• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

John Donne 'Songs and Sonnets' - Secular or Sacred?

Extracts from this document...


Word Count: 2,574 Essay 2: Seventeenth Century John Donne 'Songs and Sonnets' - Secular or Sacred? John Carey states in his book, John Donne: Life, Mind and Art, that: "The first thing to remember about Donne is that he was a Catholic; the second, that he betrayed his Faith". 1 Carey's argument continues with heavy emphasis on Donne's religious tendencies and implies that the perpetual worry about fidelity, falseness and the permanence of human relationships contained in the 'Songs and Sonnets' is a transference of Donne's apostatical guilt to women. However, Barbara Hardy in her essay 'Thinking and Feeling in the Songs and Sonnets' contradicts Carey's emphasis on the spiritual and religious, stating that: "Physicality...is the rule in Donne"2 These two critical views oppose each other and take extreme standpoints on the meaning and content of Donne's poetry. However, the common theme in Donne criticism is that there is a strong element of paradox and an overriding impression of ambiguity in his poems, and I believe that this prevents a definitive conclusion that the 'Songs and Sonnets' are, in a mutually exclusive sense, either secular or sacred. Donne's 'Songs and Sonnets' are complex. His use of philosophical, theological and scientific illustrations and analogies, captured in a colloquial language "such as men do use"3 make it extremely difficult to tease out the hidden depths of the poems, and can confuse the issue of whether they are secular or scared in nature. ...read more.


They challenge the sun to search for anything which can compare to, in the context of their self-contained world, the "rich experience"11 of human love and spirit, and the "preciousness of the human soul besides which all else pales into insignificance"12. In this way, their love is everything, it can transcend to become supreme and heavenly - a sacred love. 'The Canonization' is another example of Donne proclaiming that he and his lover are completely self-contained and have no need of anyone or anything else, only in this poem, he states this by protesting that they have no effect on the outside world: "Alas, alas, who's injur'd by my love?... ...Call us what you will, wee are made such by love"13 (lns 10 & 19) The conflict in this poem is much more prominent than in 'The Sunne Rising', which leans more towards earthly love as he is "boldly conflating the secular and the sacred"14 - the "boldly" probably referring to the opening exclamation, and the colloquial language he uses throughout: "For Godsake hold your tongue, and let me love,"15 (ln 1) This dialectal tone contributes to the appearance of the poem as being of a secular nature, and Donne's frequent reference to the sexual act and employment of sexual connotations and imagery certainly provide evidence for it having the aforementioned "physicality" as a rule. In the second stanza, he refers to himself and his lover as flies, a common example of unbridled sexuality, and continues this theme with a metaphor of them as tapers, which, whilst conjuring images of self-consumation, have phallic connotations. ...read more.


In particular, his marriage to Ann More favours a secular reading, and his apostasy a sacred. However, even when he was at his most sceptical, satirical and deeply involved with the secularised senses, he was overwhelmingly preoccupied by a search for religious truth. This balanced view that the poems can be both secular and sacred at the same time is the only conclusion that I believe can be drawn. It is a paradox in itself, but maybe that's just what Donne would have wanted. 1 Carey 1990, 1 2 Smith 1972, 79 3 Leishman, 22 4 Grierson 1963, 9 5 Leishman, 147 6 Donne 1991, 54 7 Donne 1991, 53 8 Donne 1991, 54 9 This quotation and all factual and background information for this point taken from: Roston 1974, 14 10 Roston 1974, 16 11 Roston 1974, 17 12 Roston 1974, 17 13 Donne 1991, 57 & 58 14 Donne 1991, 57 15 Donne 1991, 57 16 Donne 1991, 58 17 Donne 1991, 58 18 Donne 1991, 59 19 I make this point from the evidence provided by an extract of one of Donne's letters, ""I see not how I can admit that circuit of sending them" (ie. letters) "to you to be sent hither; that seems a kinde of praying to Saints, to whom God must tell first, that such a man prays to them to pray to him"". This can be found in: Grierson 1963, 16 20 Donne 1991, 51 21 Donne 1991, 51 22 Donne 1991, 51 23 Carey 1990, 158 24 Smith 1972, 127 25 Smith 1972, 90 Alison Richards 1 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Donne section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Donne essays

  1. "The Good Morrow" a poem by John Donne.

    The imagery in line 19 depicts the equal mixture of their two souls forming a new unity. This corresponds to how four elements, earth, air, fire, and water were designed to form a new substance. Two souls balancing depend on love and stability; the elemental creation of their being and

  2. Discuss the significance of the term metaphysical poetry in relation to three of the ...

    In the text, rhythm and tone the fear is not apparent. One has to investigate his motives for writing a poem like 'Holy Sonnet X'. John Donne personifies death by calling it 'thee', thou' and 'thy'. Why does he have the need to personify a concept?

  1. Poetic Parallelism between Jonne Donne and Lope de Vega

    The poems dealing with the naughty, little insect may belong to a fairly common Renaissance topos that developed in France, Italy and Spain and which John Donne and Lope de Vega may have been acquainted with as R. O. Jones has pointed out in a very enlightening essay.

  2. Relationships begin and relationships end

    Unfinished business can lead to a variety of unexpressed feelings and tensions, which can be manifest in many verbal and non-verbal ways, indicating blocked energy. Fritz Perls (the founder of Gestalt therapy) says that of all the unexpressed feelings, resentment is the worst and most frequent (Corey 1996, p227).

  1. John Donne - A Valediction Forbidding Mourning

    He urges the lover to look at the separation in a positive light, but he sends out undertones suggesting that he is aware of the fragility of the situation.3 The speaker then begins his closing argument, in which he changes his symbol of perfection from the sphere to the circle.

  2. "Explore how Donne's poetry was influenced by developments in scientific progressions, exploration and religion." ...

    it is known that the west is where the sun sets and where death beckons. He goes on to describe "Is the Pacific Sea my home? Or are The eastern riches? Is Jerusalem?" many new seas and countries were being discovered at this time.

  1. 'poetry, the word at its most eloquent, is one medium which could concentrate our ...

    It has been argued that the lyrical resentment of war poets such as Wilfred Owen may have influenced anti-war polemics such as A Cold Coming9. However during an interview with the Guardian newspaper Harrison states that has been able to make use of his own periodic descents into darkness, into

  2. A Comparison of Donnes The Sun Rising and Spensers Epithalamion

    Their love is presented as a metaphor; it is the whole world, contained in their bedroom. In passionate terms, the poet asserts that nothing compares to it: ?compared to this/All honor?s mimic, all wealth alchemy? (ll. 23-24). Spenser?s presentation of love in Epithalamion is more traditional.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work