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The Crucial Ideas Of John Donne's Poetry

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Faith, as the complete confidence in a belief or concept, serves as the explanation for life itself and all the unknown. This very ideology guides all people towards true purpose, whether that be work or life-long devotion to an individual, namely through religion or love. John Donne, through his metaphysical poetry paired with erotic language, successfully evokes such themes; exploring the universality of each. Born in 16th century England, Donne reflects on the personal challenges, anxieties and impacts of Elizabethan-Jacobean era lifestyle. As the poet focuses on the exaggeration of the existential nature of his works, readers gain insight to the late author’s worldview and to his historical context. Prior to the ruling of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I, the abandonment of Catholicism on the part of King Henry VIII caused religious differences to separate the population. Under the reign of 17th century monarchs, this dispute was then extinguished through the attempt to unite and restore peace in the Church. The poet creates sonnets with great detail; and through the frequent use of conceits to accurately conveys individual understanding of the world, renders the writings as metaphysical. Influenced by the discussed ideas of love and religion, Donne’s poetry continues to maintain relevance to contemporary readers in the exploration of faith and it’s universal state.

John Donne’s poem, Batter My Heart, describes the inquisitive nature and religious ambivalence of the poet within the 17th century. Though his metaphysical writing style, Donne questions the teachings of Roman Catholicism and directly asks God to help him wholly accept divine grace due to his story from the holy parth to a sinful life. After his wife’s death in 1617 and the consequences of the ongoing religious conflict of the Elizabethan-Jacobean era, Donne devoted his writing skills to religious poems resulting in the Holy Sonnets. The Collection of 19 poems highlights the themes of mortality, divine judgement, divine love, and humble penance while reflecting deeply on personal anxieties. He reflects on his sensuous past and relationship with God addressing his faults and desperations throughout the sonnet. The quote “But am betroth’d unto your enemy; Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,” is symbolic of his relationship with Satan and need for spiritual goodness. This concept of helplessness is continued through the first quatrain, consisting of alliteration, monosyllabic verbs and assonance assisting the violent tone of the poem and exaggerating the submission Donne desires. Embedded in the poem “knock, breathe, shine and seek to men; That I may rise… Your force to break, blow, burn and make me new.” describes the crave for change and recognition of immoral action while inviting the intended audience to analyse his perspective of his religious state and personal wrongdoings. The poet illuminates the ideas of religious stray through imploring God within the final couplet using erotic language and a paradox. The line “…never shall be free, nor ever chaste, expect you ravish me.” finishes the sonnet conveying the physical brutality needed to convert him, explaining only through sexual force can he be chase and obey the teachings of Catholicism with true intent. Due to the discussion of religious ideals through the strife of Elizabethan-Jacobean ruling and challenging of these concepts, this universal idea of religion and faith is illuminated. Thus, strengthening the connection from past writings to us, as contemporary responders.

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Similarly, Donne’s metaphysical poem, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, written in 1611 discusses the universality of the concept of love. In the likeness of the relationship of Donne and his wife, Anne More; the persona’s ideal of spiritual love and the bond between the two lovers even through separation is revealed. The title, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning describes the action of saying farewell whilst, as intended for his wife, states that his parting should not cause sadness. Although dealing with the religious conflicts of the period, the author, with intention to depart on a trip towards Continental Europe, uses conciets to accurately present his love towards More though his metaphysical writing style. The strength and power of this within Donne’s life is represented through the poem and challenges readers to reflect on their own relationship state; displaying the pair as perfect. Donne states his connection between More as a powerful spiritual unification comparative to the movement of the earth. The quote “Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears” illustrating the physical connections of the pair in the likeness of an Earthquake, with impact being noticable and shaking the Earth’s surface, yet has little permanent damage. He exaggerates the lengths of their love as he addresses Anne and his intent to come back together. This is shown in the last stanza with, “Thy firmness makes my circle just, And makes me end where begun” which draw similarities between a compass and the couple. With the ability to separate, the two arms of the compass always join together and reflect the relationship of the author. The continued relevance of love within modern day society is evident, and through the poetic study of John Donne allows understanding of such concepts to be explored.

The continued relevance of John Donne remains within the metaphysical works, specifically through the universality of the themes discussed. Within the religious conflict of the Elizabethan-Jacobean period, Donne strived to create existential poems surrounding ideas of love and religion based on personal understanding, experience and faith.

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