Wednesday, October 2, 2019
The Writings of John Donne Essays -- Biography Biographies Essays
The 17th century opened with a generation of great social change which culminated in the eventual execution of King Charles I in 1649. This created an atmosphere of conflict that permeates much of the literature of the period. The writings of John Donne are rife with this conflict, reflecting in their content a view of love and women radically and cynically altered from that which preceding generations of poets had handed down. John Donne's view of love deviated greatly from the Medieval philosophy of courtly love, which had been expressed in poetry handed down from the sonnets of such poetic giants as Sidney and Petrarch. The general verse until then had focused greatly on the unrivalled importance of love in the context of the life of the poet (or his creation's voice). Until then, "love" had consisted mostly of an obsession with one woman, and an exploration of the feelings and situations that this caused in the narrator. Donne's reversal of that introversion came in the form of an intellectual exploration of the nature of his relationships themselves. His verses often point out the selfishness inherent to new love, as in "The Good-Morrow." In this poem, Donne's focus is on the exploration of the new world, which he then twists around to imply that his entire world is formed between his mistress and himself. "[Love] makes one room an everywhere." (l. 10) His poetic conceit (conception) is an explication of the emotional conceit (vanity) underlying love. A clearer example of the universalization of love is seen in "The Sun Rising" with the lines "She is all states, and all princes I,/Nothing else is." (ll. 21-22) With the equal weight of both his mistress and Donne's part, we see a much more balan... ...iewed as equals without the risk of disrupting social norms. Yet he still attempts to work against the grain of this doctrine. These social norms had been established in poetry for several hundreds of years when Donne began his work breaking them down. Working against such conventions in the perception of love and women, Donne radically altered his poetry to accommodate both a more human and more equal view of both. In the end, the effect of these changes may have been lost for a few centuries, as his poetry was swept aside and not embraced until the onset of Modernism, but perhaps, given the underlying misogyny of his poetry, this was for the best. Going from the diminutive extreme to the entirely distrusted extreme may have been a more frightening alternative for women's history than the more gradual climb from silence we now conceive of.