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John Donne (21 January 1572 –31 March 1631). The background of John Donne’s age. 1. Politics

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John Donne (21 January 1572 –31 March 1631)

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the background of john donne s age
The background of John Donne’s age
  • 1.Politics
  • John Donne‘s life(1572-1631)got across two dynasties ——House of Tudor and House of Stuart. The Tudors extended their power beyond England, achieving the full union of England in 1542.The Tudor line failed in 1603 with the death of Elizabeth I. Then James I inherited the throne and began the house of Stuart, which publicized the ideas of “divine right of kings”(君权神授) and launched absolute feudal reign, which greatly hindered the development of capitalism.
  • Feudal   mode of production was greatly shocked by capitalism. The Tudors paid much attention on capitalism business. It began the enclosure movement ,which forced famers stepped into business activities and provided large scales for industrial activities. The Tudors also encouraged the development of manufacturing and worldwide business. In 1588, England won the war against Spain and ensure its overlord status on the sea(change of trade center). All of these greatly accelerated the development of capitalism.
  • The Protestant Reformation (1517–1648) was the European Christian reform movement that established Protestantism as a constituent branch of contemporary Christianity. The separation of the Church of England from Rome under Henry VII, beginning in 1529 and completed in1536, brought England alongside this broad Reformation movement; however, religious changes in the English national church proceeded more conservatively than elsewhere in Europe.
4.culture and thoughts
  • the Renaissance(文艺复兴)began at the 13th century andreached its peak at the 16th century in Europe. People ‘s thoughts get away from the restriction of feudal belief of god and religion and became more realistic and human. This was a great emancipation, which led to the appearance of a lot of great people, such as Francis Bacon and Shakespeare.

Basic information

Born:21 January 1572; London

Died: 31 March

Nationality: English


Poet, Priest(牧师), Lawyer


Satire(讽刺), Love poetry, Elegy(悲歌), Sermons (说教,布道)


Love, Sexuality, Religion, Death

Literary movement:

Metaphysical Poetry (玄学派诗歌)




  • Early life:
  • John Donne was born on Bread Street in London, England, into a Catholic family at a time when Catholicism was illegal in England.
  • Despite the obvious dangers, Donne’s family arranged for his education by the Jesuits(耶稣会士,天主教修会之一), which gave him a deep knowledge of his religion.
  • But his brother Henry Donne died of black death(黑死病), leading John Donne to begin questioning his Catholic faith.


  • Study:
  • Donne was a student at Hart Hall, now Hertford College, Oxford(牛津大学哈福特学院), from the age of 11.

After three years at Oxford he was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge(剑桥大学), where he studied for another three years .

In 1591 he was accepted as a student at the Thavies Inn legal school, one of the Inns of Chancery(衡平法律师学院 ) in London.

In 1592 he was admitted to Lincoln’s Inn, one of the Inns of Court.


Lincoln's Inn

The Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn is one of four Inns of Court in London to which barristers of England and Wales belong and where they are called to the Bar. The other three are Middle Temple, Inner Temple and Gray's Inn.

Lincoln's Inn is able to trace its official records beyond those of the other three


Library (left) and Bencher's rooms (right)

Chancery Lane entrance

Chancery Lane entrance

Chancery Lane entrance

Lincoln's Inn

Library (left) and Bencher's rooms (right)



  • Later life:
  • In 1602, Donne was elected as Member of Parliament for the constituency of Brackley.

Donne left the Catholic Church. In 1610 and 1611 he wrote two anti-Catholic polemics(辩论)

He was certainly in communication with the King, James I of England.

He finally acceded to the King‘s wishes and in 1615 was ordained into the Church of England(英格兰圣公会).



  • Death
  • It is thought that his final illness was stomach cancer.
  • He died on 31 March 1631, having left a body of work fiercely engaged with the emotional and intellectual conflicts of his age.
  • though only in manuscript - his poems would not be printed and published until two years after his death
  • John Donne is buried in St Paul’s(圣保罗), where a memorial statue of him was erected ,with a Latin epigraph(铭文) probably composed by himself.
A portrait of Donne as a young man in 1595
  • (In the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, London)

Early poetry

  • Donne'searliest poems:

Knowledge ofEnglish societycoupled with sharp criticism of its problems.

  • His satires:
  • dealt with common Elizabethan topics, such as corruption(腐败)in the legal system.
  • deals with the problem of true religion, a matter of great importance to Donne. He argued that it was better to examine carefully one's religious convictions than blindly to follow any established tradition, for none would be saved at the Final Judgment.

Early poetry

  • His erotic poetry:
  • Donne’s early career was also notable for his erotic poetry(sexy poetry), especially his elegies(悲歌) .
  • He employed unconventional metaphors(非传统的隐喻), such as a flea biting two lovers being compared to sex.

Later poetry

  • a more somber忧郁的 and pious(虔诚的) tone in his later poems:

Because ofHis numerous illnesses, financial strain, and the deaths of his friends

  • For example:

The change can be clearly seen in “An Anatomy of the World” (1611), a poem that Donne wrote in memory of Elizabeth Drury, daughter of his patron(赞助人), Sir Robert Drury.

This poem treats Elizabeth‘s demise(死亡) with extreme gloominess, using it as a symbol for the Fall of Man(人类的堕落)and the destruction of the universe(世界的毁灭).


Later poetry

  • Donne focused his literary career on religious literature.He quickly became noted for his sermons and religious poems.
  • His early belief in the value of skepticism(怀疑论)now gave way to a firm faith in the traditional teachings of the Bible.
  • The lines of these sermons come to influence future works of English literature.
  • E.g. Ernest Hemingway‘s For Whom the Bell Tolls(战地钟声),which took its title from a passage in Meditation XVII
  • Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island,which took its title from the same source.

Later poetry

Meditation XVII沉思第十七篇

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were.Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

海明威在他的名小說「單地鐘聲」(For Whom the Bell Tolls)用了這一段,意指任何人之死都與你有關。


Later poetry

  • Works at the end of his life: challenge death
  • Towards the end of his life Donne wrote works that challenged death, and the fear that it inspired in many men, on the grounds of his belief that those who die are sent to Heaven to live eternally.


Donne totally changed his writing


His numerous illnesses,finacial strain and the death of his friends all contributed more somber and pious tone in his later poems.

The change can be seen in “An Anatomy of the World”. The poem is gloomy. It was a symbol of the fall of man and the destruction of the universe.

the increasing gloominess
The Increasing Gloominess

Donne’s change may also be observed in the religious work. His early belife gave way to a firm faith in the traditional teaching of Bible.

Having converted to the church,Donne focus his literary career on realigious literary.He quickly became noted for his moving sermons and and religious poems.


Towards the end of his life, Donne wrote works that challenged death, and the fear that it inspired in many men,on the grounds of his belife that who die are sent to the Heaven to live eternally.

One example is his Holy Sonnet,from which comes the famous lines “Death, be not proud,though some have called thee /Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so”.

john donne is famed for 3 things
John Donne is famed for 3 things

1. A great visitor of ladies2. A great frequenter of plays3. A great writer of conceited幻想,奇想 verses

At his time, John Donne was famed as apreacher【说教者;鼓吹者;宣传者】. Today, he is famed as a lyric poet. John Donne's conceit can be seen from his "Go catching the falling star" in which he listed many impossible things---the most impossible thing is a woman's faith and heart.

donne s style

Style:(1) The use of conceits:Donne is considered a master of the metaphysical conceit, an extended metaphor that combines two vastly different ideas into a single idea, often using imagery.

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 s style28
Donne’s Style

(2) The involvement of a certain kind of argument:Donne's poetry involves a certain kind of argument, sometimes in rigid严密的syllogistic【逻】三段论的;演绎推理的form. He seems to be speaking to an imagined hearer, raising the topic and trying to persuade, convince or upbraid him. With the brief, simple language, the srgument is continuous throughout the poem.


metaphysical poetry

The term 'metaphysical' 形而上学的,纯粹哲学的can be applied to any poetry that explores spiritual or philosophicalmatters, it is usually used in reference to the poems of a group of 17th-century English poets.

Metaphysical poetry are the poets in the 17c England who often unconventionally use conceits and wit. The imagery is draw from everyday life. The form is the form of argument (with God, lover, himself). The diction is simple and the language is colloquial but powerful.

metaphysical poetry
metaphysical poetry
  • With a rebellious spirit, the metaphysical poets tried to break away from the conventional fashion of the Elizabethan love poetry. The diction is simple and echoes the words and cadences of common speech. The imagery is drawn from the actual life. The form is frequently that of an argument with the poet’s beloved, with God, or with himself.

Metaphysical Poets“玄学派诗人”

  • John Donne约翰·邓恩/多恩

the leading of "metaphysical school"

  • George Herbert 乔治·赫伯特
  • Andrew Marvel安德鲁·马韦尔
death be not found
Death be not found
  • death be not found.mp3
  • Form This simple sonnet follows an ABBAABBACDCDEE rhyme scheme and is written in a loose iambic pentameter. In its structural division of its subject, it is a Petrarcan sonnet rather than a Shakespearean one, with an octet (十四行诗的)前八行 )establishing the poem‘s tension, and the subsequent sestet(后六行) resolving it.
  • 1:Courage and Willpower in the Face of Death
  • 2:The Uniqueness of Loving Life
  • The speaker tells Death that it should not feel proud, for though some have called it "mighty and dreadful," it is not. Those whom Death thinks it kills do not truly die, nor, the speaker says, "can'st thou kill me." indeed,  death itself will die. 
  • John Donne writes love poems in two directions:
  • supportive :“早安”(The Good Morrow)
  • Negative:“歌”(Song)
  • The entire poem is discussing this kind of thesis:Whether the female will be loyal to love? The author expresses women’s disloyal sarcastically.
the other poems by john donne
The other poems by John Donne
  • The Rising Sun
  • a valediction: forbidding mourning. 《别离辞:节哀》
  • Songs and Sonnets《歌与十四行诗》
  • the Elegies《挽歌》
a reference book
A reference Book
  • JOHN DONNE''S POETRY约翰·邓恩的诗歌(诺顿英国文学评论版)
This Second Edition of John Donne's Poetry presents a large selection of his most significant work. To the more than one hundred poems of the First Edition, nineteen poems have been added - - five Elegies, four Satires (enabling the reader to view them as a sequence, as they have come to be regarded), six Verse Letters, and four Divine Poems. The text of all the poems is again that of the seventee......
As virtous men passe mildly'away,

And whisper to their soules, to goe,

Whilst some of their sad friends doe say,

The breath goes now, and some say, no:





So let us melt, and make no noise,

No teare-floods, nor sigh-tempests move,

'Twere prophanation of our joyes

To tell the layetie our love.





Moving of th'earth brings harmes and feares,

Men reckon what it did and meant,

But trepidation of the spheares,

Though greater farre, is innocent.





Dull sublunary lovers love

(Whose soule is sense) cannot admit

Absence, because it doth remove

Those things which elemented it.





But we by a'love, so much refin'd

That we ourselves know not what it is,

Inter-assured of the mind,

Care lesse, eyes, lips, and hnds to misse.





Our two soules therefore, which are one,

Though I must goe, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

Like gold to ayery thinnesse beate.





If they be two, they are two so

As stiffe twin compasses are two,

Thy soule the fixt foot, makes no show

To move, but doth, if the'other doe.





And though it in the center sit,

Yet when the other far doth rome,

It leanes, and hearkens after it,

And growes erect, as it comes home.





Such wilt thou be to mee, who must

Like th'other foor, obliquely runne;

Thy firmnes makes my circle just,

And makes me end, where I begunne.





  • [1]王佐良、李赋宁、周钰良、刘承沛 ,《英国文学名篇选注》。商务印书馆。北京。1999
  • [2]本诗译文采自卞芝琳《英国诗选》。商务印书馆。北京。1996
  • [3]胡家峦,《历史的星空》。北京大学出版社。2001
My understanding of the poetry
  • The poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” is about a couple’s parting and the love or a high spiritual level.
  • The subject of the poem is the parting of two lovers.  In the poem, the description of the lover’s love is without a doubt. The author tells his wife not to cry when he leaves, because their love is so much greater than everyone else’ love that can endure separation.
  • The effect is not to undermine the emotion of the lovers parting.