John Donne as a Puritan Poet - Is Metaphysical Poetry Puritan

John Donne as a Puritan Poet | Is Metaphysical Poetry Puritan?

  • December 5, 2021
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Tenure of Puritan Age was not short nor was it free of contradictions. In the history of English Literature, John Milton is known as best Puritan Poet instead of John Donne. Puritan Age is also called the age of “John Milton”. However, metaphysical poetry belongs to Puritan Age, in which Donne’s contribution is remarkable; therefore, John Donne should be regarded as Puritan poet. Firstly, in order to understand the Puritan Age, one has to go through its whole history. As students of literature, we do not need to know each and everything about it. Only some important and relevant facts are required to be understood. It is worth mentioning that in that age, the drama was banned; therefore, very fewer dramatists are mentionable. Only poets and prose writers gained fame in that era.

Puritan Age and Contribution of John Donne as a Poet:

What is Puritanism? In simple words, puritanism means purification of religious practices. The movement was started to reform the Church of England. The Protestants, Purifiers or the Puritans wanted to simplify the system of worship; they also demanded liberty and asked a change in the system. For the first time, the common people criticized churches and courts. It is, therefore, some historians called Puritanism as the second renaissance. Puritan Age started in the year 1620 and ended in the year 1660. John Donne died in the year 1631. Thus, Donne’s period was very short but it was noteworthy. He is a connecting link between the Elizabethan Age and the Puritan Age. It was the end of Renaissance and start of a new transition. Nevertheless, due to some political, religious and social crisis, it was full of pessimism.

Puritan Age had three groups:

  1. Metaphysical (John Donne is prominent)
  2. Cavalier (such as Robert Herrick)
  3. Puritan (Milton in poetry & John Bunyan in prose)

Characteristics of Puritan:

There are certain characteristics of Puritan Poets, which are:

  1. Criticism on courts and churches
  2. Use of satire and irony (Collective and Individual)
  3. Art of biography Popularized
  4. Readers contribution in criticism
  5. Rebirth of moral nature
  6. Liberty
  7. Morality and high ideals in politics

John Donne as a Puritan Poet:

The poet John Donne belongs to the first category of Puritan writers i.e. metaphysical poetry. Metaphysical poets broke the tradition and created a new style of writing poetry. They are known for using conceits and metaphors. John Donne is prominent in metaphysical poetry because he uses too many conceits in his poems. His metaphors are farfetched; therefore, wide knowledge is required to understand them. His poetry is emotional yet thoughtful. Instead of evoking emotions, it forces readers to think. Moreover, it is intellectual. Traditional poetry was about fairy tales but metaphysical poetry was entirely realistic. As far as John Donne’s poetry is concerned, it is about his real-life experiences. It reveals the autobiography of the poet John Donne, which is characteristic of Puritan poetry. He talks about his emotions and feelings with respect to his beloved Anne Moore. Certain other characteristics of Donne’s metaphysical poetry are:

  1. Intellectuality and wit
  2. Conceits and Hyperboles
  3. Abrupt Opening and Colloquial Style
  4. Satire (somewhere it is cynical)
  5. Argumentative Style

Read also John Donne as Metaphysical Poet | Metaphysical Poetry and its Characteristics.

Intellectuality and Wit:

Metaphysical poetry is less emotional and more intellectual. When a poet demonstrates something, readers think about it. As mentioned above, conventional poetry was about dreams and romances. Any tale either rational or irrational could be presented. That poetry was far away from cognition; therefore, it was barren and boring. Purpose of those poets was to target the human emotions and feelings. Donne’s poetry, on the other hand, is reasonable. It provokes thoughts instead of emotions. Although the poet talks about the emotions and experiences of his life yet nowhere in his poetry we find senselessness.

Conceit and Hyperboles:

Metaphysical poetry focuses on conceits and hyperboles. Many examples are available in Donne’s poetry, which prove that Donne has expanded the term “metaphysics”. For instance, in “Valediction: Forbidding Mourning”, he links two lovers with the legs of a compass. Similarly, in another poem, he compares his beloved to the universe. Still, there is another poem, in which he calls his beloved the earth and asked the sun to revolve around her. It is notable that metaphysical poetry uses conceits and hyperboles but the Puritans disagreed with the practice of using metaphor in speech and writing.

Abrupt Opening and Colloquial Style:

Many poems of John Donne have an abrupt opening. For instance in “The Sun Rising”, he abruptly opens the poem. “Busy old fool, unruly sun; why dost thou thus”. Similarly, another poem by John Donne i.e. “The Canonization” has an abrupt opening. “For God’s sake hold your tongue, and let me love”. It is the case with most of the poems of Donne. He usually opens his poems abruptly. As far as colloquial style is concerned, except metaphors and hyperboles, Donne’s diction is colloquial. He does not use fancy words but tries his best to summarize his emotions in short and simple words.

Satire as Vital Part of Puritan Poet John Donne:

One of the important elements of Puritan poetry as well as metaphysical poetry is satire. In many poems, Donne’s remarks are cynical, especially, for women. For example, in “Go and Catch a Falling Star”, he challenges the loyalty of women. Due to cynicism, critics say that contempt for a woman is a crucial part of Donne’s poetry. Hence, Satire and cynicism also make John Donne as a puritan or metaphysical poet.

Argumentative Style:

John Donne does not only illustrate his emotions. He logically tries to prove his declarations. In a poem, he uses tides as a metaphor for him and the moon for his beloved. He does not only leave everything on his readers to believe or not but supports his assertions by strong arguments. He gives arguments after arguments, through which he adds strength in his depositions. Hence, this style of the poet John Donne helps him to gain fame in the world of puritan as well as metaphysical poetry.

In a nutshell, it is not wrong to say that John Donne was the pioneer of metaphysical poetry. In the list of metaphysical poets, his name is at the top. Readers find every characteristic of metaphysical poetry in his poems, due to which he is called the father of metaphysical poetry and if metaphysical poetry is part of puritan poetry then John Donne is also a Puritan poet.

Related Question:

  • What is meant by metaphysical poetry? Illustrate Donne’s use of metaphysical imagery from his poems you have read.
  • Write a comprehensive note on John Donne as a Metaphysical Poet.
  • Do you agree to Dr. Johnson’s views that in metaphysical poetry John Donne has yoked together heterogeneous ideas by violence?
  • It is a term applied to far-fetched literary comparison. It was employed by the metaphysical poets of the 17th century like Donne and Cowley. Discuss
  • Discuss Donne as a metaphysical poet.


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