Born in London, the great poet is known as the founder of Metaphysical Poets, a term created by Samuel Johnson, an essayist, poet and philosopher. The Metaphysical Poets are known for their ability to startle the reader and coax new perspective through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax and imagery from art, philosophy and religion using an extended metaphor known as a conceit.
Donne reached beyond the rational and hierarchical structures of the 17th century with the exacting and ingenious conceits, advancing the exploratory spirit of his time.
Donne entered the world during the period of theological and political unrest for both England and France; a Protestant massacre occurred on Saint Bartholomew’s day in France; while in England, the Catholics were the persecuted minority. Born into a Roman Catholic family, Donne’s personal relationship with religion was tumultuous and passionate and at the center of much of his poetry. He studied at both Oxford and Cambridge Universities in his early teen years.
Donne wrote most of his love lyrics, erotic verse, and some sacred poems in the 1590’s, creating two major volumes of work: Satires and Songs and Sonnets.
Donne’s love poetry was written nearly 400 years ago; yet one reason for its appeal is that it speaks to us directly and urgently as if we overhear a present confidence. For instance, a lover who is about to board ship for a long voyage turns back to share a last intimacy with his mistress: “Here take my picture” (Elegy 5). Two lovers who have turned their backs upon a threatening world in ” The Good Morrow” celebrate their discovery of a new world in each other.
In “The Flea” an importunate lover points out a flea that has been sucking his mistress’s blood and now tries to suck his; he tries to prevent his mistress from crushing it. This poem moves forward as a kind of dramatic argument in the flea itself becomes the means by which they work out the true end of their love. The incessant play of a skeptical intelligence gives even the style of impassioned reasoning.
Donne’s standing as a great English poet and one of the greatest writers of English prose is now assured. However, it has only been confirmed only in the early 20th century. The history of Donne’s reputation is the most remarkable of any major writer in English; no other body of great poetry has fallen so far from favor from so long and been generally condemned as inept and crude. For some 30 years after his death successive editions of his verse stamped his powerful influence upon English poets.
According to luminarium.org and The Literature Network he wrote 23 Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions, 58 Songs and Sonnets, 20 Elegies, 40 Divine Poems and Sonnets, 13 Letters to Personages, 2 Epigrams, 5 Satires, Infinitati Sacrum (Metempsychosis). He also translated Latin Poems and wrote a few. He wrote 160 Sermons. Obsessed with the idea of death, Donne preached what was called his own funeral sermons, “Death Duel” just a few weeks before he died in London on March 31, 1631.