What John Donne’s contribution in Elizabethan Poetry


What John Donne’s contribution in Elizabethan Poetry? When we study the poetic works of different poets in detail, we come to know that poetry is based on some set pattern rules and regulations and conventions of the past. The influence of the past poets is very much observed on the compositions and works of the present poets. Most of them follow the set pattern rules of poetry of the past poets. As far as the case of Donne’s poetry is concerned which is entirely different from set pattern rules and conventions of the Elizabethan age. His contribution to English poetry is as important as that of Shakespeare in the world of English drama.

Though he revolted against the set pattern rules of poetry of Elizabethan age yet John Donne poetry got very huge popularity and fame among the generation of his own time as well as in the coming generations. Donne’s poetry can be divided into two portions. Love poetry of his earlier period and religious poetry of his later period. His “Song and Sonnets” is a tremendous achievement in love poetry. There is no single term or definition which can cover all the characteristics and traits of his outstanding poetry because there is always a surprising variety of mood and attitude to the emotions or feelings. His poems are equally passionate and sensual.

Sometimes,John Donne poems become cynical in their appeal. Passion which always dominates on his poetry and becomes the top quality of his poems. The canonization comes immediately to mind.

 For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love”,

Same tune is continued in his very prominent poems as the Good-Morrow and “The Funeral”. In these poems, Donne celebrates the best in conjugal love. Pure and solid affection is presented in ‘The Anniversary and A Valediction’. Donne presents the pure and authentic delight of mutual love-making in the poem of ‘Forbidding Mourning’, ‘The Good Marrow and ‘The Dream’.

Moreover, Donne’s poems also present sensual love in all its aspects. Donne is not of the view that bodily love is impure. According to him it is as important as the spiritual attraction between two souls is necessary. This very point is well illustrated in the poem – “The Eestacy”, in which he describes that it is through the bodies that the souls meet.

In general, Donne’s poetry revolves around the five major themes. There is the sorrow of parting, the misery of secrecy, the falseness of the mistresses, the fickleness of the lover and finally a hate for love, itself. Donne believes that a pure physical love is the outcome of the union of body and soul. In the last stanza of ‘The Canonization’, he clearly defines the philosophy of love that a complete relationship between man and woman fuses their souls into a complete whole and thus they become a world in themselves. His poetry does not intend to make a difference between marriage and adultery, but about the difference between love and lust. Another striking quality which strikes to our imagination is that his love poems express a surprising variety of attitude. Sometimes, it is observed that he treats love cynically, sometimes bitterly and sometimes scornfully. In other simple words, we can say that love is shaped differently at different occasions and it becomes difficult for us to get or extract a vivid and clear-cut view of love from his poems.

On one hand, he describes love as a matter of an immortal thing but on the other hand, he treats it as a physical thing. It means to say that both physical and spiritual aspects of love are very visible in Donne’s poems. Love only takes its final shape when it embraces both body and soul. That is the definition of love which we may extract from the love poems of Donne. Another aspect of the poetry is that Donne’s love poetry is regarded as the anti-petrarchan because he always goes against Elizabethan conventions. Actually Petrarchan was a model poetry, set by Petrarch. Petrarchan style was based on the theme of woman-worship, expressed in sugar-coated language. It was full of allusions to gods and goddesses of mythology.

As far as the case of John Donne is concerned, he rebelled against the prevailing traditions and broke new grounds. That’s why his love poems get rid of the theme of woman worship. This is the very difference between his poetry and the Patrarchan which makes his poetry lofty and elevated because he does not quote women as a goddess or beyond the reach of ordinary man. In his poem, woman is an ordinary human being, capable of love and desire. He even calls his beloved a “murderess” that is a different way from the traditional style. A Petrarchan would have been horrified at such lines as:

“Full nakedness: All joys are due to thee, As souls unbodied, bodies uncloth’d must be, To taste whole joys”.

The element of sensuality is very much prominent in Donne’s elegies which is observed especially in the elegies, used in the poem. “To His Mistress Going to Bed”. Whatever occurs in his mind at the time of describing the true spirit of love, he does not hesitate to express it. He does not flinch from expressing his desire to let his hands move over every part of the beloved’s body. In “The Flea”, he delightfully tries to reduce the lady through elaborate and false logic.

To conclude this topic, it can be said vehemently and forcefully that it was Donne who revolted against the conventions of Elizabethan and Petrarchan age and heralded the poetry of new kind which was considered as metaphysical poetry. Unlike the Elizabethan conventions,John Donne justified love as a natural passion in the human heart. In brief, we can say that his poetry was an escape from the courtly love of olden times.


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