to describe seventeenth-century poets like Donne, stated that in their poems,

The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

What Johnson means here is that this group of poets groped to find striking metaphors or images that moved beyond the smooth commonplaces of Elizabethan poetry. It had become hackneyed and worn out, for example, to compare your lover's cheeks to roses or hair to gold wires, so the metaphysicals worked to come up with more interesting words and ideas. They deliberately tried to put together ideas that wouldn't, at first glance, seem to fit together--this was done to surprise people and make them think. Johnson grudgingly admits this strategy works--their learning instructs and their technique surprises, but in his opinion, the reader has to work too hard at understanding what the poems mean for the reward to be worth the effort.

Donne fits Johnson's description of a metaphysical poet. If we use one section of a famous Donne poem, "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning," we can illustrate how a startling and unusual metaphor yokes together an idea:

If they be two, they are two so / As stiff twin compasses are two; / Thy soul, the fix'd foot, makes no show / To move, but doth, if th' other do. / And though it in the centre sit, / Yet, when the other far doth roam, / It leans, and hearkens after it, / And grows erect, as that comes home. / Such wilt thou be to me, who must, / Like th' other foot, obliquely run; / Thy firmness makes my circle just / And makes me end where I begun.

In the above, Donne compares a compass—the tool with which you draw a circle—to the relationship between his lover and himself. No matter how one "foot" or leg of the compass moves, the other stays still firm and fixed and holds the moving "foot" (i.e., lover) in place. It is unusual to compare lovers to the two legs of a compass and even more so to connect that image to sexual desire: "grow erect, as that comes home." And as Johnson points out, this is not a poem one can pull the meaning out of through a quick reading—it requires work and effort. Donne uses this kind of imagery all the time in his poems, and today we have a greater appreciation of this startling technique than did Johnson.

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Comment on John Donne as a metaphysical poet.

John Donne was only described as a metaphysical poet over a century after his death, by Dr. Samuel Johnson. He was one of only three poets to whom Johnson applied this label, the other two being the lesser-known Abraham Cowley and John Cleveland. It was only in the twentieth century that a large canon of Metaphysical poets, including such figures as George Herbert and Andrew Marvell, began to emerge.

Metaphysical poetry as defined by Johnson is distinguished by a conspicuous show of erudition, the use of conceits and wordplay, and metrical irregularity (in contrast to the smoothness of Johnson's own verse and that of other eighteenth-century poets). By all these criteria, Donne is clearly a metaphysical poet, and more obviously so than any other poet of the seventeenth century. Samuel Taylor Coleridge recognized precisely these qualities in Donne when he wrote:

With Donne, whose muse on dromedary trots,
Wreathe iron pokers into true-love knots;
Rhyme's sturdy cripple, fancy's maze and clue,
Wit's forge and fire-blast, meaning's press and screw.
The term metaphysical is out of favor in current academic writing, partly because it has been applied to such a large range of poets, from clergymen to cavaliers. However, it is clear that if any poets of the seventeenth century are to be regarded as metaphysical, Donne must, by any criteria, be one of their number.
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Discuss John Donne as a metaphysical poet.

Metaphysics is the philosophical study of reality or being.  John Donne is very interested in defining and understanding what is real, and what exists and what does not.  One of his more famous poems, "Air and Angels" uses the esoteric difference between the purity of the air, and the purity of angels, who are made of pure spirit (and are therefore more pure than air, according to Donne) to describe the difference between his love for his mistress and her love for him.  "As is 'twixt air and angels' purity,/'Twixt women's love and men's will ever be" (531).  Though Donne wrote poems with other things in mind than the understanding of the universe, including the racy-for-its-time "Elegy XIX: To His Mistress Going to Bed" (which was refused the license to print in 1633 and not printed until 1669, 523), a large portion of his oeuvre was concerned with making the personal universal.  Even short love poems such as "Lovers' Infiniteness" and "A Fever" elevate personal relationships to the heavenly level, with Donne fretting that he cannot have the entirety of his mistress's soul (because it belongs to God) and that if his mistress should die of a fever the world shall be destroyed (527-9).  Donne often turns to the otherworldly and the nature of reality, and because of this many of his poems are metaphysical. Source: Holander, John, and Frank Kermode, eds.  The Literature of Renaissance England.  New York, Oxford University Press, 1973.

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Is John Donne a Metaphysical poet?

Samuel Johnson, no fan of what we now call the metaphysical poets, coined the term metaphysical and described it as follows:

The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises; but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.

Metaphysical poets wrote verse that stood in stark contrast to the neoclassical poets Johnson preferred. Johnson praised the Neoclassicals for their regular meter, rhyming couplets, and clearly expressed ideas.

Johnson, for example, praised John Dryden, the kind of neoclassic poet he appreciated. He notes that Dryden liked Donne's "wit." Nevertheless, Johnson says of this wit:

But wit, abstracted from its effects upon the hearer, may be more rigorously and philosophically considered as a kind of discordia concors; a combination of dissimilar images or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike.

Donne is a metaphysical poet, and was appreciated, rather than reviled, for this talent in the twentieth-century. An example of a Donne poem that combines unusual or dissimilar images can be found in "The Canonization." Here, moving away from cliched descriptions of lovers, Donne describes two lovers as like candles ("tapers"), an eagle, a dove, and a phoenix, all very different kinds of birds. This stanza, the third, not only piles on metaphors, it defies gender norms that differentiate between the sexes by saying the two lovers can be described by the same objects:

We're tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
The phœnix riddle hath more wit
By us; we two being one, are it.
So, to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.
By yoking together many objects—the phoenix that rises again from the flames, the candles, the eagle, and the dove, Donne tries to show that the lovers, though encompassing a universe of forms, are animated by the same passion that causes rebirth in them both. He shows too that he is a metaphysical poet.
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Is John Donne a Metaphysical poet?

This is a very intersting question to consider, as really to answer it we need to move towards some kind of definition of what is meant by the expression "metaphysical." In a sense, this word is a label that has come to be applied to the work of certain poets, Donne of whom is one, who write poems that are short, draw their subject matter from the big issues facing their age, and are characterised by a rejection of traditional forms of expression and the adoption of startling conventions, particularly in the area of imagery. The conceit, in particular, which makes improbably comparisons, seems to be above all else the label that signifies whether a poet's work can be considered to be "metaphysical" or not.

To give one example of one of John Donne's conceits, let us consider "A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning," where a dying husband compares the link that exists between himself and his wife to a pair of compass points that are always linked even when they are separate:

Our two souls therefore, which are one,

Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to airy thinness beat.

Such original and striking imagery which elaborates its point beautifully explores and builds upon the central theme of the poem and also gives ample proof of why Donne is considered to be a metaphysical poet.

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Discuss metaphysical poetry in regards to John Donne.

The "Metaphysical Poets" or the "School of Donne" was simply a group of poets inspired by (or having works similar to) John Donne.  Metaphysics, in general, is the speculation on basic principles of knowledge and being.  Metaphysical poetry, then, deals specifically in Metaphysics.  Pretty deep stuff!  Ironically, some people accuse Donne of being "metaphysical" in order to "get physical," or to intrigue the "fair sex."  Ha!  Samuel Johnson was a critic, claiming that Donne was showing off by using only totally unrealistic paradoxes instead of getting down to the truths of knowledge and being.  Perhaps the best known member of the "School of Donne" was George Herbert who would certainly admit that, even though Donne tended toward hyperbole, Donne was also a master of wit, beauty, and perception.

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