John Donne

Tuning in to Donne

Is “The Flea” about

  • Two friends observing how difficult fleas are to kill
  • A young man trying to convince his love that sex isn’t such a big deal
  • An analogy for challenges of finding the “right” lover

Is “The Broken Heart”…

  • about a man who had a fight with his love and smashed lots of things in the process
  • a metaphor for the grief caused by poverty in the world
  • a statement on the fact that once you have loved, all other women pale in significance.

Is “Triple Fool”…

  • about a man who takes his girlfriend to the circus?
  • a thematic exploration of the folly of putting too much trust in your friends
  • explores the idea that putting your pains to verse is three times foolish

The Metaphysicals

Your notes are recorded here.

The Metaphysical poets were posthumously named for the characteristics evident in their writing. Start by looking at this link from; you might find more detail at  this link to learn more about the history and characteristics.

Task: Define metaphysical poetry. Who were the metaphysical poets? What gave rise to the metaphysical movement?

What is a metaphysical conceit?

Extension: What was the pastoral poetry movement? How was it different to the metaphysicals?

  • “metaphysicals” are popular with modern readers because of their realism, their intellectualism, and their break with their immediate literary past.
  • The Metaphysical Poets are known for their ability to startle the reader and coax new perspective through paradoxical images, subtle argument, inventive syntax, and imagery from art, philosophy, and religion
  •  A “metaphysical conceit (extended metaphor) is a far-fetched and ingenious extended comparison (or “conceit”) used by metaphysical poets to explore all areas of knowledge.

A  Little Background

Its always good to start things off with a little background knowledge. Divide into 2 groups and choose one of the two poets. One person from each group will research the following topics:

  1. The life and times of the poet (biographical)
  2. Political, historical and social events and ideas of the time
  3. Who influenced the poet and who did he influence.

Be prepared to share your research for the next class.

Try looking on or you might try this article on infotrac:

“John Donne.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Detroit: Gale, 1998. Gale Student Resources In Context. Web. 23 Nov. 2012.

Finally, try using webpath express: search for John Donne and then select the topic as “John Donne” you should get about 7 quality results.

The Flea

There is a very common interpretation of Donne’s “The Flea”, however, this doesn’t mean that other interpretations aren’t valid provided they are supported with evidence. A quick browse online will illuminate you to this common interpretation.

As with any poem, you must read it several times over. Then get to annotating. If you want some clues for annotation, have a look at this document. It gives you my annotations for the first stanza.

The Bait

“The Bait” is an excellent example of how metaphysical poetry was a reaction to pastoral poetry.

Compare this to Marlowe’s, “The Passionate Shepard

The other nice feature about the bait is it really demonstrates the use of paradox in metaphysical poetry.

The Broken Heart

Another example of Donne’s metaphysical poetry is “The Broken Heart”. Read the poem aloud and annotate as you usually would then complete the following:

  1. Group elements of the poem together. Choose categories with which to group these by. This is building towards topics or themes that you might use to discuss the poem.
  2. Use the following categories to develop your ideas on the poem:
    1. Shocking imagery creates/compares…
    2. The heart as an object
    3. The heart as glass
    4. The personification of love
    5. Consumption imagery…

A Conclusion to Donne

Much of Donne’s poetry that we’ve looked at contains extended metaphor (or the metaphysical conceit as it is known in this context). Consider, how effective is this technique at illuminating the broad topics that Donne discussed?

Do you see extended metaphor as being useful today? I showed you one (pretty poor) example of how it has been employed though this example didn’t conceal so much as simply compare. Can you think of a modern context or issue where an extended metaphor might be employed?

One Response to “John Donne”

  1. mkrepublic February 7, 2011 at 10:02 AM #

    why are they colored?

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