John Donne

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John Donne (pronounced "DUN", 1572-1631) is regarded as a major English poet and writer, and probably the greatest of the metaphysical poets. His works include sermons and religious poems, Latin translations, epigrams, elegies, songs and sonnets.

Born and raised in a Roman Catholic family , Donne was educated at both Oxford and Cambridge. As a young man he travelled on the Continent and in 1596–97 accompanied the earl of Essex on his expeditions to Cádiz and the Azores. On his return he became secretary to Baron Ellesmere and began to achieve a reputation as a poet. His writings of this period include many of his songs and sonnets, and they are notable for their realistic and sensual style. Donne also composed many satirical verses, betraying a cynical outlook.

A public scandal in 1601 (concerning Donne's clandestine marriage to Anne More, niece to Baron Ellesmere Egerton's second wife) ruined Donne's public reputation, and afterwards his poetry became more serious. The two "Anniversaries" — "An Anatomy of the World" (1611) and "Of the Progress of the Soul" (1612)— reveal that his faith in the medieval order of things had been disrupted by the growing political, scientific, and philosophic doubt of the times.

After a long period of financial uncertainty and desperation, during which he was twice a member of Parliament (1601, 1614), Donne heeded the wishes of King James I and was ordained in 1615. With the death of his wife in 1617 the tone of his poetry deepened, particularly in the "Holy Sonnets".

After his ordination, Donne wrote a number of religious works, such as his Devotions (1624) and various sermons. Several of these sermons were published during his lifetime. Donne was also regarded as one of the most eloquent preachers of his day. In 1621, Donne was made dean of St. Paul's, a position he held until his death.

"No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main...
... Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind;
and never therefore send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."
John Donne, from "Meditation XVII"