John Donne, the Monarch of Metaphysical Wit


John Donne (22 January 1572 – 31 March 1631) was an English poet, scholar, soldier and secretary born into a Catholic family, a remnant of the Catholic Revival, who reluctantly became a cleric in the Church of England. He was Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London (1621–1631). He is considered the pre-eminent representative of the metaphysical poets. His poetical works are noted for their metaphorical and sensual style and include sonnets, love poems, religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs, and satires. He is also known for his sermons.

Despite his great education and poetic talents, Donne lived in poverty for several years, relying heavily on wealthy friends. He spent much of the money he inherited during and after his education on womanizing, literature, pastimes, and travel. In 1601, Donne secretly married Anne More, with whom he had twelve children. In 1615 he was ordained deacon and then Anglican priest, although he did not want to take Holy Orders and only did so because the king ordered it. He also served as a member of Parliament in 1601 and in 1614.


His style of works

Donne's work emerges of late Elizabethan England. However, his metaphysical love poetry in particular is not what one generally expects from Elizabethan poetry. Although Donne has also written several sonnets most of his love poetry is not of the Petrarchan fashion. Most of Donne's love poetry is entirely inventive and unconventional in form, content and style. In many of his poems Donne uses far-fetched images. The language he uses is highly imaginative, very passionate, full of wit.


You may read the features of Metaphysical Poetry here.


Features of Donne’s Poetry


Originality is the most important feature of John Donne’s poetry. He was not only original in his ideas, thoughts and feelings but in his diction as well. He presents unique ideas in his poetry using unique words, which come not only from science but from various fields of life.

Fusion of Thoughts and Feelings

Another important characteristic that we find in John Donne’s poetry is the fusion of thoughts and feelings. It is also called unification of sensibility. Usually, we find only passion and feelings in most of the poetry in the history of English literature. There is no one, except John Donne and metaphysical poets, who has combined passion and thoughts in his poetry. This unique blending of passion and reason can be found in every poem of John Donne.


Colloquial language is another vivid characteristic of John Donne’s poetry. Most of the poems of John Donne show usage of colloquial language. He uses direct and common phrases to startle his reader. Though, he is famous for ambiguity of his thoughts, yet in some cases, he is very simple and does not use any complicated language.

Metaphysical Conceits

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Wit plays a key role in the poetry of John Donne. John Donne is considered as the Monarch of Wit in the history of English literature. His wit not only pleases us but also startles us how he handles the words to convey his ideas.


One of vivid characteristics of John Donne’s poetry is brevity. John Donne was gifted with such a command of language that he could say a lot in very few words unlike other poets of his age. Many of his lines have become sayings of the day.


Most of the poems of John Donne are so obscure and ambiguous that a common reader cannot grasp the meaning of a single line. This obscurity and ambiguity has led him to be regarded as the most difficult poet to be understood.





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