John Donne And The Metaphysical School Of Poetry

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As one of the most prominent literary figures of the early seventeenth century, John Donne has engendered widely differing views regarding the merits of his work. His reputation stands on two distinct accomplishments: the witty, sensual love poetry of his early career and the serious, devout religious writing of his later career as the Dean of St. Paul 's. Donne 's poetry was influential enough to be considered the basis of the metaphysical school of poetry, as characterized by later writers such as Richard Crashaw, Abraham Cowley, and George Herbert. Although religious study and spiritual seeking were significant parts of Donne 's writing life, his best-known works are his love poems. The poems classified as Songs and Sonets in particular …show more content…
These individuals argue that Donne never set out to write religious poetry and any divine references are coincidental, making Donne’s sermons his only overtly religious writings. Caroline Spurgeon considers none of Donne’s poems specifically to be churchly. She maintains that Donne was “richly endowed with intellectual gifts, yet failed to reach the highest rank as a poet” (Spurgeon 73). These critics argue that in spite of Donne’s position in the church and habits of thought, Donne was “alien to mysticism” (Thomson 193). Thomson evidences Donne’s fascination for the mystics’ way of thinking, especially in the sermons. However, he says that in the love poems, Donne celebrates love as a passion that will “raise man above the limiting conditions of physical existence into the freedom of the spiritual world” (193). Thomson concludes that statements like this exclude Donne from being classified as a religious poet. “Deeply versed as he was in theology, Donne might have given, in either prose or verse, a full statement of the mystic’s faith” (194). The closest Donne gets to a proclamation of faith is in his Valediction, where Donne states “All divinity is love or wonder” (194) but Donne doesn’t elaborate anymore. Isabel Cogan agrees with the above critics, writing that Donne gathered a “heterogeneous mass of material” (Cogan 192) but failed to present any one philosophy. Cogan continues, “as a metaphysician, therefore, Donne is somewhat disappointing; he opens the door but a crack into the realms of mysticism, and closes it all too hastily, leaving the reader doubtful whether the poet himself has passed over the threshold, or is still beating at the door” (192). Additionally, Douglas Bush writes his 1957 essay on how Donne never concerns himself with the non-Christian 's experience in his poetry. Bush suggests that true religious poetry must continue to be relevant with

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