John Donne & George Herbert


John Donne’s Biography

1572–1631, English poet and divine. He is considered the greatest of the metaphysical poets. Reared a Roman Catholic, Donne was educated at Oxford, Cambridge, and Lincoln's Inn. He achieved a reputation as a poet and public personage. His writing of this period, including some of his Songs and Sonnets (others were written as late as 1617) and Problems and Paradoxes, consist of cynical, realistic, often sensual lyrics, essays, and verse satires.
Donne's court career was ruined by the discovery of his marriage in 1601 to Anne More. After 1601 his poetry became more serious. He wrote prose on religious and moral subjects. After a long period of financial uncertainty and desperation, during which he was twice a member of Parliament (1601, 1614), Donne yielded to the wishes of King James I and took orders in 1615. Two years later his wife died.
The tone of his poetry, especially the Holy Sonnets, deepened after her death. After his ordination, Donne wrote more religious works, such as his Devotions (1624) and sermons. Several of his sermons were published during his lifetime. Donne was one of the most eloquent preachers of his day. He was made reader in divinity at Lincoln's Inn, a royal chaplain, and in 1621, dean of St. Paul's, a position he held until his death.
All of Donne's verse—his love sonnets and his religious and philosophical poems—is distinguished by a remarkable blend of passion and reason. His love poetry treats the breadth of the experience of loving, emphasizing, in such poems as “The Ecstasie,” the root of spiritual love in physical love. The devotional poems and sermons reveal a profound concern with death, decay, damnation, and the possibility of the soul's transcendent union with God. Original, witty, erudite, and often obscure, Donne's style is characterized by a brilliant use of paradox, hyperbole, and imagery. His most famous poems include “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning,” “Go and catch a falling star,” “Hymn to God the Father,” and the sonnet to death (“Death be not proud”). Neglected for 200 years, Donne was rediscovered by 20th-century critics. His work has had a profound influence on a number of poets

Donne's "Song"

Sweetest love, I do not go,
For weariness of thee,
Nor in hope the world can show
A fitter love for me;
But since that I
Must die at last, 'tis best
To use myself in jest
Thus by feign'd deaths to die.

Yesternight the sun went hence,
And yet is here today;
He hath no desire nor sense,
Nor half so short a way:
Then fear not me,
But believe that I shall make
Speedier journeys, since I take
More wings and spurs than he.

O how feeble is man's power,
That if good fortune fall,
Cannot add another hour,
Nor a lost hour recall!
But come bad chance,
And we join to'it our strength,
And we teach it art and length,
Itself o'er us to'advance.

When thou sigh'st, thou sigh'st not wind,
But sigh'st my soul away;
When thou weep'st, unkindly kind,
My life's blood doth decay.
It cannot be
That thou lov'st me, as thou say'st,
If in thine my life thou waste,
That art the best of me.

Let not thy divining heart
Forethink me any ill;
Destiny may take thy part,
And may thy fears fulfil;
But think that we
Are but turn'd aside to sleep;
They who one another keep
Alive, ne'er parted be.

Discussion Questions for ”Song”

1) What are the speaker's reasons for leaving his beloved?
2) What does the speaker say happens when "bad chance" comes (II. 21-24)?
3) How do the beloved's sighs and tears affect the speaker?
4) How does the speaker suggest that his beloved think of their parting?
5) To what is the sun in stanza 2 compared?
6) Of what is the speaker trying to convince his beloved? How would you outline the speaker's argument?
7) What is the tone of the poem? Is it angry, beseeching, reassuring, uncertain, mocking?

Donne's "Holy Sonnet 10"

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, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell;
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Discussion Questions for ”Holy Sonnet 10”

1) In the first four lines, why does the speaker say that death should not be proud?
2) Why does the speaker say in lines 5-8 that death is pleasant? What within these lines indicates that death is a source of pleasure?
3) How does the speaker characterize death in lines 9-12?
4) Why does the speaker say that death,shall be no more?
5) What does the speaker mean when he says in lines 3-4: "For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow, / Die not, poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me"? In what way is this meaning reinforced by the last two lines?
6) What does the paradox "Death, thou shalt die" mean? What makes,it paradoxical? In what way does the final paradox serve as the conclusion to the argument of the poem?

Donne's "Holy Sonnet 14"

Batter my heart, three-personed God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurped town, to another due,
Labour to admit you, but Oh, to no end.
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy:
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Discussion Questions for ”Holy Sonnet 14”

1) In the first four lines what does the speaker ask God to do?
2) To what does the speaker compare himself in line 5? Of what does the speaker complain in lines 6-8? How is reason characterized in lines 7 and 8?
3) How does the speaker describe his condi- tion in lines 9 and 10? What does the speaker ask God to do in lines 11-12? What reason does he give for his request in lines 13-14?
4) In line 2 why does the speaker complain of God's gentleness? Why does the speaker want God to treat him violently?
5) What are the paradoxes in lines 3, 13, and 14? What do they mean? How do they affect you, the reader?
6) Who is the "enemy" to whom the speaker is "betrothed"?
7) What is the tone in this poem? Is it belligerent, argumentative, pleading, arrogant, or contemptuous?

Donne's "Meditation 17"

PERCHANCE he for whom this Bell tolls, may be so ill, as that he knowes not it tolls for him; And perchance I may thinke my selfe so much better than I am, as that they who are about mee, and see my state, may have caused it to toll for mee, and I know not that. The Church is Catholike, universall, so are all her Actions; All that she does, belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concernes mee; or that child is thereby connected to that Head which is my Head too, and engraffed into that body, whereof I am a member. And when she buries a Man, that action concernes me: All mankinde is of one Author, and is one volume; when one Man dies, one Chapter is not torne out of the booke, but translated into a better language; and every Chapter must be so translated; God emploies several translators; some peeces are translated by age, some by sicknesse, some by warre, some by justice; but Gods hand is in every translation; and his hand shall binde up all our scattered leaves againe, for that Librarie where every booke shall lie open to one another: As therefore the Bell that rings to a Sermon, calls not upon the Preacher onely, but upon the Congregation to come; so this Bell calls us all: but how much more mee, who am brought so neere the doore by this sicknesse. There was a contention as farre as a suite, (in which both pietie and dignitie, religion, and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious Orders should ring to praiers first in the Morning; and it was that they should ring first that rose earliest. If we understand aright the dignitie of this Belle that tolls for our evening prayer, wee would bee glad to make it ours, by rising early, in that application, that it might bee ours, as wel as his, whose indeed it is. The Bell doth toll for him that thinkes it doth; and though it intermit againe, yet from that minute, that that occasion wrought upon him, hee is united to God. Who casts not up his Eye to the Sunne when it rises? but who takes off his Eye from a Comet when that breakes out? Who bends not his eare to any bell, which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell, which is passing a peece of himselfe out of this world? No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any 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. Neither can we call this a begging of Miserie or a borrowing of Miserie, as though we were not miserable enough of our selves, but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the Miserie of our Neighbours. Truly it were an excusable covetousnesse if wee did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured, and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction. If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into currant Monies, his treasure will not defray him as he travells. Tribulation is Treasure in the nature of it, but it is not currant money in the use of it, except wee get nearer and nearer our home, Heaven, by it. Another man may be sicke too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a Mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell, that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to mee: if by this consideration of anothers danger, I take mine owne into contemplation, and so secure my selfe, by making my recourse to my God, who is our onely securitie.

Discussion Questions for ”Meditation 17”

1) In "Meditation 17," what are the circumstances that cause church bells to toll?
2) Why does Donne say the tolling bell applies to him as well as to others?
3) At the conclusion, why does Donne say that contemplation of the tolling bell brings one close to God?
4) To what do the metaphors "chapter," "book," "language," and "translated" refer?
5) What is meant by "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent"?

George Herbert’s Biography

1593–1633, one of the English metaphysical poets. Of noble family, he was the brother of Baron Herbert of Cherbury. He was graduated from Cambridge. His early determination to enter the church was temporarily deflected by an appointment as public orator in 1619, a post he held until 1627. In 1630 he was ordained an Anglican priest and made rector at Bemerton. Herbert's devotional poems combine a homely familiarity with religious experience and a reverent sense of its magnificence. His verse is marked by quietness of tone, precision of language, metrical versatility, and the use of conceits. All unpublished at his death, the poems were left by Herbert to his friend Nicholas Ferrar, who had them published as The Temple (1633). Herbert also wrote Latin poems and a prose manual of clerical life, A Priest of the Temple (first printed in Herbert's Remains, 1652). The 20th-century revival of interest in the metaphysical poets has stressed Herbert.

Herbert's "Man"

My God, I heard this day
That none doth build a stately habitation
But he that means to dwell therein.
What house more stately hath there been,
Or can be, than is man, to whose creation
All things are in decay?

For man is ev'ry thing,
And more: he is a tree, yet bears more fruit;
A beast, yet is, or should be, more;
Reason and speech we only bring;
Parrots may thank us if they are not mute,
They go upon the score.

Man is all symmetry,
Full of proportions, one limb to another,
And all to all the world besides;
Each part may call the furthest brother,
For head with foot hath private amity,
And both with moons and tides.

Nothing hath got so far
But man hath caught and kept it as his prey;
His eyes dismount the highest star;
He is in little all the sphere;
Herbs gladly cure our flesh, because that they
Find their acquaintance there.

For us the winds do blow,
The earth doth rest, heav'n move, and fountains flow.
Nothing we see but means our good,
As our delight, or as our treasure;
The whole is either our cupboard of food,
Or cabinet of pleasure.

The stars have us to bed;
Night draws the curtain, which the sun withdraws;
Music and light attend our head;
All things unto our flesh are kind
In their descent and being; to our mind
In their ascent and cause.

Each thing is full of duty;
Waters united are our navigation;
Distinguished, our habitation;
Below, our drink; above, our meat;
Both are our cleanliness. Hath one such beauty?
Then how are all things neat!

More servants wait on man
Than he'll take notice of; in ev'ry path
He treads down that which doth befriend him,
When sickness makes him pale and wan.
Oh mighty love! Man is one world, and hath
Another to attend him.

Since then, my God, thou hast
So brave a palace built, O dwell in it,
That it may dwell with thee at last!
Till then, afford us so much wit,
That, as the world serves us, we may serve thee,
And both thy servants be.

Discussion Questions for ”Man”

1) In the first stanza of "Man," what question does the speaker ask?
2) How is man described in lines 7-24?
3) In lines 25-42, what does the speaker say is the relation of nature to man?
4) As shown in the next-to-last stanza, how does man behave toward nature?
5) In the final stanza, what are the two requests the speaker makes?
6) To what specific categories do the items mentioned in lines 7-10 belong? In broad general terms, how is man characterized in these lines?
7) To what does the "brave palace" of line 50 refer? In what way does this metaphor recall lines 4 and 5? How does this echoing serve to conclude or "close" the poem?

Herbert's "Easter Wings"

(the two verses are supposed to take on
the shape of wings)

Lord, Who createdst man in wealth and store,
Though foolishly he lost the same,
Decaying more and more,
Till he became
Most poore:
With Thee
O let me rise,
As larks, harmoniously,
And sing this day Thy victories:
Then shall the fall further the flight in me.

My tender age in sorrow did beginne;
And still with sicknesses and shame
Thou didst so punish sinne,
That I became
Most thinne.
With Thee
Let me combine,
And feel this day Thy victorie;
For, if I imp my wing on Thine,
Affliction shall advance the flight in me.

Discussion Questions for ”Easter Wings”

1) At the end of the poem, why does the speaker say he wants to "combine" with God? In what way does this echo lines 6-10?
2) In line 11, what does the speaker mean when he says: "My tender age in sorrow did begin"? Why should he have begun in sorrow? How does this line echo lines 1-5?
3) In what way is line 10 a paradox?
4) How are the title and shape of the poem appropriate to its meaning or theme?

Herbert's "Virtue"

SWEET day, so cool, so calm, so bright!
The bridal of the earth and sky
The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;
For thou must die.

Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave
Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,
Thy root is ever in its grave,

And thou must die.

Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses
A box where sweets compacted lie,
My music shows ye have your closes,

And all must die.

Only a sweet and virtuous soul,
Like season'd timber, never gives;
But though the whole world turn to coal,

Then chiefly lives.

Discussion Questions for ”Virtue”

1) In the first three stanzas of "Virtue," what happens to "sweet day," "sweet rose," and sweet spring"?
2) In the last stanza, what happens to the "sweet and virtuous soul"?
3) What do the last lines of each of the four stanzas say? How is the last line in the fourth stanza different from the other three? When combined, what additional meaning do they gain?
4) How is the thought that all of nature dies but the soul lives eternally shown in this poem?
5) If death means a permanent end to existence, in what sense can one say that days, roses, and spring actually die?
6) Mark the rhyme scheme of the poem. What rhyming sound is most often repeated? What rhyming sound replaces this in the last stanza? In what way does the rhyme emphasize the theme or main point of the poem?