John Donne as a Poet : Changing Sensibility

We find in John Donne’s (1572-1631) poetry a mirror of the changing sensibility of his age. Ptelemic system of astronomy with earth as the centre of universe – geocentric - was in vogue until the period of John Donne. Copernican system – of heliocentric – theory which considered the sun as the cento around which the earth went round came into vogue during Donne’s period as exemplified in his statement ‘the new philosophy calls all in doubt’. Skepticism ruled the roost in the beginning of the 17th century. Scientific proof was anticipated for everything. Thus we find in Donne’s poems a strange ‘unpoetic’ kind of imagery: that of the telescope, of geometrical instruments, of mining machines and all other concomitants of the Renaissance laboratory. Even the declaration of a woman’s love cannot be taken as true as it hath me loves no empirical basic. After the espousal of the Church there was a renewal of poetic activity with religious bent of mind. He concentrated all his energy and passion that he had directed towards women, at God. 

John Donne

Donne’s longest poem, The Progresse of the Soule, ironically depicts the transmigration of the soul of Eve's apple. Donne's Divine Poems also bring forth his argument of divinity.  The meeting point of Donne’s religious poetry and his love poetry is its spontaneity of diction. The words strike a note which is colloquial and at the same time modern. ‘For god’s sake, hold your tongue, let me love’ (The Canonization). His Holy Sonnets is a devotional tranquility. 

We can, however, search his iconic depth of love and devotion in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, a prose work in which he treated the themes of death and human relationships; it contains these famous lines:
“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; ...
any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; and therefore
never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

 Donne has no liking for Petrarchan and pastoral conventions and Arcadian countryside. His poetry is specially called ‘metaphysical’, partly because of the use of scientific imagery (science was referred to as ‘metaphysics’ in his day) and partly because of his unusual linking of physical objects to abstract metaphysical concepts that have nothing in common between them. (Comparison of a set of compasses to the love between a man and his wife). 

Though neglected and ignored in the 18th and 19th centuries Donne was rediscovered for all his ‘unromantic qualities’ of his imagery at the beginning of the 20th  century by T.S. Eliot and other.

Ref: 1. History of English Literature- Albert      
2. Microsoft Students’ Encarta

3. The Elizabethan World Picture- E.M.W. Tillyard

4. England and the Italian Renaissance- J. R. Hale

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