John Donne



Early Life and Education

John Donne was born sometime between January 24 and June 19, 1572 in London, England to John Donne and Elizabeth. For most of his life, he remained in the country. He studied at Hart Hall in Oxford for three years, starting in 1584, then moved on to study at Cambridge for another three. He received no degree from either place, as he would have had to take the Oath of Supremacy to the Protestant Church, and he was of the Catholic faith. From 1592-1594, he studied law at Lincoln's Inn and Thavies Inn.


Donne went on expeditions to Cádiz and the Azores in 1596 and 1597. He also was a secretary to Sir Thomas Egerton, who was the Lord Keeper of England. In December of 1601, he got secretly married to Anne More, Egerton's niece, and thus ruined his reputation when they were discovered. Donne was jailed for a short time afterwards.

In some of his later religious works, such as The Pseudo-Marytr, Donne redeemed himself with his supporters. Among them was King James I, who appointed him as a priest at the Church of England in January 1615. Soon after, he became a royal chaplain, and then, on November 22, 1621, he was elected dean of St. Paul's Cathedral. He continued this role to the end of his life, when he died on March 31, 1631 in London, England.

Notable Works and Achievements

Donne was a famous author, poet, and speaker from the Renaissance. Known for his witty, yet serious style, he wrote both religious and nonreligious poems, satires, elegies, epithalamia, verse letters, and sermons. Many Catholics supported him for his sermons, which supported Catholicism. Some of his most notable works are The Pseudo-Martyr, Death's Duell, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, and The Anniversaries. The Anniversaries was one of his only works that was published during his lifetime.

Famous Work

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

"No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were ; and mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee."

~John Donne in Devotions upon Emergent Occasions

About the Work

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions was published in 1624, after Donne's death. He wrote it shortly before he died. It is a series of devotional essays from the perspective of an ill man whose condition is worsening. The work is known for this unique perspective. Also, many phrases from the piece have become well known around the world. For example, the phrase "for whom the bell tolls" has been widely used in expressing the meaning of life and death.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Ernest Hemingway used the excerpt included above to help create the title of his bestselling, 1940 novel, For Whom the Bell Tolls. The excerpt is included in the beginning of the book, which has become a bestseller and is considered a classic piece of literature.

My Perspective

This piece is interesting to me because of its old language; 'iland,' 'intire,' and 'peece' are just a few of the words that are spelled differently than they are today. In addition, I like the message of this poem. Donne expresses that what happens to one person happens to everyone else. When one person dies, not only does it affect that person's friends and family members, but it also affects society as a whole. As human beings, we are naturally social creatures, so our relationships with others are important. I think this excerpt can teach us that we should do good deeds because our actions have the power to affect others, and hence make the world a better place.

Humanism and Skepticism

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions is an example of humanism because it is about humans, and not religion or gods. Also, it presents humans as a powerful, greater force called "Mankinde."

John Donne exemplified skepticism in his later years because he questioned the differences between Catholicism and Protestantism.

Works Cited

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