Oxford Poets: John Donne 1572- 1631

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

by Liliana Baltra

John Donne belonged to a Roman Catholic family who refused to accept the principles of the Church of England.  At the early age of 11 Donne was a student at Hertford College, then known as Hart Hall. After three years at Oxford he was admitted to the University of Cambridge, where he studied for another three years. Because of his Catholicism he was unable to obtain a degree from either institution, since a requirement for graduates was to take the Oath of Supremacy required any person going into public or church office in England to swear allegiance to the monarch as Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Failure to do so was to be treated as treasonable. However, in 1615 he took orders and became a cleric in the Church of England and ended up as Dean of St. Paul’s.


Donne is the principal representative of the metaphysical poets. The term is used to indicate “the peculiar blend of passion and thought, feeling and ratiocination…” in their poetry.


John Donne ‘s works are noted for their strong, sensual style and include sonnets, love poetry, religious poems, Latin translations, elegies, songs, satires and sermons. His poems had the vigorous rhythms of the contemporary dramatic poets with the intellectual vitality of Shakespearean metaphor.


His most famous religious poems are The Litany and Holy Sonnets. And from his love poems: The Good-Morrow and A Nocturnal upon Saint Lucy’s Day, Being the Shortest Day.


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