|John Donne as painted by Isaac Oliver in 1616|
John Donne was born in London in 1572 to Catholic parents. He is part of a group of poets called the Metaphysical Poets. “The loosely associated group also includes George Herbert, Richard Crashaw, Andrew Marvell, and John Cleveland” (www.poets.org).As described in the Norton Anthology of British Literature, “Given the shape of Donne’s career, it is no surprise that his poems and prose works display an astonishing variety of attitudes, viewpoints, and feelings on the great subjects of love and religion” (Norton 1372). This might be attributed to the fact that religion was a great source of tension, especially between England and France. Because of this, he “could not expect any kind of public career, nor could he receive a university degree (he left Oxford without one and studied law for a time at the Inns of Court” (Norton 1370). We are not entirely sure but know that “some point in the 1590’s, having returned to London after travels abroad, and having devoted some years to studying theological issues, Donne converted to the English church” (Norton 1370). Joining the Anglican Church had put his Catholic roots far behind him and caused him to use much religious imagery in his works. The Norton Anthology also tells us that “In 1596-97, he participated in the Earl of Essex’s military expeditions against Catholic Spain in Cadiz and the Azores, upon his return became secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. His secret marriage in 1601 to Egerton’s seventeen-year-old niece Ann More enraged Donne’s employer and the bride’s wealthy father; Donne was briefly imprisoned and dismissed from service. The poet was reduced to a retired country life beset by financial insecurity and a rapidly increasing family; Ann bore twelve children by the time she died at age thirty-three” (Norton 1370-71). In the short biography from Poets.org, the writers remark that “Donne wrote most of his love lyrics, erotic verse, and some sacred poems in the 1590s, creating two major volumes of work: Satires, and Songs and Sonnets” (www.poets.org ). Later on in his life, he became preoccupied by the idea of his death and many of his works centered on this theme. “He wrote his private prayers, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, during a period of severe illness and published them in 1624. John Donne died in London in 1631″ (www.poets.org).
Greenblatt, Stephen, ed. The Norton Anthology of English Literature, Ninth Edition. New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. Print.
“John Donne.” Poets.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Dec. 2012. <http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/243>.
Oliver, Isaac. John Donne. 1616. National Portrait Gallery, London. Web. 18 November 2012. <http://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw01900/John-Donne?LinkID=mp01330&role=sit&rNo=1>