John Donne. Life. John Donne (1572 ～ 1631), the founder of the metaphysical school of poetry and the greatest representative of the metaphysical poets, was born of a family with a strong Roman Catholic tradition. He was educated at the Trinity College, Cambridge. . Life.
As a young man hungry for adventures, he went with Essex on the expedition to Cadiz in 1596 and later became secretary to Lord Keeper Egerton. In 1601 he eloped with the niece of Lord Keeper and was imprisoned by the girl's father. For several years after his release, he lived in poverty. But during this time he wrote some of his most beautiful poems, many of which were believed to have been written to his wife. These were known as his youthful love lyrics.
In 1615 he gave up Catholic faith and entered the Anglican Church and soon became Dean of Saint Paul's Church. As the most famous preacher during the time, he wrote many religious sermons and poems. And these were known as his sacred verses.
John Donne's poems and other poems like his are known as the Metaphysical poems. Metaphysical poetry is a term applied to poetry that is highly intellectual and philosophical, that makes extensive use of ingenious conceit, and that usually combines intense emotion with mental ingenuity. The term “ metaphysical ” was invented by John Dryden, the outstanding writer during the Restoration, who thought that John Donne “ affects the metaphysics ” in both his love lyrics and cynical poems. Later, the term was adopted by Samuel Johnson(1709 ～ 1784), who thought that Donne's lyrics were not describing the natural feeling but were only a game of showing off his knowledge and that in Donne's poems, the most heterogeneous ideas were yoked by violence.
The main features of metaphysical poetrycan be summarized as the following:
Wit or conceit is commonly used, but the wit or conceit is so odd that the reader usually loses sight of the thing to be illustrated.
The theme is peculiar. The theme is not decorated by conventional comparisons. Instead, it is illumined or emphasized by fantastic metaphors and extravagant hyperboles.
Sensuality is blended with philosophy, passion with intellect, and contraries are ever moving one into the other.
Complex rhythms are used.
As we have seen, John Donne's poems can be divided into two categories: the early youthful love lyrics and the later sacred verses. His love lyrics may be classified into two groups. The poems of one group takes a negative attitude towards love, saying that women are always inconstant towards love and that there is no faithful love on earth, as shown in Go and Catch a Falling Star. The poems of the other group takes a positive attitude towards love, in which Donne expresses his genuine sentiments of love, and even sanctifies love as something holy, as shown in The Canonization and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.