13 December 2010
John Donne: A Poet’s Beguilement with Bereavement
“I were miserable if I might not die.”
The last words of John Donne were preceded by a life full
of love, spiritual growth, and an obsession with death.
After inheriting a large sum of money following the
death of his father when he was only four years old, Donne spent his fortune on womanizing, books and
His mother raised him to be a devout Catholic, but Donne turned against his religion when his
brother was imprisoned for harboring a Catholic priest.
Eventually, King James convinced Donne to join
the Anglican Church, in which he gained fame as a preacher.
As religion became increasingly important in
Donne’s life, his apparent obsession with death became more profound.
Donne’s poetry shows a change in
tone from one of playfulness to solemnity from his youth to adulthood.
This change is likely contributed to
the impact death gradually had on his life as friends began to pass, impacting Donne with extreme sadness.
He wrote a wide variety of works including both erotic and secular poems. As a metaphysical poet, Donne
was notorious for his use of metaphors, particularly in his erotic poems written early in his life.
It has been
said that Donne’s life was divided into three periods: one in which his death wish was concealed under
ambivalence, the second in which his death wish became apparent at times, and the third in which he
calmly resolved to accept death.
Donne began his writing career as an illustrious erotic poet.
His work reflected the lifestyle he
lived, which consisted of many lovers until his marriage to Anne.
“Song” describes his pursuit of the
perfect woman for himself.
In this poem, he addresses the audience, asking that they find him “a woman
true, and faire” (18).
Donne’s work embodies his role as a man devoted to love; he makes it apparent that
he would take drastic measures to find his soul mate: “If thou findst one, let mee know, / Such a pilgrimage
were sweet” (19-20).
On the other hand, some of Donne’s poems allude to his lustful youth filled with an
abundance of lovers.
“The Flea” acts as a witty pursuit of a young woman’s virginity.
In this poem, Donne
persuades his lover to give in to his request by comparing their unity to a flea: “Oh stay, three lives in one
flea spare, / Where wee almost, yea, more than maryed are” (10-11).
He creates a rational argument by
reducing the loss of his lover’s virginity to something as trivial as the intermingling of two people’s blood
in a single flea.
Donne’s persona in this poem is one of a charming, irresistible man, and a man who cannot
resist a woman’s beauty in other works, such as “The Baite.”
Donne creates a playful metaphor describing
a man’s pursuit of an attractive woman in this poem.
He compares men to fish who cannot resist the appeal
of bait, which leads to their downfall by capturing them in the net of lustful love.
Some men, according to