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John Donne. and the Metaphysical Poets. John Donne’s biography John Donne’s literary work The Metaphysical poets. John Donne’s biography.

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John Donne


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    1. John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets

    2. John Donne’s biography John Donne’s literary work The Metaphysical poets

    3. John Donne’s biography John Donne was born in Bread Street, London in 1572 to a prosperous Roman Catholic family. His father, John Donne, was a well-to-do ironmonger and citizen of London. Donne's father died suddenly in 1576, and left the three children to be raised by their mother, Elizabeth.        Donne's first teachers were Jesuits. At the age of 11, Donne and his younger brother Henry were entered at Hart Hall, University of Oxford, where Donne studied for three years. He spent the next three years at the University of Cambridge, but took no degree at either university because he would not take the Oath of Supremacy required at graduation. He was admitted to study law and it seemed natural that Donne should embark upon a legal or diplomatic career. In 1593, Donne's brother Henry died of a fever in prison after being arrested for giving sanctuary to a proscribed Catholic priest. This made Donne begin to question his faith. His first book of poems, Satires, written during this period of residence in London, is considered one of Donne's most important literary efforts. Although not immediately published, the volume had a fairly wide readership through private circulation of the manuscript. Same was the case with his love poems, Songs and Sonnets, assumed to be written at about the same time as the Satires.  Having inherited a considerable fortune, young "Jack Donne" spent his money on womanizing, on books, at the theatre, and on travels. In 1596, Donne joined the naval expedition that Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, led against Cádiz, Spain.  In 1597, Donne joined an expedition to the Azores, where he wrote "The Calm". Upon his return to England in 1598, Donne was appointed private secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, afterward Lord Ellesmere.

    4. Donne was beginning a promising career. In 1601, Donne became MP for Brackley, and sat in Queen Elizabeth's last Parliament. But in the same year, he secretly married Lady Egerton's niece, seventeen-year-old Anne More, daughter of Sir George More, Lieutenant of the Tower, and effectively committed career suicide. Sir George had Donne thrown in Fleet Prison for some weeks. Donne was dismissed from his post, and for the next decade had to struggle near poverty to support his growing family. Donne later summed up the experience: "John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone." Anne's cousin offered the couple refuge in Pyrford, Surrey, and the couple was helped by friends. It was not until 1609 that a reconciliation was effected between Donne and his father-in-law, and Sir George More was finally induced to pay his daughter's dowry.In the intervening years, Donne practised law, but they were lean years for the Donnes. Donne was employed by the religious pamphleteer Thomas Morton, later Bishop of Durham. To this period, before reconciliation with his in-laws, belong Donne's Divine Poems(1607) and Biathanatos (pub. 1644), a radical piece for its time, in which Donne argues that suicide is not a sin in itself.  As Donne approached forty, he published two anti-Catholic polemics Pseudo-Martyr (1610) and Ignatius his Conclave(1611). They were final public testimony of Donne's renunciation of the Catholic faith. Pseudo-Martyr, which held that English Catholics could pledge an oath of allegiance to James I, King of England, without compromising their religious loyalty to the Pope, won Donne the favour of the King. In return for patronage from Sir Robert Drury of Hawstead, he wrote A Funerall Elegie (1610), on the death of Sir Robert's 15-year-old daughter Elizabeth. At this time, the Donnes took residence on Drury Lane.  The two Anniversaries— An Anatomy of the World(1611) and Of the Progress of the Soul(1612) continued the patronage. Sir Robert encouraged the publication of the poems: The First Anniversary was published with the original elegy in 1611, and both were reissued with The Second Anniversary in 1612.

    5. Donne had refused to take Anglican orders in 1607, but King James persisted, finally announcing that Donne would receive no post or preferment from the King, unless in the church. In 1615, Donne reluctantly entered the ministry and was appointed a Royal Chaplain later that year. Just as Donne's fortunes seemed to be improving, Anne Donne died, on 15 August, 1617, aged thirty-three, after giving birth to their twelfth child, a stillborn. Seven of their children survived their mother's death. Struck by grief, Donne wrote the seventeenth Holy Sonnet, "Since she whom I lov'd hath paid her last debt." Donne continued to write poetry, notably his Holy Sonnets(1618), but the time for love songs was over. In 1618, Donne went as chaplain with Viscount Doncaster in his embassy to the German princes. His Hymn to Christ at the Author's Last Going into Germany, written before the journey, is laden with apprehension of death. Donne returned to London in 1620, and was appointed Dean of Saint Paul's in 1621, a post he held until his death. Donne excelled at his post, and was at last financially secure.

    6. In 1624, Donne was made vicar of St Dunstan's-in-the-West. On March 27, 1625, James I died, and Donne preached his first sermon for Charles I. But for his ailing health, (he had mouth sores and had experienced significant weight loss) Donne almost certainly would have become a bishop in 1630. Obsessed with the idea of death, Donne posed in a shroud - the painting was completed a few weeks before his death, and later used to create an effigy. He also preached what was called his own funeral sermon, Death's Duel, just a few weeks before he died in London on March 31, 1631. The last thing Donne wrote just before his death was Hymne to God, my God, In my Sicknesse.  Donne's monument, in his shroud, survived the Great Fire of London and can still be seen today at St. Paul's.

    7. John Donne’s literary work John Donne is considered a master of the conceit, an extended metaphor that combines two vastly unlike ideas into a single idea, often using imagery. Unlike the conceits found in other Elizabethan poetry, most notably Petrarchan conceits, which formed clichéd comparisons between more closely related objects (such as a rose and love), when such typical Petrarchan conceits appear in Donne, they are soundly mocked. Metaphysical conceits go to a greater depth in comparing two completely unlike objects. One of the most famous of Donne's conceits is found in A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning where he compares two lovers who are separated to the two legs of a compass. Donne liked to twist and distort not only images and ideas, but also traditional rhythmic patterns. Donne's works are also remarkably witty, employing paradoxes, puns, and subtle yet remarkable analogies. His pieces are often ironic and cynical, especially regarding the motives of humans and love. Common subjects of Donne's poems are love—especially in his early life, death—especially after his wife's death, and religion.

    8. Characteristic of Donne’s Poetry Donne set what has come to be known as the pattern for metaphysical poetry. His poetry can be characterised by the following attributes: -It is sharply opposed to the the sense of human dignity, and the idealised view of sexual love, which constituted the central tradition of Elizabethan poetry, especially in writers like Spenser. -It adopts a diction and meter modelled on the rough actual speech. -It is usually organised in the form of an urgent or heated argument. -It puts to use a subtle and often outrageous logic. -It is marked by realism, irony and often a cynicism in its treatment of the complexity of human motives.

    9. His career can be viewed as having two phases: Phase I His early poetry consist of five satires, twenty elegies (mainly about love, and deal with their theme in a variety of ways). Some are indeed cynical: they deal with the paradoxes of lust. Songs and Sonnets - by far the most interesting of Donne’s early work, the love poems in the collection are of different mood, addressed to different persons. In the songs and sonnets, Donne’s development is characteristic: the opening of the poem shock the reader into attention, sometimes by asking a question. Then the thought or argument is ingeniously developed in terms of ideas derived from philosophy or scientific notions. Donne’s chief quality in the early work is the union of passion and rationalisation.

    10. Phase II Although it changes in focus and theme, Donne’s later poetry remains as complex and dense as his earliest endeavours. The later work reflects his religious tension and his poetic exploration of man’s relationship with God. Most but not all of Donne’s Divine Poems were written during the last phase of his life, when the young and sophisticated scholar had grown into the grave and philosophical divine. The texts often explore controversial or though questions about religion with startling directness. The Divine poems were largely written after the death of Donne’s wife, when he had effectively abandoned the worldly, sensuous life behind him and was searching instead for a ‘right relationship’ with God. The 19 Holy Sonnets contain Donne’s finest examples of religious poetry. These poems are marked by the same intensity, the same combination of passion and argument that can be found in Songs and Sonnets, although the object of the passion has now changed. Donne’s later passion is more complex- it is a blend of the hope and anguish that marks the religious man’s search for the right relationship with his God, when he is aware not only of God’s greatness but also of his own comparative unworthiness.

    11. "The Flea" Summary The speaker tells his beloved to look at the flea before them and to note "how little" is that thing that she denies him. For the flea, he says, has sucked first his blood, then her blood, so that now, inside the flea, they are mingled; and that mingling cannot be called "sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead." The flea has joined them together in a way that, "alas, is more than we would do." As his beloved moves to kill the flea, the speaker stays her hand, asking her to spare the three lives in the flea: his life, her life, and the flea's own life. In the flea, he says, where their blood is mingled, they are almost married--no, more than married--and the flea is their marriage bed and marriage temple mixed into one. Though their parents grudge their romance and though she will not make love to him, they are nevertheless united and cloistered in the living walls of the flea. She is apt to kill him, he says, but he asks that she not kill herself by killing the flea that contains her blood; he says that to kill the flea would be sacrilege, "three sins in killing three." "Cruel and sudden," the speaker calls his lover, who has now killed the flea, "purpling" her fingernail with the "blood of innocence." The speaker asks his lover what the flea's sin was, other than having sucked from each of them a drop of blood. He says that his lover replies that neither of them is less noble for having killed the flea. It is true, he says, and it is this very fact that proves that her fears are false: If she were to sleep with him ("yield to me"), she would lose no more honour than she lost when she killed the flea.

    12. Commentary This funny little poem again exhibits Donne's metaphysical love-poem mode, his aptitude for turning even the least likely images into elaborate symbols of love and romance. This poem uses the image of a flea that has just bitten the speaker and his beloved to sketch an amusing conflict over whether the two will engage in premarital sex. The speaker wants to, the beloved does not, and so the speaker, highly clever but grasping at straws, uses the flea, in whose body his blood mingles with his beloved's, to show how innocuous such mingling can be--he reasons that if mingling in the flea is so innocuous, sexual mingling would be equally innocuous, for they are really the same thing. By the second stanza, the speaker is trying to save the flea's life, holding it up as "our marriage bed and marriage temple." But when the beloved kills the flea despite the speaker's protestations (and probably as a deliberate move to squash his argument, as well), he turns his argument on its head and claims that despite the high-minded and sacred ideals he has just been invoking, killing the flea did not really impugn his beloved's honour--and despite the high-minded and sacred ideals she has invoked in refusing to sleep with him, doing so would not impugn her honour either. This poem is the cleverest of a long line of sixteenth-century love poems using the flea as an erotic image, a genre derived from an older poem of Ovid. Donne's poise of hinting at the erotic without ever explicitly referring to sex, while at the same time leaving no doubt as to exactly what he means, is as much a source of the poem's humour as the silly image of the flea is; the idea that being bitten by a flea would represent "sin, or shame, or loss of maidenhead" gets the point across with a neat conciseness and clarity that Donne's later religious lyrics never attained.

    13. Hymn to God, my God, in my Sickness" Summary The speaker says that since he will soon die and come to "that holy room" where he will be made into the music of God as sung by a choir of saints, he tunes "the instrument" now and thinks what he will do when the final moment comes. He likens his doctors to cosmographers and himself to a map, lying flat on the bed to be shown "that this is my south-west discovery / Per fretum febris, by these straits to die." He rejoices, for in those straits he sees his "west," his death, whose currents "yield return to none," yet which will not harm him. West and east meet and join in all flat maps (the speaker says again that he is a flat map), and in the same way, death is one with the resurrection. The speaker asks whether his home is the Pacific Sea, or the eastern riches, or Jerusalem. He lists the straights of Anyan, Magellan, and Gibraltar, and says that only straits can offer access to paradise, whether it lies "where Japhet dwelt, or Cham, or Shem." The speaker says that "Paradise and Calvary, / Christ's Cross, and Adam's tree" stood in the same place. He asks God to look and to note that both Adams (Christ being the second Adam) are unified in him; as the first Adam's sweat surrounds his face, he says, may the second Adam's blood embrace his soul. He asks God to receive him wrapped in the purple of Christ, and, "by these his thorns," to give him Christ's other crown. As he preached the word of God to others' souls, he says, let this be his sermon to his own soul: "Therefore that he may raise the Lord throws down."

    14. Commentary Scholars are divided over the question of whether this poem was written on Donne's deathbed in 1630 or during the life-threatening fever he contracted in 1623. In either case, the "Hymn to God my God" was certainly written at a time when Donne believed he was likely to die. This beautiful, lyrical, and complicated poem represents his mind's attempt to summarize itself, and his attempt to offer, as he says, a sermon to his soul. In the first stanza, the speaker looks forward to the time when he will be in "that holy room" where he will be made into God's music--an extraordinary image--with His choir of saints. In preparation for that time, he says, he will "tune the instrument" (his soul) by writing this poem. The next several stanzas, devoted to the striking image of Donne's body as a map looked over by his navigator-doctors, develop an elaborate geographical symbolism with which to explain his condition. He is entering, he says, his "south-west discovery"--the south being, traditionally, the region of heat (or fever) and the west being the site of the sunset and, thus, in this poem, the region of death. (A key to this geographical symbolism can be found in A.J. Smith's concise notation in the Penguin Classics edition of Donne's Complete English Poems.) The speaker says that his discovery is made Per fretum febris, or by the strait of fever, and that he will die "by these straits." Donne employs an elaborate pun on the idea of "straits," a word that denotes the narrow passages of water that connect oceans, yet which also refers to grim personal difficulties (as in "dire straights"): Donne's personal struggles with his illness are like the straits that will connect him to the paradise of the Pacific Sea, Jerusalem, and the eastern riches; no matter where one is in the world--in the region of Japhet, Cham, or Shem--such treasures can only be reached through straits. (Japhet, Cham, and Shem were the sons of Noah, who divided the world between them after the ark came to rest: Japhet lived in Europe, Cham lived in Africa, and Shem lived in Asia.)

    15. Essentially, all of this word play and allusion is merely another way of saying that Donne expects his fever to lead him to heaven (even on his deathbed, his mind delighted in spinning metaphysical complexities). The speaker says that on maps, west and east are one--if one travels far enough in either direction, one ends up on the other side of the map--and, therefore, his death in the "west" will lead to his "eastern" resurrection. He then shifts to a dramatically different set of images, claiming that Christ's Cross and Adam's tree stood physically on the same place, and that by the same token, both the characteristics of Adam (sin and toil) and of Christ (resurrection and purity) are present in Donne himself: The phrase "Look Lord, and find both Adams met in me" is Donne's most perfect statement of the contrary strains of spirituality and carnality that run through his poems and ran through his life. As the sweat of the first Adam (who was cursed to work after expulsion from Eden) surrounds his face in his fever, he hopes the blood of Christ, the second Adam, will embrace and purify his soul. Donne concludes by charting his actual entry into heaven, saying that he hopes to be received by God wrapped in the purple garment of Christ--purple with blood and with triumph--and to obtain his crown. As his final poetic act, he writes a sermon for his own soul, just as he preached sermons to the souls of others during his years as a priest. The Lord, he says, throws down that he may raise up; Donne, thrown down by the fever, will be lifted up to heaven, where his soul, having been "tuned" now on Earth, may be used to make the music of God.

    16. Metaphysical Poets A term used to group together certain 17th-century poet, usually Donne, Marvell, Vaughan and Traherne, though other figures like Abraham Cowley are sometimes included in the list. Although in no sense a school or proper movement, they share common characteristics of wit, inventiveness, and a love of elaborate stylistic manoeuvres.

    17. The Metaphysical poets turned to the medieval scholastic philosophers for stylistic inspiration, borrowing from them the terminology and the difficulty of their style of argument. .

    18. The Metaphysical Conceit Just as did the Petrarchan sonneteers, Donne and his followers had their own metaphysical conceits. Samuel Johnson described their conceits as: A kind of discordia concors (harmony or unity gained by combining disparate or conflicting elements); a combination of dissimilar images, or discovery of occult resemblances in things apparently unlike. The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together. Put more simply, a metaphysical conceit is what we would call an extended metaphor, a comparison between two relatively unlike entities. The most famous sustain conceit is Donne’s drawing of parallels between: -the continuing relationship of his persona’s soul with that of his beloved’s (despite their physical parting) -the coordinated movements of the two feet of a compass