John Donne was born in 1572 in London, England. His father was a prosperous ironmonger who died at an early age. Donne’s childhood was spent in unfortunate surroundings. His family was constantly persecuted for being Catholic. He remarked in Pseudo Martyr, that no family had ‘endured and suffered more in their persons and fortunes for obeying the teachers of Roman doctrine’ than his own. He made an early start with university education but was unable to get a degree from Oxford due to his religion. In 1591, he joined the Lincoln’s Inn to study law. He joined the expedition of Essex for Cadiz in 1596, and for the Azores secretary to Lord Egerton. A secret marriage to his employer’s niece led to his dismissal from services in 1602. He was imprisoned for marrying Ann More. The years after marriage were extremely difficult and full of intense struggle for survival. He renounced catholicism and decided to be a preacher.
John Donne was ordained an Anglican priest in 1615. In 1616 he was appointed Divinity Reader at Lincoln’s Inn the following year his wife died. In 1621 he was appointed Dean of St Paul’s, a position held unit his death in 1631.
A significant feature of Donne’s poetry is his emphatic revolt from the smooth sweetness of the Elizabethan verse. His verse appeals to the intellect and is primarily concerned with thought. The poetry is known for its blending of passionate feeling and logical argument. He makes allusions to contemporary philosophy and is involved in tracing the connections between abstract knowledge and the everyday experiences of life. His poetry can be divided into three main groups -the love-poetry, the miscellaneous and occasional poems, and the religious poems. In his love-poetry, Donne deals with the multiple aspects of this vivid emotion. The embittered love of ‘The Apparition’ who addresses his beloved as a ‘murdress’ is a sharp contrast to the confident love in ‘Present in Absence’. ‘The Extasie’ is a dialogue between the two souls and brings out the importance of body in establishing human relations. In his religious poetry Donne is chiefly preoccupied with death and redemption.
The term ‘metaphysical’ is applied to Donne’s poetry. Note of persuasion and the use of deliberately false logic are the chief features of metaphysical poetry. Another aspect of Donne’s poetry is the mingling of wit with the originality of subject. Dryden says of Donne: ‘He affects the metaphysics not only in his satires, but in his amorous verses, where nature only should reign, and perplexes the minds of the fair sex with nice speculations of philosophy, when he should engage their hearts and entertain them with the softnesses of love.’ Critics like Eliot have Praised Donne for his ingenious wit: ‘A thought to Donne was an experience, it modified his sensibility.’