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Religious and Romantic Poetry of Donne’s Holy Sonnets

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    In two of Donne’s romantic poems ‘Valediction: Forbidding Morning’ and ‘The Sun Rising’ The Narrator utilises several techniques and styles that are not dissimilar to those used in his Holy Sonnets ,two examples of which being Sonnet 10 and 1. These similarities stem from many separate sources throughout the poetry. These include an arresting first line, defiant tone and a strong sense of personal feeling on the part of the narrator, a hallmark of a metaphysical poet.

    In many of Donne’s pieces its is apparent that each is begun with an arresting first line that immediately sets the tone for the rest of the Sonnet or Song , a tone that is usually unexpected and in direct contrast with the conventional way in which the subject matter , in this case romanticism or religion, is approached;”As virtuous men pass mildly away,” (Valediction: Forbidding Morning line 1)”Thou hast made me, and shall thy work decay?” (Holy Sonnet 1 line 1)Lines such as these grab the reader’s attention, immediately drawing them to the strong sense of personal feeling felt by the narrator, highlighted by such an abrupt opening.Throughout both holy sonnets and the narrator’s love poetry, strong personal feeling is apparent. The use of ‘I’ and ‘me’ is especially worthy of note as it personalizes the poetry adding a sense of egoism. This is apparent in both The Sun Rising and Sonnet 10;”I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,” (The Sun Rising line 13)”I run to death and death meets me as fast,” (Holy sonnet 1 line 3)The language and tone throughout Donne’s work often changes dramatically at key points, utilising ‘but’.

    This suggests that the narrator is moving vigorously through the piece and thus adding spontaneity and feeling to the poetry,”But we by a love, so much refin’d,” (Valediction: Forbidding Morning line 17)This change of tone coupled with the way in which the narrator questions during the piece creates an aura of strong personal feeling, that of vulnerability, strength, indecision and passion. These feelings oft exemplified with the use of elaborate conceits.The use of elaborate, often surprising, comparisons and ideas formed in Donne’s poetry are often core to each of the poems meanings. These elaborate conceits often emerge as a way of illustrating the intense personal feeling that the narrator aims to raise through the poetry.

    An example of this being in The valediction where by the narrator describes the lovers and the twin points on a pair of compasses, this image although not usually considered romantic does possess a high degree of romantic quality. The way in which the two points spread but are never, always returning to each other is a perfect example of the narrators use of conceits to express a particular feeling, in this case love.Similarly, this type of unconventional implementation of an idea in Sonnet 10 is evident. Whereupon death is described as being purely dependant on the people which it takes from life and that as death is a quick sleep after which eternal happiness is possible, at this point we are thus immortal and thus death is dead and not those who have died and whose souls ‘wake eternally’.

    The application and formation of such irregular ideas are the crux of many of Donne’s holy sonnets and love poems; the use of these elaborate conceits is often in direct contrast to the strict structure that Donne follows when creating both his Sonnets and songs.Throughout Donne’s poetry, one observes a strict Rhyme structure and technique. This contrast to the unconventional ideas projected through the poetry keeps the reader interested upholding a sense of respect for the narrator in addition toillustrating a degree of Donne’s respect for the technical disciplines required in poetry;”Why does thou thus,Through windows, and through curtains call on us?” (The Sun Rising – lines 2-3)”I run to death, and death meets me as fast,And all my pleasures are like yesterday;” ( Holy sonnet 1- lines 3-4)In these poems a fourteen-line scheme along with ten-line per verse scheme, use of iambic pentameter and petrarchan structure is apparent, illustrating Donne’s use of technical expertise. This technical attention to detail creates an underlying tension in the poems, an uncertainty that perfectly accentuates the informality, passion and unorthodox methods found in the text itself.

    One of the most apparent ways in which Donne’s poetry challenges the normal methods utilised in poetry of that era is the way in which Donne as a narrator challenged powers that where seemingly untouchable. Examples include scolding the sun for entering his room with permission in the morning, mocking death at its lack of real power, or questioning and pressing God in a way that would assume equality. Each of these informal and largely egoistic points is a direct contrast to the way in which Donne respects each of these powers.Especially in the Elizabethan and Jacobean times, that Donne’s was writing.

    To challenge such powers at a level bordering on equality creates sense of instability about Donne that he wishes he were more than he can ever be. This is observable in both Donne’s Love poetry and his holy sonnets suggesting that he is longing for more power to act upon both physically and spiritually.Instability such as this may stem from a salvation anxiety of sorts that Donne experiences throughout his work. By challenging, the powers that control him, especially religious, he may allow himself the audacity to ask questions about himself and his situation that he would not otherwise be able to achieve for lack of courage to do so.

    This technique of heightening his own will to that of the object of his contention in his love poetry allows Donne’s to express far more intense feeling in his poetry as he does not feel inhibited by tact or respect regarding the power to which he speaks. This may also give rise to the more unorthodox ideas and comparisons utilised in the poetry as the narrator feels comfortable form a position of power to relate them to the reader;”Thou hast made me, And shall thy work decay?Repair me now, for now mine end doth hast,” this arresting first line form sonnet 1 shows the way in which Donne’s tone adjusts itself to command and question God a practise that with out these first lines would lead to the narrator becoming humbled and losing the intensity of the sonnet.In conclusion, it is clear that there are a many distinct similarities between Donne’s love poetry and holy sonnets. These stem from the intensity of feeling that Donne injects into all of his work.

    Whether speaking to of lover or to God, Donne’s feelings seem to revolve around his anxieties; he masks these with an arresting confidence throughout. The degree to which Donne’s holy sonnets and love poetry are similar is high in that the narrators, in each case, use of fresh unrestrained thought through elaborate conceit leading to keen sense of personal feeling tied down in a strict tension built structure does not vary greatly between the two sets of poetry.Thus, John Donne is similar mind and soul.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

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    How many Holy Sonnets did Donne write?
    The Holy Sonnets—also known as the Divine Meditations or Divine Sonnets—are a series of nineteen poems by the English poet John Donne (1572–1631). The sonnets were first published in 1633—two years after Donne's death.
    What is Donne's most famous poem?
    Death Be Not Proud is the most famous poem of John Donne with its opening lines especially being extremely popular. Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
    What type of sonnets did John Donne write?
    Summary. John Donne wrote most of his Holy Sonnets between 1609 and 1611. The poem form is variation on a Petrarchan sonnet that ends with a rhyming couplet. The rhyme scheme of the first eight lines is the usual ABBA ABBA that we would normally see in a Petrachan sonnet.

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