John Donne’s Poetry Style and Characteristics

May 6, 2021 by Essay Writer

John Donne’s poetry is characterized by complex imagery and irregularity. In his four pieces of poetry, Song, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, Meditation 17, and Death Be Not Proud, Donne effortlessly displays the traits of a metaphysical poet. He uses a variety of arguments in all of his work. He also incorporates many significant comparisons in his poems. Finally, Donne includes a fine use of language in all of his poetry. Overall, John Donne enlists all of the conventions of a metaphysical poet in his prose, meditation and poems.

John Donne uses a great variety of arguments in all of his work. In “Death Be Not Proud,” Donne expresses his view that death is not something feared, as it often is, and has been, since the beginning of time. He points out the weaknesses of death and, with confidence, declares his victory over it by means of his lack of respect and fear for its implications. The basis of his argument is to show the weakness of death in his poem. For instance:

…Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;

For those whom thou think’st thou dost overthrow

Die not, poor Death, not yet canst thou kill me…

(Donne, “Death Be Not Proud” 1-4)

He goes on to describe death as a mere transition, which does not serve as an end, but instead, a new awakening to an eternal afterlife.

Throughout Donne’s poetry, he incorporates many significant comparisons. In A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning, Donne expresses his feelings about his wife with a great use of comparisons. The metaphors of earthquakes in line 9, and celestial spheres, line 11, portray a great understanding of his relationship with specific details about the magnitude of love. Donne uses these to explain how two different, and gigantic events can either bring “harms and fears”, or “innocence”. The contrast between the magnitude of earthquakes and celestial trepidation is compared to the love between two bodies and two soles. While the early language of the poem relates lover’s souls as one, the possibility of separate bodies, yet a single mixed soul is described:

If they be two, they are two so

As stiff twin compasses are two;

Thy soul, the fixed root, makes no show

To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the center sit,

Yet when other far doth roam,

It leans and hearkens after it,

And grows erect, as that comes home.

(Donne, “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning” 25-32)

The conclusion of the poem is that the soul, or “fixed root” can never be separated like the bodies. While the lover’s bodies are separated by great distance, they will be like the compass in that the points are wide, but the handle joins them. Here, Donne also argues that the lovers’ bodies are physically separated, but the two are joined by the soul, or “fixed root”.

Finally, Donne includes a superior use of language in his work. Figurative language is a very important poetic device in “Death Be Not Proud”. Throughout this poem, there is a strong use of assonance- the repetition of vowel sounds within a phrase. The sound of the words help in structuring Donne’s writing. Nearly every line contains a repetition of “o” sounds. In the following line, an example of this device is clear:

“Die not poor death, not yet canst thou kill me” (Donne, “Death Be Not Proud” 4)

The frequent use of assonance does not directly develop the poems theme, but it does help to convey the theme more vividly by making the lines flow. The good use of language in this poem makes the central idea of the entire poem easy to understand.

Overall, John Donne enlists all of the conventions of a metaphysical poet in his prose, meditation and poems. He does an excellent job of including arguments and comparisons in his work. He also applies figurative language to his work, which makes for easier reading and understanding. Donne, writing in a conversational style, emphasizing complex meanings, and including unusual imagery includes all of the standards of a metaphysical poet in his works of prose, meditation and poems.

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