John Donne And English Literature

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 12th grade November 2001

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Just as there are a thousand parts that make up the whole of the "tradition of British literature," there are a thousand different angles from which to view that tradition. One can look at literary styles, at forms and rhymes and media, and trace their evolution as they fall in and out of favor. A historical perspective is possible, digging to discover how a culture effected literature and how that literature in turn changed society. You may pick a theme, a subject, a particular story, and can follow its wavy path as it hikes its way from writer to writer. And you can choose a focus, one poet out of the many, and see how his or her trail intersects these other angles. Considering the enormity of his ups and downs, his changing place within the English canon, the works of John Donne make a particularly revealing place from which to view the tradition of British literature.,p> As far as the poetry of John Donne is concerned, it lies squarely within the English tradition. The reader can be positive that Donne was interested in the past both by what he followed and, more importantly, by what he rejected (and often ridiculed). He took some of the Renaissance ideas that had been overused and reinvigorated them. Many of his poems deal with conventional Petrarchan subjects: love, sadness, separation. Yet Donne turns tradition upside-down, or inside-out, by employing the elaborate conceit and by intellectualizing emotion, traits that would become his trademarks. When he turned to the sonnet, which had been the popular form twenty years earlier but was in decline, he went off in a different direction and wrote the intensely personal Holy Sonnets. With the publication of his Poems in 1633, two years after his death, Donne became part...