John Donne

Early Life

John Donne was born into a Roman Catholic family on the 22nd of January in 1572 in London, United Kingdom. His parents were John Donne, a wealthy Londoner, and Elizabeth Heywood. Thomas More, a famous catholic martyr, was his grandfather. Unfortunately, his father died in 1576 when he was only four, leaving Elizabeth alone with the responsibility of bringing up young children. After his father’s demise, his mother remarried with a surgeon, Dr. John Syminges. Later, she became the dean of St. Paul’s. Unfortunately, she died in 1632.


As John belonged to a religious family, he was educated privately during his early years. In 1583, he took admission at Hart Hall, Oxford University. There, he studied for three years and left without graduation because of his Catholic beliefs. According to him, the Oath of supremacy was against his beliefs. It was required for the completion of the degree. Later, in 1591, he got admission in Thieves Inn Legal School in London to pursue his education. However, during and after his education, he spent much of his precious time on literature, travel, and pastime. In 1615, he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University.

Married Life and Tragedy

John successfully established his diplomatic career by the age of 25. He secretly married Ann Moore in 1601. He became the Member of Parliament later. Their families disapproved of their marriage. Ann did not receive any dowry from her parents. John was also sent to prison for a short period. However, he was released shortly when their marriage was legally approved. The couple had twelve children in sixteen years of marriage, but only ten survived.  Unfortunately, his three children died before ten, leaving him in a state of acute despair that drove him into committing suicide. The death of his wife during childbirth in 1617 added more to his pain and misery.


John Donne, a great preacher and orator, fell ill in 1624. He documented his illness in his publication, “Devotions upon Emergent Occasions.” However, after facing tragedies of life, this prolific figure breathed his last on the 31st of March 1631. He was buried in old St Paul’s Cathedral.

Some Important Facts of His Life

  1. He was the Chief exponent of the metaphysical school of poetry.
  2. He served twice as a member of Parliament. First time in 1601 and the second time in 1614.
  3. Although he wrote masterpieces in his life, his “Collected Poems” appeared posthumously.

Writing Career

Although the world knows him as a great poet now, in Jacobean England, he was famous for his powerful oratory sermons. After completing his education from Lincoln’s Inn, he started working as a secretary to Sir Thomas Edgerton in 1597. Unfortunately, he lost his position after his secret marriage. This incident threw him into the well of a financial crisis. He spent the next fourteen years of his life seeking a respectable job and producing remarkable literary pieces, such as “Pseudo-Martyr” and “Biathanatos.”

Later, in 1615, he became the Royal Chaplin to James in the Church of England. In 1921, he was appointed as a dean of St. Paul’s. He spent the next decade as a preacher and writer until his illness in the autumn of 1630. Despite expressing his ideas, emotions, and feelings in his work so well, he did not put any effort into publishing his work because he never wanted to earn through his words. Therefore, during his lifetime, his poetry circulated in manuscripts among the circle of friends. However, his “Elegies and Satires” were likely produced in the 1590s.

His Style

Despite facing challenges and grave losses in life, Donne added more variety to the world of literature with his mature intellectual ideas. However, his works were not published and acknowledged during his lifetime. Instead, his highly intellectualized pieces were considered crude. However, after his death, he was termed a pioneer of the metaphysical school of thought. His poetry is marked by subtlety and complexity of thought, excessive use of paradoxes, distorted imagery, and bold conceits. Also, he is famous for using harsh tone and rigid expression in his writings.  The recurring themes in most of his poems stand religion, fidelity, the interconnectedness of humanity death, separation, and self-love.

John Donne’s Works

  • Best Poems: Some of the best poems he has written includes: “Go and Catch a Falling Star”, “The Good Morrow”, “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”, “The Canonization”, “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, “Death Be Not Proud” and “Sunne Rising.”
  • Letters: Although he wrote many love poems and holy sonnets, he also tried his hands on letters. Some of his famous letters include: “To Mr. Christopher: The Storm”, “To Mr. Christopher: The Calm”, “To Sir Henry Wotton”, “To Mr. T.W.”, “To Mr. Samuel Becket” and “To Mr. I.L.”

John Donne’s Impacts on Future Literature

John Donne is a well-known metaphysical writer who became popular among his contemporaries. However, his writings faded away after his death until the 20th century when some writers applauded his highly intellectual pieces. His literary qualities and unique way of expression helped shape the opinion of the poets and writers of the 20th century. He promoted the concept of self-love in most of his poems. His works influence us to love others unconditionally, no matter how difficult they turn out. It is due to these qualities. He had had a powerful influence over many poets and writers such as Robert Browning, T.S Eliot, and W.B Yeats. He successfully presented his ideas in his writings that even today, writers try to imitate his unique style, considering him a beacon for writing prose and poetry.

John Donne’s Famous Quotes

  1. Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
    Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
    For those, whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow,
    Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me” (Death Be Not Proud)
  2. No man is an Island, entire itself;
    Every man is a piece of the Continent,
    A part of the main.” (Mediation XVII)
  1. “All mankind is of one author, and is one volume;
    When one man dies, one chapter is not torn out
    Of the book, but translated into a better language.” (Mediation XVII)
  1. “Love built on beauty, soon as beauty, dies.” (Elegy ll: The Anagram)