2Search for spiritual significance and identity begins 1572 – The Journey BeginsGood News: Donne’s family was highly connected and influential.Result:Search for spiritual significance and identity beginsBad News: Born into a deeply Catholic family in Elizabethan England when anti-Catholic sentiment was high.Born to Roman Catholic parents in London, Donne enters the world with a distinguished pedigree. One of six (possibly more) children, his family is related to Sir Thomas More (who served under Henry VIII) and had two uncles who were Jesuit priests. Unfortunately, in Elizabethan England at the time, anti-Catholic sentiment was high and Catholics were often harassed and not allowed to advance.
3– EducationResult:Gains a highly privileged academic background and a lifelong love for learning.Good News: At age 12, enters Oxford University and later goes on to Cambridge.Bad News: Unable to earn a degree because of Catholic family background.At age 12, Donne was sent to study at Oxford University and later to Cambridge. This because of his family’s influence. Donne was not ever allowed to receive a degree because, as a Catholic, he did not allow himself to take an oath of allegiance to Queen Elizabeth. All the learning, but none of the rewards.
41591-1597 – Sows “Wild Oats” Result: Undaunted by restrictions, pursues the wild and unexplored through his writings as well as his life.Good News: Mixes religion and academics by studying on his own.Bad News: Watches his brother pay with his life in 1593 when he dies in prison for sheltering a priest.Becomes a law student at Lincoln’s Inn where he makes a personal, yet comprehensive, study of theology, religion, and sciences. His brother dies in 1593 in prison for sheltering a priest. Perhaps as a reaction or as a way to find himself, John sets off on some explorations with Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Essex to explore Portugal and Spain. He also became a notorious womanizer and seemed to turn away from his Catholic past. During this time he begins to write poetry about his adventures as well as dabbling in some sensual love poetry.
51598 – Gains a Reputation Result: Good News: Rises in social influence.Result:Donne gathers a following that will prove invaluable to him in the future.Bad News: Your beliefs are as important as your accomplishments.To advance, he is employed as a legal secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton (Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in Queen Elizabeth’s court). Through this employment, it is assumed that he has accepted the teachings of the Church of England. In truth, he did begin to write some highly critical essays on the Catholic Church. He rises in influence because he proves that he is intelligent, witty, charming, and ambitious in privileged Elizabethan society.
61601-1609 – Marriage/Scandal Result: As Carl Jung reminds us, “There is no coming to consciousness except through pain.”Good News: In Anne More, John finds and marries the love of his life.Bad News: Secrets one keeps, no matter how sincere, muddy deeper truths about your life.In December 1601, he secretly marries Egerton’s niece – 16-year-old Anne More. In February 1602, when the marriage is revealed, he is dismissed from his position and put in prison for over a month. By April, the marriage is properly acknowledged but the damage has been done and John is disgraced and outcast from society. He writes to a friend: “John Donne, Anne Donne, Undone.” He and Anne, though happy, live the next 10 years in poverty supported by patrons and relatives. Sends poems to his friends who copy them and distribute in closed circles. Supposedly writes most of his Holy Sonnets during this time. It is a time of spiritual crisis for him. He continues theological studies but refuses King James I recommendation to be ordained as a priest in the Church of England.
7Donne’s Holy Sonnets (Definitions) Sonnet was the fashionable poetic form of the 17th century.Donne used an Italian style: an octave with one rhyme scheme, followed by a sestet in a differing rhyme scheme.“The image of the soul in meditation which the Holy Sonnets present is an image of a soul working out its salvation in fear and trembling.” – Helen Gardner, ed. John Donne: The Divine Poems, 1952.The Holy Sonnets were Donne’s way of wrestling with his Christian faith. Helen Gardner writes of Donne that “The image of the soul in meditation which the Holy Sonnets present is an image of a soul working out its salvation in fear and trembling.” Given that this was a low time in Donne’s life, his faith and his marriage were all he had to sustain himself, but he still had to work through his doubts.
8Donne’s Holy Sonnets (Subjects) Questions about faith.God’s mercy and judgment.Human mortality and the immortality of the soul.SinDamnation.Absolution and salvation.In the Holy Sonnets, he deals with questions about faith, God’s mercy and judgment, human mortality and the immortality of the soul, sin, damnation, absolution and salvation.
9Donne’s Holy Sonnets (Significance) In these works, young Donne despairs about his own salvation and fears death.In his later writings, he reflected an assurance of his salvation and an understanding that life is a preparation for life-everlasting and death should not be feared.None of these private works were published while Donne was alive.He despairs about his own salvation and fears death. This was the beginning of a spiritual journey that would result in a later life devoted to God in his faith as well as his vocation. Before he dies, his later poems reflect an assurance of his salvation and an understanding that life is a preparation for life-everlasting and death should not be feared. None of these poems were published while Donne was alive. He wrote and passed them on to a small circle of friends.
101610-1614 – A New Beginning Result: Good News: Recognition by the academic community at long last.Result:Once again, feeling aimless, Donne heads out for more explorations with new employer.Bad News: No financial reward for his degree due to inability to firmly commit to Church of England.John Donne receives an honorary Masters degree from Oxford, but King James I has no state positions to offer him, so he works for Sir Robert Drury and travels throughout Europe once again trying to find meaning for the direction his life has taken.
111615 – The Turning Point (1) Result: Donne’s education, political influence, and faith have a fortuitous and meaningful convergence.Good News: Donne comes to accept his life’s vocation, becomes Anglican priest.Bad News: Loses four children and begins to reevaluate his life.Four of his children die – one, a stillborn – causes Donne to measure his past and consider his future and that of his family. He finally turns from his Catholic past and officially embraces the Church of England by taking holy orders and becoming an Anglican priest. This allows him to be appointed Royal Chaplain and support his family. King James, against the wishes of Cambridge University, grants Donne an honorary Doctor of Divinity and sets him up for further advancement.
121617 – The Turning Point (2) Result: The merging of his intelligence, passion, and poetic stylings leads to great respect by like-minded people.Good News: Finally recognized for who he is and what he believes.Bad News: Loses one of his greatest inspirations and loves with death of Anne.Anne dies at age 33 while giving birth to their 12th child (stillborn). Donne’s preaching intensifies. He is noted for his erudition and his eloquence. Influential people begin to take notice and he is continually called to preach in the kings court. The age is ripe for the kind of metaphysical expressions Donne was so good at offering.
13Holy Sonnet xvii (an excerpt) “Since she whom I loved hath paid her last debtTo Nature . . .Wholly on heavenly things my mind is set . . .To seek thee, God.”At Anne’s death, Donne wrote this final Holy Sonnet, ending a long string of love poems. After this point, his writing turned to Godly matters. As one friend put it: his writing became “crucified to the world.”
14Metaphysical Poetry (Background) Donne is considered the dominant figure of 17th Century English writers who came to be known as the “metaphysical poets.”He, along with George Herbert and Andrew Marvell were linked, not through their common philosophies, but through their style – through their use of wit.Donne is considered the dominant figure of 17th century English writers known as metaphysical poets. Although these writers never saw themselves as belonging to any school of poetry, they were very much the voices for an age of sophisticated thought and expression. What links them is not their ideas but their style – their use of wit.
15Metaphysical Poetry (What is wit?) Wit is “intelligent reason, powerful mental capacity, cleverness, ingenuity, intellectual quickness, inventive and constructive ability, a talent for uttering brilliant things, the point of amusing surprise.” – Louis Martz, ed. English Seventeenth-Century Verse, vol. I (1970),For Donne, this meant using surprising devices to startle readers and get them to see things in a new way.He did this through his use of the “metaphysical conceit.”Louis Martz, editor of English Seventeenth-Century Verse, vol. I (1970) describes wit as “intelligent reason, powerful mental capacity, cleverness, ingenuity, intellectual quickness, inventive and constructive ability, a talent for uttering brilliant things, the point of amusing surprise.” Metaphysical poetry through Donne, Herbert, and Marvell became a highly intellectual approach to poetry. For Donne, it was using surprising devices to startle readers and get them to see things a new way (like Edward Leuters “Your Poem Man”). He was “trying untried circuitry” to see “what lights up.” The poetic method is called a metaphysical conceit.
16Metaphysical Poetry (The Conceit) A metaphysical conceit is an extended metaphor or analogy that joins two dissimilar images to make a point.“A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”“The Flea”“Batter my heart, o three-person God”His poetry was and still continues to surprise us. Under his hand, a mathematical compass becomes a perfect representation of love in “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” a flea becomes an amorous go-between for forbidden lovers in “The Flea,” and salvation is equated with a raping of the soul in “Batter my heart, o three-person God.”
171621-1631 – The Godly Conclusion Result:In 1633, Donne’s eldest son collects the poems Donne has passed around for 30 years into one volume for the world.Good News: There is reconciliation and there is redemption.Bad News: The world loses one of its greatest theologians and poets.Donne’s rise in church ranks grows as he becomes Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in November He becomes extremely ill for an extended period during 1623 and writes a series of meditations as he sees his life nearing death. Somehow the mortal and the immortal seem to have closer communion for him and he writes some of his more insightful sermons and meditations that express the quiet, yet strong assurance his faith offers in direct contrast to the questions so prevalent in the early Holy Sonnets. Now he can write and understand that “no man is an island” as he does in Meditation XVII and remind us to “ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” In March 1631, John Donne dies after a long, wasting illness. His eldest son collects the poems Donne has passed around for 30 years into one volume and publishes them in 1633.
18Signature Poem (“Death Be Not Proud”) Death be not proud, though some have called theeMighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,Die not, poore Death, nor canst thou kill mee;From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.Thou art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,And poppie, or charms can make us sleepe as well,And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?One short sleepe past, we wake eternally,And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.Thus the signature I offer you is “Death Be Not Proud,” which can best be understood in the light of the man who writes it. I give you the Helen Gardner version, which E.M. Ashford, Vivian Bearing’s professor in the play Wit, calls the “scholarly” translation “with the original punctuation restored.” It reads:
19Signature Poem (“Death Be Not Proud”) Death be not proud, though some have called theeMighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not soe,For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,Die not, poore Death, nor canst thou kill mee;From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.Thou art slave to Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,And poppie, or charms can make us sleepe as well,And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then?One short sleepe past, we wake eternally,And death shall be no more, Death thou shalt die.1234567891011121314Here, Death, is personified by making it a proper noun and reduced through logic in power by making death be a metaphysical conceit for sleep. It is like sleep in its appearance (line 5) as well as the results of sleep-inducing things like drugs and charms (line 11) and yet less because of the “pleasure” sleep brings (line 6). This is the central conceit. Death is neither dreadful or mighty (line 2) because death is powerless to harm, using only its superiors to do that (Fate, chance, kings, and desperate men – line 9) and its betters to accomplish it (poison, ware, sicknesse – line 10) and ultimately, death is even less than sleep because death is not final since it only results in a “short sleepe” (line 13) and we “wake eternally.” If death is supposed to be permanent, then it becomes a victim of its own destiny in the poem when its is relegated to a lowercase reference in line 14. Perhaps death is merely the “little sleep,” but in Donne’s metaphysics, it becomes an eternal wakefulness.What follows is a student’s updated version of the poem. A paraphrase for today’s students.
20Daniel Char English 12 Mr. Munson Death, be not proudDeath, be not proudDeath, be not proudDaniel CharEnglish 12Mr. Munson
28Into an eternal rest and a freedom you do not possess
29But far from a Master, you are just a slave of fate, chance, power, and desperation
30And keep company with poison, violence, and disease
31It seems that drugs and hypnosis can do the same things you do
32And they do it better, so why should we be scared of you?
33You offer only a short nap before we awaken forever
34And when we awaken, you, Death, will no longer exist
35The Journey of John Donne (1572-1631) It’s true we cannot conquer death, but if we use John Donne’s life as an example, we can redeem death and see it as a bridge to “wake eternally.”
36Wit by Margaret EdsonThis is one of the central struggles in Margaret Edson’s Pulitzer-prize-winning play Wit, where a Donne scholar must endure a painful and fatal treatment for her ovarian cancer armed with only a life filled with her scholarly devotion to the study and teaching of the Holy Sonnets, without the passion that infused them.
37Questions for your essays: Defend Wit as a play that explores the thematic pattern of creation/fall/redemption.Analyze why Wit is the perfect title for this play.What does Vivian’s dying teach her about life?Detail how Wit illustrates the meaning of John Donne’s sonnet “Death Be Not Proud.”Explore the parallels between Vivian Bearing and E.M. Ashford with Jason Posner and Harvey Kelekian.As you view the play, please consider the following questions and take notes that will support your conclusions. At the end of the viewing, we will write and in-class analysis based on one these prompts of your choosing.
38“This is my Playes Last Scene” by John Donne This is my playes last scene; here heavens appointMy pilgrimages last mile; and my raceIdly, yet quickly rune, hath this last pace,My spans last inch, my minutes last pointAnd gluttonous death, will instantly unjoyntMy body, and soule, and I shall sleepe a space,But my’ever-waking part shall see that face,Whose feare already shakes my every joynt:Then, as my soule, to’heaven her first seate, takes flight,And earth-borne body, in the earth shall dwell,So, fall my sinnes, that all may have their right,To where they’are bred, and would presse me, to hell.Impute me righteous, thus purg’d of evill,For thus I leave the world, the flesh and devill.